The concept of self-service Business Intelligence has become a buzz-phrase of the growing BI industry. Originally coined by a company called Peregrine Systems in 2004 and popularised by the Gartner report “Emerging technologies will drive self-service Business Intelligence” in 2008, self-service BI has since been largely popularised by Microsoft to describe the PowerPivot stack and adopted by the usual suspects jumping on what seems like a profitable bandwagon.
To clarify the marketplace, I think it is important to confront the considerable confusion around the different flavours of BI. There are many people that fail to understand these distinctions which often create the very first misunderstanding on those pesky failed projects.
It is important to understand the distinction between Enterprise Reporting, Data Analytics and Data Mining.
Enterprise reporting is the delivery of reports, pure and simple. This is something that all businesses do. It consists of everything from emailing a hand-crafted report to someone else in the business to having an automated system that allows report access to all of the staff.
Data Analysis is a completely different beast. In order to perform analysis one needs to understand the data. Data Analysis can be done at all levels from working with the raw data to selecting pre-defined views of the data to produce charts or graphical representations that impart information about trends or comparisons. It is however different to Enterprise Reporting though sometimes the same implementation can deliver these two requirements.
Data Mining is an automated process using algorithms that search for patterns in the data which indicate specific events being sought.
Self-service Business Intelligence can only really refer to enterprise reporting and data analysis at this stage of the game.
The definition used by Microsoft where they explain that a business unit can handle its own data analysis or produce reports having obtained extracts of the source data from IT probably comes closest to the ideal goal for self service BI within the enterprise.