Data is a powerful tool, but it's all too often out of reach of the very people who need it most. That is changing as the model for consuming technology and the technology itself evolves to better support the needs of companies working at the speed of digital.
Databases and data analytics used to live in a technical ivory tower. This was the result of a number of factors—not least, the complexities associated with dozens of siloed data storage systems, complicated coding models and the rigidity that comes with structured data taxonomies. Companies that tried to put together an integrated data infrastructure using Hadoop, Spark, ETL, and traditional BI tools faced huge hardware, software and skills challenges, and most ended up getting it pretty wrong.
Cloud-native platforms haven’t alleviated all of the data challenges companies face—not by a long shot—but they are increasingly lowering the barriers to data integration and access. We’ve seen it with applications like human capital management and financial management, and we’ll continue to see gains in companies’ ability to access and make sense of data as the cloud and companies’ adoption of the cloud evolve.
In fact, cloud-based management systems are enabling the next big thing in data analytics: self service. It’s a movement being led by HR and Financial leaders, who are investing in cloud-based technology solutions that enable all users direct access to the information they need.
IDC has predicted that spending on the self-service visual discovery and data preparation market will grow two and a half times faster than traditional IT-controlled tools for similar functionality. This “flattening” of traditional data analytics systems is key to self-service and will empower users to ask and answer their own questions using the most timely and relevant data, without the need to rely on their IT partners to query, warehouse and analyze information (a process that often takes so long that the resulting reports are ineffective at best and inaccurate at worst).
Truly data-driven organizations provide reliable data at users’ fingertips from a single system that integrates information from multiple sources. Organizations that are able to break down information silos and arm users throughout the business with the ability to ask the right questions and get the right answers are well positioned to quickly and effectively innovate in response to market changes and customer demand.
Certainly, data governance and security controls need to be in place when financial, human resources and other data become democratized across an organization. Processes must be established to ensure that third-party data is accurate, defined appropriately, and up-to-date. And analyses are most useful when tailored, such as providing store managers with dashboards populated only for their specific stores or regions.
With all of that in place, there are a number of key benefits that any organization can realize from cloud-based self-service analytics.
10 Key Benefits of Cloud-Based Self-Service Analytics
- Access to data when making business decisions Where data—especially financial and human resources data—was once collected and analyzed in a departmental vacuum, smart companies understand that the more informed their employees are, the better bottom-line decisions they will make. A cloud-based self-service model enables users to get access to the information they need (and have rights to), when and where they need it, without bogging down IT in requests.
- Better understanding of the bottom line Self-service analytics has the potential to transform every facet of an organization. For example, it will enable the CFO to give human resources, marketing, product, sales, and operations access to the financial information they need to do their own data discovery and visual analysis so that they can understand the bottom-line impact of their decisions.
- Breaking down departmental silos Financial data has an impact across the organization, so it makes sense for business users outside of the finance department to have access to it. The same goes for data from human resources, IT and any number of other departments. The ability for users to query and analyze data from a single source of truth enables them to share strategy and discipline across lines of business and core operations.
- Added dimensions to data analysis Tools that can integrate data from among many disparate sources provide business users with the ability to align data in ways they may never have thought of before.
- Speedier “time to insight” At most companies, business users with data-based questions rely on IT partners to build a data warehouse and produce reports. With self-service analytics, business users are empowered to get answers to questions themselves, and then ask more (and more pointed) questions based on the data they receive.
- Increased competitive edge Cloud-based self-service analytics helps increases your competitive advantage. In fact, research from the MIT Sloan Management Review shows that the number of companies reporting a competitive advantage from analytics increased for the first time in four years. According to the research, factors behind the growth include wider dispersion of analytics within companies as well as a stronger focus on specialized, innovative applications that have strategic benefits.
- Analytics in context With the right tools, business managers, business analysts, and employees who take the initiative to ask questions and find answers will be able to integrate data sets so that questions are answered with context. For example, a business analyst could move well beyond aggregate measures like average store profitability and on to the fine-grained drivers of profitability by specific product lines within specific stores.
- Adherence to security and governance Cloud-based analytics solutions that are embedded within your system of record, such as your HCM or financials platform, help ensure that users have access to only the data they need to access.
- Narrowing skills gap The Harvard Business Review wasn’t kidding when it called “data scientist” the sexiest job of the 21st century—so sexy that it getting tough to find people to fill the role. Of course, there will be times when the skills and experience of an actual data scientist will be required, but a robust cloud-based self-service analytics system that effectively integrates data and provides an easy-to-understand dashboard view can help users ask and answer day-to-day questions—and narrow the data skills gap
- Better use of data scientists’ time When there is a need for an actual data scientist, it is going to cost companies big time if that person is tied up helping the line of business managers figure out how to make sense of data (after they’ve made sense of what data they have in the first place). By offloading simpler analytics tasks, data scientists can be deployed to more complex and global data work.
Self-service analytics puts data where it should be—in the hands and heads of all business users.