Earlier, I blogged about the upcoming Kilimanjaro and Gemini releases from Microsoft: self-service BI tools that are delivered inside Excel. David Stein left a comment which prompted me to write this separate blog entry about self-service BI in general. Basically, David’s comment was that the quality of data won’t be as good because the end users don’t really know what they’re doing with the data.
He’s right, but it’s the lesser of two evils, and it’s a choice that the organization has to make, and every case is different.
Think back to those movies and TV shows of full service gas stations back in the 1950′s-60′s. I remember seeing snappily-dressed ladies pulling up to full service pumps where the attendant hustled out, started pumping the gas, and proceeded to pop the hood to check the car’s oil and the tire pressures while the tank filled up. If it needed oil, he’d grab a few quarts, take care of the engine, and the driver sat comfortably in the car the whole time.
Today, when I pull up to the gas station, I fill the car up, but I gotta be honest: I don’t check the oil level and tire pressure every time. It’s probably okay, but it might not be, and if it’s not, the only person I’m hurting is myself.
I could go to a full service pump, pay more, and get that taken care of. I could drive happily knowing that everything in my car was operating at its perfect levels, and that I was avoiding disaster. But I don’t – I save a few bucks and go to self-service. Judging by the vanishing number of full-service pumps, I’m not alone.
Plus, it’s not always my car: when I’m rushing to return a rental car before I jet off somewhere else in my glamorous (cough) life as a traveling SQL Server expert, I don’t give a rip whether there’s any oil or if my tires are underinflated. I wanna throw gas in there and get out as fast as I can to make my flight.
BI faces a similar pressure. With the advent of self-service BI, our end users will have a choice: do they want perfectly maintained data with no chance of disaster? Or are they willing to save a few bucks, vet their own data (or not vet it at all) and pump their own reports? If they choose self-service, they won’t have to sit around waiting for the attendee to come by.
Heck, they can build their own BI reports anytime, anywhere, much like I enjoy driving up to an unmanned pump and filling up my rental car without speaking to a single human being. (Sorry if that sounds antisocial, but the folks at service stations aren’t always the best conversationalists.) Sometimes, people just want the best data they can get in the least amount of time so that they can race off to make the next business decision. Not everything can wait for an ETL process design meeting.
Oh, and by the way, there aren’t a lot of jobs available as full-service gas station attendees….