3 Ways IT Can Benefit from Self-Service Analytics

by   |   January 4, 2017 5:30 am   |   1 Comments

Brian Smith, VP of Technical Operations, Tableau Software

Brian Smith, VP of Technical Operations, Tableau Software

There are many natural enemies in the world. The Yankees and the Red Sox. Cats and dogs. IT managers and self-service analytics—right?

According to Gartner, self-service analytics is a “form of business intelligence in which line-of-business professionals are enabled and encouraged to perform queries and generate reports on their own, with nominal IT support” (emphasis mine).

For folks working in IT, the word “nominal” may signal a red flag. A surface-level assessment might suggest self-service analytics is an enemy that will diminish IT’s role and unleash chaos.

In reality, that assessment is far from true. When anyone can explore their own data, IT’s role becomes elevated. Both IT and the business win.

With self-service analytics, IT can focus on creating a secure environment in which people can be highly productive with their data. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are three tips to help IT employees embrace the self-service model and become a partner in the business.

1) Establish an Analytics Team Within IT

The self-service strategy starts with an analytics team that lives within IT. In this environment, analysts don’t write reports. Instead, they help other people see and understand their data.

A successful IT team will do more than just provide vetted data sources in a secure environment. While that’s a crucial first step, the team must also help people across the organization conduct their own analysis and share their findings.

Establishing an analytics team within IT will ensure everyone in the organization knows where to turn when they need help during the analytics process. The team should also build and spread a culture of analytics throughout the company.

To do so, this team might send out a weekly newsletter or host brown-bag lunches to share tips. The team can also hold weekly office hours to answer any data-related questions. With a dedicated and proactive team, IT can be at the helm of building a culture of analytics through people, processes, and technology.

2) Integrate to Free Up Your Time and Maximize Impact

One important part of that culture is integration. IT must prioritize connecting to data in systems across the organization like Splunk, Salesforce and ServiceNow, then embedding relevant dashboards on internal wikis, forums, and even back in Salesforce—places where you know people already spend their time.

This not only frees up IT to take on a more strategic role but also helps the business react quickly and better serve customers. Consider customer-relationship marketing company Merkle. The company deals with a lot of data, and a lot of data types from SQL Server to Salesforce, to Excel.

With an analytics tool that could analyze a variety of data types, Merkle built interactive dashboards and empowered its customers to ask questions, drill down and find answers on the spot.

The more questions people ask, the more value they extract from the data and from your business. IT, in turn, becomes the foundation of data-driven decision-making and deeper customer engagement.

3) Uncover Your Own Insights and Work Smarter

Speaking of data-driven decision-making, remember that it’s not just for folks outside of IT. My team recently learned something unexpected when an IT team member pulled our VPN usage data. With just a few minutes of exploration, my colleague Jeff found that nearly half of our users in Europe were connecting via the data center in the U.S. instead of their local one in Europe.

Those users were connecting across an ocean, meaning they were waiting longer than necessary for the connection. Definitely not efficient.

This issue was impacting quite a few of our users and made our service appear slow, yet it may have gone unresolved without the right tool. Seeing the data visualized on a map prompted the person to ask more questions that eventually led to the finding.

In this way, data can help IT answer their own questions and make smarter decisions. What are the current support-response times across geographies? Where are you spending money, and how should you plan my budget? How active is your ticket-triage list, and are there any indications of a systemic problem?

As self-service analytics shifts IT’s role beyond cranking out reports, don’t forget to uncover your own insights just as your colleagues in sales, marketing, and operations are doing.

Become a Partner in the Business

All in all, self-service analytics helps businesses gain insights from the data when it matters most and elevates the role of IT from a tactical helper to a strategic partner.

When IT empowers the entire organization to explore data in a safe, governed environment, IT becomes a partner in the business. And as partners, IT and the business grow a culture of curiosity that fuels innovation, engagement and success in the marketplace.


Brian Smith is Tableau’s VP of Technical Operations. Brian has 20+ years of operations experience in a variety of tech companies. Prior to Tableau, he was an early employee in the Expedia group at Microsoft and helped architect the online infrastructure supporting growth from $14 million in gross bookings in 1998 to $22 billion in 2009. As VP of IT, he supported Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire, and data warehousing. Brian has an MBA and BA in Economics from the University of Washington.


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One Comment

  1. Pat Hennel
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    The goal of self-service analytics is to help businesses gain better insights from this data. In fact, one way that IT departments can help with BI is by implementing self-serve analytics, which in turn helps IT become a true business partner.

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