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Can CIOs Really Optimise the Power of Self-Service Business Intelligence?

by Peter Walker, UK and Ireland country manager at Information Builders

There has been much discussion recently about data falling into the wrong hands, following the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) fines for companies that have inadvertently lost customer data. Not to mention information that has come to light from the Wikileaks scandals. There can be no denying that the issue of sensitive data is something CIOs need to tackle head on.

Particularly with the ICO now having the power to fine organisations up to £500,000 for serious data breaches, ten times the maximum penalty level that had previously been in place. Interestingly for CIOs, certain commentators are now calling for even higher penalties and even the mandatory reporting of data breaches, as the debate on this issue looks set to run and run.

These concerns around data sensitivity, combined with the growth in mobile devices in the workplace, such as smartphones and tablet devices, creates new challenges for CIOs in ensuring employees have access to the data they require to deliver their job responsibilities at optimum performance. In light of these issues, many CIOs now looking into self-service BI, to provide employees at all levels with reporting tools that enable them to navigate and share data sensibly across the organisation. According to a recent report from analyst house Gartner, self-service BI ranked fifth on CIOs list of top priorities in 2011*.


However, it is important that CIOs not only enable an environment that encourages caution around sensitive data, but also remain one step ahead to manage their business critical data and the people who have access to it. This is because in the modern working environment, employees across all functions need access to data and information to make decisions without delay. Take the fall-out from the banking crisis as a prime example. While many institutions were pre-warned about the slowdown in inventory turnover, few banks had the data available to minimise the impact of the crisis. Many branch managers were crying out for data that outlined which dealers had inventory that was aging past a certain point. If the data had been available, institutions could have then tightened their lending standards and adjusted capital reserves accordingly.

The good news for CIOs is that the prevalence of technology in companies is now driving flatter organisation structures, which in turn puts data into the hands of the many, not the few. As a result, this will help provide the right data, to the right people at the right time. So you will not end up having the sales team receiving irrelevant information about HR. In this case, people at all levels of an organisation have access to business intelligence (BI), and this is the driving force behind self-service BI. In other words, it is an organisation’s employees who know what information they require, so in certain cases, the CIO may wish to provide them with the reports and dashboards they need to make informed decisions.

Despite these benefits of self-service BI, empowering employees with data can sometimes cause issues for CIOs, who must take certain measures to protect their company’s assets and limit the potential negative impact of human involvement. All this, while simultaneously embracing the cultural shift to self-service BI and providing the infrastructure to enable a return on investment.


Often, the CIO’s IT team has many of the metrics that end users care about at its disposal, but it worries about sharing the information and being open to criticism. Additionally, there is rarely one person or group of people who represent the business that the IT team can speak to about overall service expectations. However, without sharing the metrics and demonstrating the adherence to service level agreements (SLAs), the IT team often wastes an excellent opportunity to boast about its value to the business.

Therefore, the CIO must not only take steps to measure the performance of his or her own function, but must also take effective steps to share the same information with the entire organisation.


Firstly, this involves managing the increasing customer demands. Today’s customers expect convenient, high-value services. That includes the ability to receive support or conduct transactions at any time, day or night. However, for most CIOs, employing service teams around-the-clock is cost prohibitive.

Secondly, CIOs must consider the impact of poor service delivery. Relying on live agents to aid customers when they have questions or problems can create a high level of risk. Different skill sets and work ethics leave room for mistakes and inconsistencies that can result in lost business. For example, manufacturing teams worldwide could benefit from accessing all the data they need to ensure products will be delivered on time, or adjust schedules in real-time when incidents like the Japanese earthquake happen and cause delays to parts being available.

Thirdly, and most importantly, CIO must look to their employees to provide business critical information around declining revenue. As CIOs struggle to realise acceptable levels of revenue from traditional reporting channels, they must take a more innovative approach to sales and tap into new income-generating opportunities. By providing reporting tools to employees, they will be able to get stronger feedback and new ideas that can help increase revenue across the business.

In summary there is a clear opportunity for CIOs to benefit from self-service BI, due to mobility becoming key to future revenue generation. The good news for CIOs is that they can now access self-service BI platforms that enable them to manage data while shielding them from the underlying data infrastructure, so employees don’t have to keep asking IT for help.


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