How Self-Service BI Can Make You a Data Analyst

Until recently, many organizations have been unable to harness the power of big data and analytics due to a number of technical obstacles. Many companies still don’t have anyone with the skill set or knowledge base required to manipulate data for discoveries and powerful insight, and many lack the funding necessary to invest in data analytics tools.

For many organizations, hiring a data analyst is simply not feasible. According to Boris Evelson’s blog about the costs of different approaches to business intelligence (BI) reporting, labor expenses add up to around $120,000 a year. A lot of companies have a data analysis budget that doesn’t come close to that figure, so they are increasingly turning to products that can accommodate their needs and budget.

Thankfully, because of the growth of self-service BI and intuitive data visualization tools, hiring a data analyst is no longer a requirement for valuable data analytics.

Self-service BI tools can put the power of data analytics in the hands of any user, from data experts to salespeople. Quality self-service BI software finds the balance between intuitive design and complex analysis, aiming to provide valuable insight in a simple-to-use system. The modules and features inside of a self-service BI system are designed to be accessible and usable for all employees. Most of these systems include a few main analytical features that increase their simplicity and approachability.

Basic Self-Service Functions


Customizable dashboards allow users to quickly display information from data sets in simplified visual displays for analytical insight. While dashboards present a narrower glance at data than some other analytics tools, they can be valuable resources for real-time, actionable insight. There are two main types of dashboards: operational and analytical. Operational dashboards are used to check current status or performance, and are often used by management and employees to monitor KPIs. Analytical dashboards focus on one specific idea or question to be displayed, like audience sentiment analysis.

Ad-Hoc Reporting

Ad-hoc reporting provides real-time insight into information that typically answers either one question or a small set of questions. For example, if you wanted to observe the amount of time your sales team spends on the phone every day, many systems will let you create an ad-hoc report to quickly assess this information from existing phone logs. Ad hoc reporting requires that users know the specific question they want answers to, which can be limiting when you’re attempting to simply explore available data.

Pre-built Templates

Pre-built templates guide BI users through the process of data discovery and reporting. Advanced and complex systems let users create their own templates for customized reports and analysis, but these systems are usually only feasible for experience analysts. With pre-built templates, users from any background can create powerful reports from data quickly and easily.

Advanced Self-Service Functions

While dashboards, ad-hoc reporting, and pre-built templates are typically essential for any business intelligence solution to be successful without a dedicated data analyst, some vendors offer additional features that advanced self-service users can take advantage of.

Scenario Analysis

Scenario analysis, often referred to as what-if analysis, lets users observe how a specific activity’s projected performance is related to and affected by proposed changes. This can be used to predict the outcome of different marketing initiatives, the impact of hiring new employees, how different price structures will affect sales, and a number of additional scenarios. Self-service BI systems that include scenario analysis are typically a little more expensive and complex than their counterparts, but the insight provided can be crucial to increasing operational efficiency and accuracy.

Open-Ended Operations

Contrary to ad-hoc reporting that requires users to know the question being asked during analysis, open-ended operations, also known as open-ended analytics, let users perform general analytical operations for valuable insight, without strict direction. Again, like scenario analysis, open-ended operations can become increasingly complex as data sets expand and business operations grow, but self-service systems that perform these queries can guide your company to new, unexpected discoveries when properly utilized.

Self-Service Products

With a basic understanding of the common features found in self-service data analytics companies, we can now explore a few of the best BI solutions to use even if you’re not a data scientist.


The team behind the BOARD Management Intelligence Toolkit has created a powerful, innovative solution that can be controlled by users with almost any level of technical ability. BOARD provides users with every tool needed for self-reporting and analysis in “Capsules”. These self-service Capsules are containers that can accommodate any BOARD object, including graphs, spreadsheets, folders, dashboards, and navigation menus.

Drag and Drop functionality lets users perform quick analysis and easily create reports from existing data sets, in addition to letting users export those reports into multiple formats, including Excel, XML, HTML, and CSV. BOARDS overall ease-of-use and functionality make it a great solution for users looking to gain insight into data without emptying their wallet.

Clear Analytics

Clear Analytics provides self-service business intelligence and spreadsheet management services through Microsoft Excel. With Clear Analytics, your whole staff can have access to powerful data analytics without having to train everyone on a new system.

While this system works through and on Excel, it isn’t simply an add-on. With governance and centralization modules, critical spreadsheets are stored, versioned, and managed in a central location to eliminate data corruption or loss. Clear Analytics works with a variety of different sources to aggregate and analyze diverse data sets, with the ability to trace data to the source, create custom reports on a scheduled basis, and build queries for ad-hoc reporting.


SiSense focuses on simplicity of design and ease of use. For starters, SiSense greatly simplifies the data preparation process with tools for easily unifying disparate data into centralized locations. This technology allows “non-techies” to easily function within the software, as effectively as an IT expert. Users also have the ability to easily build interactive dashboards and reports. SiSense’s dashboard widgets help users pinpoint the best visualizations for their data, from gauges to charts to maps.

From within SiSense’s software, users can quickly query a database to perform ad-hoc reporting. Additionally, users can set up real-time data analysis dashboards for up-to-date, critical information on business operations. Because SiSense’s interactive dashboards are web-based, any dashboards created from within the SiSense system can easily be shared with other employees, or quickly published on outside websites.

While these three systems are great self-service business intelligence solutions, they are only a few of the many BI systems available that don’t require additional employees or extensive technical background. If your organization wants to gain actionable insight from your data while staying under budget, it’s important to find the best BI solution for your company.

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