August 27, 2021

Culture Considerations for Choosing BI Tools: Is Traditional vs. Self-Service BI Right For You?

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Business leaders often turn to IT to make software decisions, trusting they’ll know the best tools to fit the organization’s needs. It makes sense — after all, IT uses these tools most, so they probably know what’s best, right?

However, choosing the right Business Intelligence (BI) tools and configuration for your organization goes beyond picking the most popular option. While IT may be well-versed in what different tools can accomplish, they might not consider the impact implementation will have across the enterprise — especially if less tech-savvy professionals will be using the tools, too.

Technical considerations are just one part of picking the right BI solution. Culture ultimately plays a significant role in the successful adoption of a new tool.

Here’s how you can decide if a traditional vs. self-service BI tool is better for your company culture.

To be data-driven, you need data literacy first

Many companies love self-service BI tools because they enable employees to run their own reports and visualize real-time data. With training and a robust data governance strategy, many employees can quickly learn how to slice and dice data to gain rapid insights.

But, depending on the data literacy of your employees, choosing a self-service model can pose a security risk to your data. Plus, without governance, people across the enterprise may start reporting in ways that cause confusion and compromise data credibility.

While your employees don’t need to be data scientists to run reports with BI tools, they still need basic data literacy skills and technical competency to adopt a new tool. If professionals in your organization are accustomed to requesting reports from analysts, they may not have the necessary skills to analyze their own data. In fact, your employees may not even see a reason to use BI tools to build a business case!

Think about who will get access to your BI tools within your company. Is your organization more traditionally-minded? Are conversations about data common in meetings at all levels and across all departments?

Driving business value with data literacy

Establishing data literacy is a huge hurdle for many businesses, and will only increase as companies become more reliant on data to make decisions.

Giving more employees access to data isn’t enough to promote data literacy; for a self-service model to work, there must be a cultural commitment to strengthening data literacy across the organization. Even beyond teaching users how to use BI tools effectively, promoting data literacy also involves ongoing training and support around data governance and security best practices.

If your company isn’t ready to focus on enterprise-wide data literacy, it’s best to start with a traditional BI model, where only data and IT professionals generate reports. Limiting access to your BI tool reduces security concerns and maintains standard practices around reporting.

Traditional BI tools like SAP Business Objects or IBM Cognos Analytics often have a more substantial learning curve than self-service tools like Qlik, Tableau, or Power BI can be more user-friendly. Without the right data governance strategy in place, user-friendly self-service tools can compromise your company’s single source of truth with unverified or inaccurate data.

Ultimately, how prepared is your organization to provide training for a new tool? That brings us to the next biggest determinant of BI tool success: change management.

Shifting the company’s mindset

Preparing your employees to adopt a BI tool can be a major change, especially if they haven’t used BI in their role before. A change management strategy is essential to see high adoption rates and ROI for both traditional and self-service tools.

Often, a change management strategy starts with a mindset shift. Becoming a data-driven organization starts from the top and trickles down; C-Suite sponsors need to demonstrate the value of using data to make decisions at every level of the organization.

A substantial part of your change management strategy is providing sufficient communication and training before and after implementation. Educating employees on when the change will happen, why you’re making the change, and how it will impact their work are the first step.

Next, you need to incentivize your employees to change their work habits. By supporting employees to see how BI tools make their daily work easier, incentivizing new behavior, and providing ongoing training and support as they learn the tool, they’re much more likely to transition effectively.

Identifying the Source of Resistance

Resistance takes many forms, and almost any implementation sees some resistance. Identifying resistance, mitigating fear of change, and increasing confidence in your user base are integral to creating change that lasts. However, that change looks very different across traditional BI tool users and self-service users.

The more users have access to a tool, the more different types of resistance you’ll experience and the more robust of a change management strategy you need. A self-service tool can be a powerful way to start shifting toward a data-driven approach, but only if users are empowered with the skills they need to succeed.

Depending on your business needs, you may need to sacrifice a beginner-friendly system like Power BI for the robust capabilities of Tableau or Sisense. However, if a tool is too challenging for their current skill set, self-service users will revert to requesting reports from data specialists and IT. Remember – you don’t have to give all users access at the same time, so you can always choose the self-service tool that best fits your needs and train users incrementally.

Resistance is equally as common with traditional BI tools; it simply takes a different form. For example, if your analyst team doesn’t trust the credibility of your single source of data, they’ll resort to doing what they’ve always done – like spending hours in Excel. Traditional BI tools with a familiar spreadsheet interface, like Zoho Analytics, may lower resistance.

If you’re still building a case for data-driven decision making — especially at the executive level — a traditional BI tool would likely deliver higher ROI and better adoption rates.

Before choosing a BI tool, speak with different types of users to better understand their needs. Interviewing users can help you choose which tools are the best fit for your business.

Transform culture with the right tools

Becoming a data-driven organization doesn’t happen overnight; even with the best BI tools on the market, it often takes a cultural shift to realize the true ROI of your implementation. However, picking the right tool for your current business can pave the way for a cultural transformation.

Understanding the needs of your end-users makes it easier to select the right tool. Whether you choose traditional vs. self-service BI, you’re taking a critical step toward becoming a data-driven enterprise.

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