After decades of promises we are finally at the tipping point of true self-service business intelligence. Congratulations!! Now get a new job. True self-service BI is radically changing our industry so the traditional roles many of us have become accustom to will change or disappear. This is not to say important work will go away, just that change is afoot. If we draw on history we may be able to understand how much of a change this self-service approach could be: word processing is a great example.
When word processing came on the scene fifty years ago with IBM’s Magnetic Tape/ Selectric Typewriting, the “MT/ST” was a major investment and took a specialist to run, not unlike the first BI systems. In both cases there were single machines that did all the magic and there was a small group of specialists who were a bottleneck for all the work. This bottleneck drastically reduced the potential value but it was still extremely valuable. Can you imagine needing to queue your word processing needs through a single group? What a pain! Although the massive drop in email would be nice.
Specialists to perform word processing were needed well into the 80’s until the personal computer became widely available. The change to self-service word processing was a gradual one. In the early days, users required a lot of support to perform simple tasks; other tasks such as spell checking were still manual. Many organizations continued to keep on specialists for the most important and complex work. By my judgement, BI is at the equivalent point in its evolution. Users can easily create their own visualizations from well-organized data, however there are limits. The best self-service tools on the market still require a specialist or training to do advanced data organization (or ETL if you like). Strides are being made here, however data organization on the whole still requires technical skills. Users can easily create visualizations but each system has limitations that may require additional skills. For example with Qlik Sense, extensions can easily be used by non-technical users, once someone else has created the extensions. This is being simplified by efforts such as qWidget however we are still a ways off from non-technical self-service extension creation.
If we look at the current state of word processing then we may gain insight into what the future state of BI may look like. Today we are constantly word processing, although we don’t call it that. Sometimes before I even get out of bed, I do some word processing in the form of a text message. I create a message, move words around, spell check and even add an image or link. I don’t have anyone special in the bed next to me to help me perform these tasks (my wife is a special person to me but she doesn’t help me with my early morning text messages). I also don’t really think much about the complexity of what I’m doing. The word processing specialists are gone but they all still have jobs. Some moved on to run other complex technical systems, others redefined the value added services they provided to align closer to business outcomes. This is where I believe we are heading with BI and personal analytics. Untrained users will be able to combine data from disparate sources and create compelling, interactive content to discover insights and share with others. Just like the word processing specialist, BI professionals will need to evolve from the technical specialist to business experts or advanced analytics specialists. This is already happening today but it is only going to accelerate. As BI professionals we have a choice: we can let it happen to us or we can lead the way to change.
How are you going to evolve your role in 2015 to adapt to a self-service centric BI landscape?