In most organisations the IT department takes the lead when it comes to performing data analysis. The reason for this is obvious, as IT employees are generally better suited to find answers to clearly formulated questions. However, what happens when these questions are not known in advance and if they are not clearly formulated?

Add to this the fact that the IT department is not always capable of responding to the enormous volume of questions from the business in a timely manner, and it’s easy to see why an over-reliance on IT could be a problem. As a result, many organisations find themselves unable to optimally transform existing data into useful information, which means, in turn, that employees do not have the insights they require to better do their work. What’s needed, therefore, are tools that will allow employees to conduct their own data analysis by offering them access to self-service business intelligence.

There’s no two ways about it – if the modern employee is to effectively do their job, they are becoming increasingly dependent on data and information, regardless of what department they are in. What this means is that if you want to enable your employees to work more productively and efficiently, you must start by making user friendly applications available to them to retrieve existing information from databases.

Most organisations today make use of ERP systems, but these systems barely provide any functionality for analysing data or preparing forecasts. To meet these requirements, many organisations are turning to business intelligence systems. These systems are capable of providing the information required by upper management, but often are not detailed enough to be able to provide additional value for operational business processes.

This creates a gap between information needs and the tools made available to acquire the right information. The upshot of this is that employees are more often able to take decisions on the basis of assumptions rather than on the basis of facts and current insights. To close this gap, organisations must critically assess their information architecture.

The development of a successful information architecture starts with the identification of the various information needs at a management, as well as at an operational level. In addition, it is important to identify the required data and to formulate the algorithms needed to convert data into information. Questions at the management level can generally be perfectly answered with the aid of a BI system.

To answer operational questions from the business requires detailed information that resides in the ERP system’s complex data structures. This means that the information architecture must be expanded to include an operational business analytics (OBA) layer that converts this data into information and hides the underlying complexity from employees. This gives them the insights they need without the need for being an expert in analytics.

For this process to work, employees should be enabled to conduct analysis themselves on the basis of SAP data (such as transactional data and master data), and to easily make the desired links, without the intervention of IT. They must be given the possibility of quickly executing a search, for example with previously defined and personal templates or with ‘Google-type’ searches, without the need for any knowledge of database terminology. They must be able to create their own dashboard that gives them insight into the data and processes that are relevant to them.

Organisations are slowly but surely beginning to realise that access to data and information is not the exclusive right of management. Employees, as part of their daily activities, must also have access to the information that genuinely helps increase the performance of business processes and productivity. These employees know better than anyone else which operational and tactical questions must be answered in order to improve processes and enable the business to grow.

Unfortunately, these people generally are not data analysts capable of formulating complex queries. Companies that want to fully use the potential of their business data must therefore make it as easy as possible for their employees to get answers to their questions, which makes self-service BI tools a business no-brainer!