Governing Self-Service Analytics

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self-service analytics x300by Jelani Harper

It is possible to simultaneously empower the end user and his or her business objectives with self-service analytics and self-service Business Intelligence, while still ensuring full adherence to existing Data Governance policies, roles, and structure.

It is also possible to combine the benefits of the traditional centralized approach to BI (governance, privacy, and security) with decentralized applications that facilitate agility, Data Discovery, and user autonomy.

And, perhaps most surprising of all, it is possible—if not outright necessary—to simultaneously increase the agency of both IT departments and end users in regards to BI and analytics, emphasizing governance for the former and insight for the latter.

The days of sacrificing governance for the liberty of Data Discovery tools are over. In their place emerges a governed approach to self-service BI that reflects the growing trend of vendors to accommodate the needs of both IT and the business, facilitating security and discovery.

Governed Data Discovery

MicroStrategy’s MicroStrategy Analytics is indicative of the new paradigm in which BI vendors are attempting to take greater efforts to account for governance and security while augmenting the business’s need to personalize and manipulate discovery tools for its own advantage. The three principle aspects of MicroStrategy’s products that enable it to do so include:

  • Simplifying Analytics Tools: Whether the objective is to tailor dashboards, reports, or visualizations, MicroStrategy’s platform is designed to simplify the usability of its tools for business personnel and executives. According to MicroStrategy Vice President for Product Marketing Michael Hiskey, “What we focus on is trying to make the thing that people touch on the desktop to be dead simple so that if you can build a Facebook page you can build an actually really cool looking visualization about your own business data.”
  • Providing Governance Controls: MicroStrategy’s solution enables IT departments to enforce governance by denoting data access according to roles and implementing a number of security measures to circumscribe or grant access to data at a variety of different levels.
  • Facilitating Advanced (Predictive) Capabilities: With a seamless integration with open source R, MicroStrategy Analytics is able to provision the means for Data Scientists to provide advanced statistical modeling for Big Data sets.

Role Based Governance

The key to supporting both autonomy and governance via self-service analytics hinges upon IT’s role as one of the chief facilitators of governance. Despite the fact that end users can manipulate analytics options with a great deal of license in order to best achieve business objectives, IT still serves as the primary means of reinforcing governance by implementing governance principles on an individual user basis based on rules established by governance councils.

Such a centralized utilization of IT should not be confused with its previous role as gatekeeper of analytics, in which the business had to wait for IT to provide reporting and query results. The benefits of self-service analytics, in which end users can parse through data in close to real time for ad-hoc purposes to influence decisions, are still eminent. However, IT augments this process by serving as an additional layer of governance to ensure that user access to data is role based, and that regulatory compliance, safety, and privacy concerns are addressed.

As Hiskey observed, IT’s role as a chief facilitator of governance is a necessity to account for the explosive volumes of Big Data and the sheer increase of analytics users that self-service discovery tools have empowered. He stated:

“The problem that has arisen over the last 18 to 36 months is with Data Discovery tools in different parts of the organization that are meant to be departmental solutions; they hit a ceiling when they get to 50 or 60 users in that they require a bunch of administration to run. MicroStrategy has never had that problem because we go in with a partnership between the line of business and the IT organization. We provide the flexibility to the business users while still involving the IT organization so that they can maintain governance of the data.”

Intuitive Self-Service

IT’s centralized role in facilitating user-based governance creates the sort of mutability required to access data in a secure, private fashion. Certain levels of users are granted access to data aggregates, whereas others may only need to access transactional level data. Others may require access to both, while security measures such as masking and encryption are designed to reveal only the germane facets of data and to avoid regulations and compliance issues. Moreover, the fact that data sets are continually growing reinforces the benefits of governance which includes fewer replications, less costs for infrastructure, and improved quality and trust of data.

MicroStrategy’s solution is also designed for laymen to easily modify various aspects of reporting, visualizations, search tools, and dashboards with the sort of ease that limits IT involvement after its initial configuration, freeing the latter for governance and more meaningful projects. The potential for intuitive mobile applications and interfaces specifically for tabloid devices (iPad) and Android only aids the ease of use—which in turn furthers Data Discovery. Hiskey commented that:

“If I don’t put the tools in the end user’s hands—if I always have an IT person or some third party that’s creating the dashboard or the report or anything—they’re never going to spark that natural human curiosity that when they get their hands on it, they go way deeper than they would ever go just asking questions.”

User Examples

Self-service access to analytics and intelligence that puts the end users in charge of the data that is increasingly needed to do their jobs helps to facilitate a more intimate relationship between them and the data. Hiskey recalled that:

“I was in a demo last week where a big bank was at corporate showing us what they created with our software. The guy demoing it was a CFO for a group—this is a really big bank—and it’s his group that put it together and he’s the one who uses it every day.”

MicroStrategy is also suited for the type of advanced analytics that require Data Scientists to design specific algorithms with predictive capabilities. They are able to publish the results of their data modeling and algorithms through MicroStrategy, which can enable, for example, retail store mangers to conduct forecasting on dozens of individuals products with their own separate SKU’s.  Best of all, once the particular algorithms are created and calibrated those managers can make their own adjustments to the way the results are published by modifying visualizations and reports in any assortment of ways that are best suited for their individual needs—which includes changing inputs and the variables analyzed for predictive analytics.

Frequently, such advanced analytics are being written in R. Of the 300 data functions that MicroStrategy Analytics comes with, there is native R support than allows Data Scientists to write an R script and embed it within the solution so that users can exploit the predictive capabilities of one of the most powerful tools for advanced analytics in a matter of minutes. Hiskey said,

“Not a lot of people know about R’s advanced analytics functions or the ability to do native R within the product. That’s something we’re expanding on and we’ll be preparing more capabilities to bring more compute power so that you can do more of those models faster.”

Governance First

Although there are other analytics platforms that organizations can choose for self-service BI, Data Discovery, and predictive analytics, MicroStrategy is distinguished by its means of facilitating Data Governance. Its role-based access to data and numerous security measures are representative of the prominence of Data Management within virtually all industries—and the need to properly regulate the access and usage of such data based on established principles and pre-defined roles. In doing so, it effectively combines the best of both worlds by prioritizing the business’ need to access data insights and IT’s role to ensure that the former does so in a consistent way appropriate with the organization’s overall objectives and governance principles. Hiskey observed:

“Self service analytics is important as business users do more of it themselves, but the key connective tissue is this idea of governed data discovery or governed self-service that more people need to be aware of so that they’re not afraid to put tools in the hands of people that are the most equipped to make decisions with it.”

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