Donald Farmer, TreeHive Strategy

Here’s our third article as part of our industry expert series with data analytics thought leader and TreeHive Strategy principal, Donald Farmer.

Over the last decade, we have seen a profound change in the world of business analytics. Enterprises have adopted self-service Business Intelligence (BI) as their main channel for understanding operations. Whether in Finance or Marketing or Sales, data-literate users today largely craft their own analyses.

Previously, the IT department created and curated reports and dashboards for all core business needs; any unserved need drove people to their spreadsheets, often using data exported from those same standard reports. Compared to such a slow and unresponsive way of working, the move to self-service has been productive and valuable, but we can’t overlook that new approaches bring new problems.

For example, almost every customer I work with has pressing questions about data governance. With data protection legislation developing worldwide, for the most part they have taken steps – if only the first steps – to address those concerns. Similarly, customers deploying self-service can find applications and platforms proliferating, especially if users “bring their own technology” without oversight. IT departments will fight a losing battle trying to keep users from their tool of choice; but in most cases system managers can get ahead of the game and provision effective tools proactively.

The third barrier

These issues of governance and proliferation are important, but there is another significant drawback which we too often overlook, at least until we run into it.

Dashboards and reports are built on data and, to put out simply, users have to get their data from somewhere. And business users, being highly motivated to solve business problems, will find that data one way or another. IT, trying to be supportive, may plan to deliver all data to meet all requirements, but they quickly find that user needs change constantly with new skills and new business cases. Too often, even well-intentioned administrators find themselves to be a bottleneck again.

So perhaps, rather than provisioning data specifically for self-service, IT could simply enable users to connect to well-prepared and well-documented data sources.

But here we meet our obstacle head-on. In any sizeable enterprise you are likely to find a diversity of data sources, including legacy operational applications, data warehouses and new developments. That could mean providing an equally diverse range of connectors to business users, who are unlikely to know, or even to understand, the details of how to configure and maintain connectivity. A spreadsheet user may find their way round a simple connection string, but we cannot expect them to understand timeout values, connection pools, packet sizes or concurrency settings.

For those of us who have worked in data integration over the years, we know this is no small matter. A single legacy application, or a cloud service, may have complex connectivity needs with the added complexity that settings can change with versions and configurations.

In order to deploy broad connectivity, IT may be running to catch up with diverse data sources and the range of self-service applications used by the business. But the chase is never over, as they also have to contend with frequent connectivity and metadata updates.

The Right Access to Data

One important means to deal with this problem is to deploy a connectivity solution, like Magnitude’s Simba, for the right access to data wherever it resides. This ensures businesses have what they need to better understand their business, customers and supply chains.

With an extraordinary range of supported sources and drawing on great technical experience, Simba data connectors allow business users to connect any data source to their BI or application of choice. Furthermore, Magnitude Gateway – also from the Simba connectivity team – offers universal drivers for business users, with a single platform for management.

For IT, Magnitude Gateway simplifies the configuration of connectivity, but just as importantly, improves the maintenance of connectivity.

For the user, they gain a business view of data from whatever analytic tool they use, without the complexity of configuring connections to each data source.

This approach to connectivity also makes for better governance, enabling IT to centrally manage compliance with data policies, regardless of the data source or the analytic tool. Costs can also be reduced with a simplified and effective subscription model.

Even if you feel you have made good progress with Self-Service Business Intelligence, connectivity can be a great weakness in your architecture. As your users’ demands grow (and they always do), as your platforms become more diverse (and yes, they always do too) and as your legacy systems and new cloud services go through version after version – you need a simplified approach just to keep ahead.