Grab your eclipse glasses: Self-service analytics for truer, safer insights from data

By Mark Scapicchio

What do eclipse glasses and self-service analytics have in common?

When I was young there were no eclipse glasses. Experts instructed amateur astronomers like me to stay indoors and watch the eclipse on television – or to avoid eye damage by viewing the eclipse using a homemade device. We watched through several layers of photographic negatives. Or we constructed elaborate contraptions from shoe boxes or paper plates that projected a safely viewable image of the eclipse onto a sheet of paper.

Needless to say, most of us (including me) got something less than a clear view of the celestial event.

Today, decades later, eclipse glasses – strong sunglasses that meet specific UV blocking standards – enable a high-fidelity view of the eclipse, without risk.

A gradually improving view

Self-service analytics tools have evolved in much the same way as self-service eclipse viewing gadgets – through a decades-long effort to empower users to view and explore data directly, while minimizing enterprise exposure and risk.

The first tools connected spreadsheets to corporate data sources. Instead of waiting – and waiting and waiting – for IT to process their requests for reports, employees used their spreadsheet skills to manipulate data themselves, and to uncover insights to guide business decisions. Unfortunately, because analytical skills and methods varied from one person to the next, different users arrived at different versions of the truth, many of them leading to less-than-optimal decisions.

Next came IT-generated dashboards that standardized analytical methods and data presentation formats. These were great for consistency, but brought back long waits for any new analytics or presentation formats LOB might request to have added to the dashboard.

Balancing self-service and governance

More recently, a new class of enterprise business intelligence solutions emerged, providing individualized access to enterprise data via robust desktop applications. These applications gave users unprecedented power to interact with enterprise data and to rapidly derive insights via professional-grade analytical and presentation tools. But they also drove a need for greater governance, collaboration and scalability, to prevent individual users from using, say, different data and different analytics to answer the same question, or from redoing work that had already been done.

According to a recent report from Blue Hill Research, a new class of self-service analytics solutions embrace a hybrid paradigm that combines the best of both worlds –individualized self-service analytics and user experience, together with IT-centric services for data governance, security, collaboration and scalability. Businesses should consider these solutions to provide analytical autonomy and flexibility for their users, while minimizing risk of inconsistencies or vulnerabilities that can eclipse insights and lead to compromised decision-making.