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Following a recent talk I gave at an SAP event, a comment I made comparing "Delivering Self-service" to "The War on Drugs" was picked up and questioned on Twitter. The 140 character limitation made it a little hard to explain exactly what I meant so I never really answered the question. I had reason to expand on this subject yesterday so thought I would convert this into a 'blog post. I'm very curious to poll other people's opinions on this subject so feel free to agree/disagree in the comments or on Twitter (@mcbobj)

Yesterday afternoon I wrote an email to SAP and asked them to stop using the term "self service" as a noun, and start using it as a verb. It's not just SAP who do this of course but I'd like to see SAP take the lead on this. The reason that, in my opinion, "self-service" has failed to be delivered in countless BI projects I have witnessed over the last ten years is precisely because of what I, and many others, see as the misuse of the word.

Self-service is a verb, not a noun!

Self-service is not, in my opinion, something you deliver, it is something you do with something that is delivered.

Example 1 Analysis, Edition for OLAP is not "self service", it is a reporting tool (used for drill-down analysis of BW OLAP queries) that can be deployed in a number of scenarios and, in some of those scenarios, a user may also be offered self-service options but also they may not. If I create an IT delivered report in Analysis OLAP (as we do within our organisation) then only some users have the ability to save a modified version of that report - a scenario we refer to as "level one self service".

Example 2 Lumira is not "self service" it is a product that is used to visualise data. IT could deliver a report, against functional requirements, in Lumira and they may or may not also allow users to modify/create reports with Lumira i.e. allow users to self-serve (a verb) with the product. I make this point because Lumira is always presented as "self service" by SAP and I strongly contend that description, here and everywhere!

Everybody has a (different) opinion

Herein lies the bigger problem - at any give seminar or event when someone talks about "self service" the first thing anyone says is "of course, everybody has a different idea of what self-service is" but then nobody actually creates an industry definition for people to follow or use as a baseline. It would be helpful, I think, if SAP actually produced something that defines the tiers of self-service conceptually.

For example, within the enterprise architecture function of our business, we define four levels of self-service that summarise as follows

Self-service, level 1 IT delivered report that a user has the rights to save a variant copy of to their personal folder (Analyst rights)

Self-service, level 2 IT delivered report that a user has the rights to save a variant copy of to a shared folder (Super user rights)

Self-service, level 3 IT delivered semantic layer (e.g. BEx query/Universe). User has rights to application (Analysis/Webi/etc) and ability to create document.

Self-service, level 4 IT delivered "enablement" for "composite data" allowing user to upload their own data, link with corporate data and then create own report.

In our company's example of scenario 4 this would be BW Workspaces  + Analysis Office

Interestingly, when we asked our execs what they expected from "self-service" they replied: "Instead of having to ask an assistant, or somebody in an end market, to run a report for me, I want the rights to access BI and get the report myself, when I want it.". So, from the point of view of the business, just having access to BI and the ability to run the report themselves is "self service". We may actually include this in our company definition!

We are currently (successfully) delivering scenarios 1 and 2 and are prototyping scenario 4 (we had to roll out SPS08 for BW7.3 to enable BW Workspaces).

But...there is always "a but"

The most commonly attempted scenario in BI projects is scenario 3 and this is the one that I commonly see fail because the project tries to reduce reliance on IT and enable the business to do their own reporting, typically by providing them with a Universe and a copy of Webi. Even our report writers find writing reports difficult and this is why, potentially, the business never really achieves self-service with scenario 3, the business simply doesn't typically have the resources to create reports from scratch, even in Webi, let alone build their own semantic layers. However with scenarios 1 and 2, any product could be used to allow self-service, even Crystal - with the right degree of training and governance.

I've left the word Tableau until the end (so those at SAP with a nervous disposition can look away now!). I mention this because we deploy Tableau but for  a complex supply chain diagnostic tool and it is very definitely IT delivered with no element of self-service attached. However Tableau keep telling us (and the business!) that users should be creating their own visualisations by creating their own semantic layers. I, er, disagree strongly but I am open to being convinced.

It would help those of us that deliver IT solutions, based on SAP, if we didn't have to deal with products being labelled as "self service" but rather as products that had a purpose (ideally as part of an overallBI solution) and that could also be enabled for self-service.

Self-service (the noun) is dead! Long live self-service (the verb)! :wink:

We have seen it said many times that the 'War on Terror' and 'War on Drugs' were not successful because of the noun. I'm suggesting we also consign the noun of self-service to the dustbin. Long live self-service the verb.

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