"Governance is where we [IT professionals] come in," says IXI's Ayres. "When you give someone a loaded weapon, they can always shoot themselves. Someone could do a broad search across a 5TB database and bring a server to its knees, or worse. BI doesn't stop you from making the wrong choices; it just helps you make them faster."
To avoid this problem, Ayres' team has built a layer between the user and BI tools, "so you can dance around the playground, but within limits." For example, an employee might be allowed to run metrics in a data mart at some levels but not others, and he wouldn't be allowed to summarize across different levels.
Most of the major BI platforms support role-based access control, through Microsoft Active Directory or any other LDAP-compliant global directory. Packages offer different degrees of granularity: For example, a system might be set up so that a particular user group can access only a subset of data, or even just specific data fields.
SAP BusinessObjects provides role-based security down to the record level, says Baker. For example, a salesperson might see only customers in his territory, or a budget manager would see only the cost centers that she's responsible for, while a sales vice president could view reports from anybody who reports to him.
Breaking down the walls
The new frontier for self-service BI is the ability to enable different types of users to collaborate, not only by sharing reports and query results, but also by working together to define new ways of viewing and analyzing information.
At DSC, the IT staff regularly meets with a committee of end users, Brady says. "Branch managers tell us their best practices," which are then incorporated into reports and views. IT then uses WebFocus to replicate the best practices across the company. Self-service BI has "cut way down on the time from getting an idea to building a report that incorporates it, and having it show up on an end user's dashboard," Brady says.
At OraSure, the SAP team participates in business users' forecast meetings. "We talk to them about how they're using information, listen in on discussions of what they're finding, then we brainstorm: If you had this additional information, would that help you get to next level? We work with end users to figure out how to get the best information," Baker says.
OraSure employees collaborate primarily through face-to-face meetings and e-mail. However, Baker says that he is definitely interested in the possibility of providing more dynamic and ongoing interactions through Web 2.0 tools such as social networks, wikis and blogs.
So are a lot of other companies, according to Forrester's Kobielus. Businesses are starting to use collaborative mashups to enable teams of users to develop charts, dashboards or reports online, and then make them available on blogs, wikis or Facebook, he notes. Vendors currently offering such capabilities include Lyzasoft Inc., Tableau Software Inc. and JackBe Corp.
With proper governance and security controls in place, implementers say, self-service and collaborative BI can break down long-standing barriers among different departments and levels within an organization. This in turn promotes faster and -- most important -- more effective decision-making throughout the company.
What the BI vendors offer
Starting in 2009, small, "visionary" BI companies like Tibco Software, QlikTech and Tableau challenged established BI vendors by introducing "intuitive, interactive BI tools" and "strong, interactive visualization tools for analysis," according to a Gartner report released last year.