Self-Service BI: Culture, Processes, People

A customer asked me an interesting question: when implementing self-service BI, what roles and workflows should be defined?

Stepping back, self-service BI is about reducing the “time to insight.” Traditional BI takes too long to get the data, leaves less time for analyzing, and thus often the business decisions are rushed and even made before the information is available. Changing the mindset towards self-service BI enables decisions that are faster, better, and data-driven. Getting there is not easy, you need to evolve the culture, modify processes, and find/train the right people.

Data Culture

At Microsoft, we believe that with the right tools, insights can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. When that happens, organizations develop what we describe as a “data culture.” However, a data culture isn’t just about deploying technology alone, it’s about changing culture so that every organization, every team, and every individual is empowered to do great things because of the data at their fingertips.​​

This is a direct quotation from our CEO, Satya Nadella, and this transformation is being implemented at Microsoft. Every engineer, every day, is looking at the usage data, learning from that usage data, questioning what new things to test out with our products, and being on that improvement cycle which is the lifeblood of Microsoft.


As our engineering processes were transformed for the cloud-first, mobile-first world, so need to be your processes. First comes the realization that BI projects are business projects rather than just IT projects. The old waterfall development model is not suitable and you need to move past agile methodologies to include business stakeholders at the heart of BI.

Let’s focus on four important processes in order of most to least business value:

As you can observe, the highest value business processes for BI are those that involve the least IT.


The processes defined above include the collaboration of five personas: the data steward, the analyst, the IT pro, the developer, and the business owner:

Every one of these personas is a critical part of the self-service data insights processes that needs to be implemented. The key is to find the people in your organization who do not fear getting their hands dirty with data. Once identified, training them will be critical for them to understand their role, master the tools, and ultimately change the culture of the entire organization.

In the end there are two types of data in organizations, data that runs the business (OLTP) and data that optimizes the business (analytics). To compete in today’s markets that feedback loop must get at short as possible, and self-service BI enables this transformation.

Case Study

How do you implement this in practice? Intel published a great case study how they used Microsoft technology to inspire a data culture in their organization. Learn how the Intel Technology Manufacturing Engineering organization is using Microsoft BI tools to help drive innovation at the speed of Moore’s Law: Implementing Self-Service BI to Improve Business Decision Making

Please let me know what you think and your experience with governed self-service BI in the comments below or on Twitter.


Charles Verdon

Technology Solutions Professional – Data Platform, Microsoft

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