amazing analytics tool, just add water, solve world hunger

I’m always surprised when I read an article saying “now that we have this new analytics tool, any regular old person can do analytics well.” The message has been around for a long time and with the new buzz of “self-service BI” the message is multiplying. This is a message put in the mouths of sales and marketing professionals to put in the ears of senior managers —and it’s a powerful message with that crowd. It happens across many domains: senior people removed from the work generally don’t understand the work; they only see the products of the work. So when senior people see sexy end-products (read dashboarding tools!) they just can’t help themselves, and who are we to blame them, this is some sexy sexy stuff.

Power BI, mega eye candy! So the question is “to what extent is making sexy sexy stuff easy?” and I see three different flavors of the “Self-Service Analytics” hypothesis:

  • Strong Version: Anybody can now do analytics, just go grab one of the new tools, it’s just button clicking, you’re 5 minutes away from insights, no training required.
  • Medium Version: The barriers to entry for producing great analysis are lower than ever, you’re still going to need to learn the process of developing good analytics. No training required to get started, and it’s an effort to get good but you don’t need a computer science degree.
  • Weak Version: Analytics is something that’s out of your reach, leave it to the experts. You can learn the process, sure, but it’s really technical and you’re gonna need lots of special training just to get started.

So there’s a spectrum of ways to think about self-service and my experience of the way things are in 2016 has led me toward the middle way. From 1985 to 2010 the weak version ruled and the tools were mostly inaccessible to analysts. Post 2010 it’s a medium version world — the tools are accessible but require some skill. And the strong version? Computers are wonderful at answering well-formed questions but we’re not going to be in the strong version until computers can ask good questions and answer ill-formed questions — don’t hold your breath.

So if you’re an Excel analyst here you go … the strong version of the “self-service” message is not a message that has any relevance to what’s going on in your day-to-day life. Fortunately for you the weak version doesn’t matter either. You know that this work is work but for the first time in a long time it’s work that you’re now empowered to do.

Too many consultants are still pushing technologies from the pre-2010 weak version era, and these people are just straight up my enemies. I want to disrupt and put out of business these consultants pushing expensive, inaccessible analytic solutions.

The strong version message is going to get a lot of play with senior mgmt and it’ll move a lot of product off the shelf when sales people pitch it. Your job if you’re an Excel person is to manage expectations, and to manage them up. Meaning you need to prove your value in a non-technical way to decision makers and show them that reporting is much more than just slapping a report together.

The weak version message is going to get a lot of play with consultants trying to convince the same managers that they, the consultants, are necessary to make the magic happen with the tools. This is a point of ethics for me — consultants working with the current spread of self-service tools are amazing if they are empowering analysts to use the tools. Too many consultants however are still pushing technologies from the pre-2010 weak version era, and these people are just straight up my enemies. I want to disrupt and put out of business these consultants pushing expensive, inaccessible analytic solutions.

Your job as an Excel analyst is to help me out 🙂 and manage expectations and once again, manage up. Get it together and learn these new tools. Power Pivot / Power Query / Power BI is the most accessible to you but Tableau will also do. Get your hands on this stuff, learn it, and prove out the medium version of the hypothesis. Prove that analytics is still requires lots of skill but doesn’t require a deep technical background anymore. This is what self service analytics means in 2016.

Austin is VP of Operations & Growth at PowerPivotPro — check us out http://www.powerpivotpro.com

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