Examples of False Claims about Self-Service Analytics

I recently wrote about The Myth of Self-service Analytics in this blog. Some of you seemed to think that I was exaggerating the claims that vendors make about self-service analytics, in particular that their tools eliminate the need for analytical skills. To back my argument, I’ve collected a few examples of these claims from several vendors.

Information Builders

Self-service BI and analytics isn’t just about giving tools to analysts; it’s about empowering every user with actionable and relevant information for confident decision-making. (link).

Self-service Analytics for Everyone…Who’s Everyone? Your entire universe of employees, customers, and partners. Our WebFOCUS Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics platform empowers people inside and outside your organization to attain insights and make better decision. (link)


Drive insight discovery with the data visualization app that anyone can use. With Qlik Sense, everyone in your organization can easily create flexible, interactive visualizations and make meaningful decisions.

Explore data with smart visualizations that automatically adapts to the parameters you set — no need for developers, data scientists or designers. (link)


Analytics anyone can use. (link)

TIBCO Spotfire

The Spotfire Platform delivers self-service analytics to everyone in your company. (link)

Self-service analytics gives end users the ability to analyze and visualize their own data whenever they need to. (link)


This tool is intended for those who need to do analysis but are not Analysts nor wish to become them. (link)


Welcome to a new era of data visualization software. An era of self-service BI where instant access to insights wins the day time and time again. With Wave Analytics, now anyone can organize and present information in a much more intuitive way. Without a team of analysts. (link)

With self-service analytics, you can instantly slice and dice data on any device, without waiting for IT or analysts. (link)


Zoomdata brings the power of self-service BI to the 99%—the non-data geeks of the world who thirst for a simple, intuitive, and collaborative way to visually interact with data to solve business problems. (link)


TARGIT Decision Suite gives you self-service analytics solutions intuitive enough for the casual user… (link)

Take care,


18 Comments on “Examples of False Claims about Self-Service Analytics”

By Sam Tyler. September 12th, 2016 at 10:34 am

This is symptomatic of a larger problem: vendors and executives confuse analytics with reporting. Sometimes they flop the terms. Other times, such as these, they overlap the terms. This creates the highest hope in business and the greatest letdown.

Executives want data-driven ideas on where to go next. Technology can only go so far. But, if you find someone who executes well between technology and business, who understands the ideas, who can look for problems, then executives find what they were looking for.

It takes a philosophical shift – analytics is not a technology solution. It’s a human solution that uses technology.

By David. September 12th, 2016 at 10:47 am


This tool is intended for those who need to do analysis but are not Analysts nor wish to become them. (link)”

Can I also buy some scalpels “for those who need to do surgery but are not Surgeons nor wish to become them?”

By Jonathon Carrell. September 12th, 2016 at 12:59 pm

While some of the claims are certainly more egregious than others, they all suffer from the same underlying insinuation. That is; with their product, analytical and design skills aren’t needed.

Yes, it may indeed be true that anyone (at least those with basic computer skills) might be able to use their software, but that isn’t the message that’s being sent. Being able to operate a piece of software does not equate to being able create effective visualizations.

Vendors that lead the market to believe otherwise are doing themselves and their potential clients a disservice by setting expectations that the products (by themselves) will fail to deliver on.

Software is nothing more than a tool, and often a tool we find lacking. It is up to us to pick the right tool for the right job and then provide the right skill set in order to use the tool to a positive end.

“When the only tool you possess is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail.”

By Nate. September 13th, 2016 at 6:39 am

At least Microsoft Power BI claims to be for analysts…

“If you are a data analyst delivering reporting and analytics to your organization, Power BI lets you be productive and creative with what you build. Power BI Desktop is a feature-rich data mashup and report authoring tool.”

By Matt. September 13th, 2016 at 8:42 am

Is it possible for a BI Application to provide a tool-set to visualise and also teach data sense making?

By Eric. September 13th, 2016 at 9:10 am

Here’s another one:


NLP saves the analyst the hassle of interpreting graphs. What could go wrong?

By Benoit Bernard. September 13th, 2016 at 10:24 am


Recently, I’ve come across a few posts by Avinash Kaushik (http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/). And he commonly uses the expression “data puker” to refer to a person responsible for analyzing data, without real data analysis skills. Thus, she’s unable to garner real insights.

So I was wondering: is it possible that those marketing claims are not really exaggerated, in the sense that they target “data pukers”?

By Vince. September 13th, 2016 at 1:39 pm


I work in state government, and the one thing that NLP facilitates that is often overlooked or ignored is accessibility. We must abide by certain compliance standards in web publishing and online documents (including dashboards and visualizations) that require interpretational equivalents be offered for users suffering visual impairments. On the one hand, a strong case could me made (and indeed has been made, on this blog as well as others) that data visualization, by its very nature, cannot be equivalently conveyed in a non-visual manner. This argument often falls short of satisfying the requirements for compliance exclusion, however, so there is a place in the market for a product like this. I haven’t personally used it, but I could see a potential use case for it.

By kris erickson. September 14th, 2016 at 9:19 am

There is a need for a simple answer to be delivered to someone easily. I have built a solution with a ‘modern’ product to enable a user to answer their own simple questions to the tune of “How many $s did we get from product X during Y timeframe through channel Z”. After building such a solution the user’s questions dropped off and now his questions are starting to change to “why” and “how can we change”.

As pointed out previously, this is ‘reporting’ and not ‘analysis’ and there have been many previous products that did the same thing in different ways (Cognos, Crystal Reports, and Business Objects). Considering vendors are still hawking this ‘new’ feature of self-service seems to indicate we haven’t move very far in 15+ years.

Literacy rates didn’t rise until several centuries after the printing press was made.

By Or Shoham. September 15th, 2016 at 12:17 am

In what is likely an amusing coincidence, this blog post showed up on Qlik’s site (and was highlighted in the blog roll) yesterday: http://global.qlik.com/us/blog/posts/kevin-hanegan/decision-makers-is-your-analytics-tool-worthless

By Andrew Craft. September 16th, 2016 at 9:08 am

@Qlik “…no need for developers, data scientists or designers.”

Except for the highly-paid contractors that work for you, right? I mean, if we had our own experts, we wouldn’t need expensive support licenses, would we?

Stephen I feel I do have to agree with the vendors on one point here: Many suggest that you don’t need analytical skills to be able to use their products – they’re not wrong. It’s just that the part they don’t tell you is that if you DO have analytical skills, you WON’T be able to use their products.

At least that has been my experience.

By Stephen Few. September 16th, 2016 at 9:45 am


You do need analytical skills to use these tools productively. You certainly don’t need analytical skills to use them unproductively, but that’s of little use.

By Andrew Craft. September 16th, 2016 at 10:25 am


Indeed – my implication was that many of these tools can’t be used productively. I realize that’s not a completely fair or accurate suggestion, as is typically the case with hyperbole.

But the point I was making with it is serious: When the BI tools are designed to be used by non-analysts (i.e. everyone), the analysts are the ones who struggle to use the software effectively (due to design limitations, or bad default settings, or sometimes just the software wrestling the data sense-making task from the analyst’s far-more-capable hands).

By Stephen Few. September 16th, 2016 at 11:03 am


I agree with you that the data sensemaking tools that are supposedly deigned for non-analysts are poorly designed for skilled analysts. It is also unfortunately true that the tools that are designed for skilled data analysts tend to have horrible interfaces, which makes them unnecessarily cumbersome to use. No great data sensemaking tools exist.

By Ben B. September 16th, 2016 at 8:50 pm

Love the free Tableau marketing… I mean “training” videos. I lost count of the number of times I heard the words, “simple”, “simply”, “easy” or “easily” in the videos. It’s been my experience that these “simple” tools require a fair amount of data prep before you can ever drag and drop to get any insight.

I’m with you on this one, I have yet to see the tool that anyone in the organization can use to reach meaningful and accurate conclusions without training and lots of practice.

By Mark. October 18th, 2016 at 6:47 am

There are two types of tools in the list and both have the same fundamental issue; if your data isn’t in a state that is ready to be reported on, any reasonable replication of the demos that the vendors give are unachievable in the short term.

In terms of the self-service, SAP miss the point of what Webi/BO was originally about; it’s to allow an analyst to get at the data without waiting for a SQL developer to code the report – once you’ve got your universe (metadata layer) properly built (an art in itself to produce a good one), then the analyst can build what they want, how they want. BO should have resisted the dollars imho and pushed on as a market leader but the writing was on the wall after IBM grabbed Cognos.

By Edouard. November 17th, 2016 at 9:45 am

How about this :
“If we construct a pyramid of user skills in most organizations, it probably would look something like the one shown below, and you can see that the non-technical users dominate the spectrum of users. Despite these large number of non-technical users today, much of the industry still focuses on developing tools for those skilled in the art of analysis. InfoApps break that trend as they deliver informational applications to users on their terms, without needing any education of analytical tools.”
The whole page linked above makes outrageous claims about the software being able to deliver answers and insights to anyone.
There is a subtle play on words between being skilled at the art of analysis and needing an education in analytical tools, a shift from being skilled at data analysis to being skilled at using software. However, those are quite clearly two different skills.
Vendors actually are making efforts, as seen above, to increase the confusion between the two. Of course, magical software that can deliver answers is more likely to sell, so you can abdicate your thinking and let the software also do this part for you.

The next step, of course, is to create software that grants you world domination, without you even having to think up a plan in order to achieve it.

By Stephen Few. November 17th, 2016 at 9:59 am


In your final paragraph above, you referred to a scenario that is perhaps quite real today. I suspect that Donald Trump has his team working on such an ap.

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