What Is Power BI and Why Should You Use It?
Power BI is a tool created by Microsoft to help organizations generate reports and understand the data in their systems. Generating reports and understanding your organization’s data is essential for anyone who wants to make more informed business decisions. Analyzing information sounds like it could be complicated, but TechHouse makes it easy for anyone to get started with Power BI.
How Does Power BI Work?
Before we dive into how Power BI can help your business, let’s talk about how it works.
Power BI is essentially Excel on steroids.
You can input data and have graphs, tables, and charts like pie charts, bar charts, the kind of visuals that help you understand the “red, yellow, green” in your organization: what’s going well and what needs help or attention.
You have those charting capabilities and combine them with the ability to connect to data from anywhere: your accounting software, sales software, operations software, an excel spreadsheet, a list in SharePoint, just to name a few.
With Power BI, you can pull data from those places and then use the kind of reporting and visualization capabilities you have in Excel, except they’re even more powerful.
Why Should You Use Power BI?
Many companies have established processes and maintain the mindset of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” so if they’re not using Power BI today, is there a reason to use Power BI tomorrow?
Yes, and they all have to do with the three Vs:
These three factors drive people to use dashboards to understand their systems’ information better and know what’s going on in their business.
If you have a high volume, many sales transactions or activities performed by your team or customers or line items on invoices or whatever, that might be a reason to use a dashboarding tool. To highlight the information embedded in the volume, so you can act on it and see the forest for the trees.
Velocity refers to the speed of incoming information. It’s hard for a human to find trends in data when the velocity is high. Power BI has artificial intelligence capabilities to analyze your data and find anomalies that the human eye would miss. For example, it may identify a customer’s buying behavior becomes unusual or one of the manufacturing lines becomes unusual or performance in one of the classrooms becomes unusual or sign-in activity becomes unusual. Knowing these anomalies allows you to take proactive corrective action.
Variety is when you have a wide variety of sources of information. We’ve all lived through this. You have accounting software, a sales tracking package, Excel spreadsheet tracking, maybe customer segmentation, or customer survey type information. Each data set needs to be analyzed and displayed differently to be meaningful to you.
An example of how this can help regarding your sales numbers: perhaps you’re profitable, but the percent profit is starting to drop. You don’t know it because you’re still positive, but if you can see a trend, you might notice you’re trending down or trending up even though you didn’t realize it because the numbers look similar.
Trending is crucial when creating dashboards. Red, yellow, and green lights are essential, so you know if you’re hitting your metrics.
Customizing Power BI Dashboards
When it comes to configuring dashboards, we think of it in three layers:
- Data Visualization
- Formulas and Calculations
- Pulling Data and Refreshing Regularly
The first layer would be the person who creates the actual visualizations, and visualizations can seem like a vague term, so think of things like a stoplight or the gauges you might see in the front of your car. These indicators are the type of visuals we want.
You know empty/full type gauges or red, yellow, green stoplights, pie charts, bar charts, and trending lines.
It’s crucial for the person creating the dashboards to visualize and think about “What’s the best way to depict a certain number?”
Some basic metrics might be profitability, performance, and then even more precise metrics associated with your organization. When it comes to the visualization layer, you want it done by somebody good at analysis, drilling into numbers, and thinking about the correlation and causation of the differences in the data points you have.
Formulas and Calculations
The second critical skill set for configuring dashboards is being able to create the necessary calculations. Perhaps you want to understand how all the sign-ins are happening within your organization. To do this, you may need to make calculations that possibly exclude contractors or break out contractors separate from employees or break out specific days or times of the month. So those calculations, leveraging the DAX language, may be a different skillset from the person who created the visualizations or the person who understands the business rules and processes.
Pulling Data and Refreshing Regularly
The third layer behind all that is the data modeling: Taking the information from one or more locations, putting it all together, and getting it cleaned for processing. You want to make sure the information goes where it needs to go and that it’s grouped into categories that matter to you.
How TechHouse Can Help Your Organization Get Started
There are two ways we tend to quick-start organizations on Power BI.
Sometimes customers would like to start by doing it themselves, and they want a little bit of guidance, so we begin with mentoring. We get them started by showing them how to use the core start features within the tool, and we help them connect to one or two data sources. For example, sometimes they may have a Sequel database that they are already using for reporting, but they don’t have any dashboards and visualizations. We can help them connect to the database, show them some of the core functions, and let them start building charts.
The second scenario that often happens is we build out data stores for the customer. They may have someone within their organization or a consultant who has been building out financial Excel “wonder sheets,” so they are strong with formulas and may have even gotten into DAX or Power Query. What’s most helpful to these individuals is gathering the data from the many locations and making it available to them. Then they can use Power Query, which is leveraged by Power BI within Excel initially as a first step. Then, if they want, they can leverage our team further to help with visualization in the future.
These are both common scenarios, but we have team members who specialize in each of the three layers, and we will help as much or as little as you would like.
If you’re ready to get started with Power BI, contact us today to schedule a free 15-minute consultation.