Saturday, June 10, 2017

Comprehensive Introduction To Power BI And The Value Proposition

Power BI is Microsoft's self-service Business Intelligence solution and is the most popular self-service BI solution in Nigeria. Many companies in Nigeria are beginning to realise the huge importance of having flexible and robust BI reports and a lot of them are turning to Power BI due to the local presence of Microsoft and the low entry fee of Power BI compared to the other self-service BI solutions.

As a business professional, what do you need to know about Power BI and its potential value to your organization? Well, that is what we are going to discuss in the next few paragraphs.

Before the advent of self-service BI solutions, companies used to have a data warehouse or IT team who manage the company-wide data using Microsoft SQL servers, Oracle database servers and MySQL database servers (there are others but these are the most popular ones). These tech-savvy team model the company data and provide portals for the other teams/departments in the company to download data they need for their reports. Sometimes, they create reports too for the business managers to consume but these reports are often static and not robust enough for day-to-day business needs. Hence, the need for a second group of people -- analysts. They could be sales analysts, operations analysts, customer service analysts, marketing analysts or data analysts. This set of people create the highly important day-to-day reports that management use to keep the business running smoothly and for strategic planning. These reports are mostly made with Microsoft Excel because of its ease of use and managers' preference for it. And again, before now, this was good enough.

However, since the advent of self-service BI, Excel is now no longer good enough for reporting all the business operations. Excel is still extremely important and useful but not great at providing real-time robust dashboards/reports that can be consumed on the go by managers (without having to lug around a laptop and Excel). Managers are increasingly looking for reporting tools that provide them real-time access to their business data reports and accessible from their iPads, tablets and smartphones even in the middle of the night or while on a vacation in a remote island/village. And that is the very thing with many other valuable features that self-service BI solutions like Power BI provide.

With Excel, you have to create the reports repeatedly and email them out. I used to work as a business analyst and MIS analyst for Comviva on an Airtel Africa CRBT project. I often say I worked for Airtel Africa as Comviva was a sister company to Airtel, both were owned by the Bharti Group. I used to create 11 daily reports -- one for each of the 10 countries we were operating in in Africa and one pan-Africa report to the Airtel HQ in Kenya. Then every Friday, I create a weekly report and presentation. Been very good in Excel, I created a template to automate the reports and reduce my daily repetitive tasks. Yet two things could not be automated away and gave the management concern -- they only get the reports when I email them out and they always have to view it on their laptops. How were these a problem? On Saturday and Sunday, they are blind. They don't see what has happened all throughout the weekend till I send out reports on Monday. Then, whenever they are in a meeting or on a flight, they have to wait till they can open their PC, download the reports and interact with it before they can fully know what's in it.

Now, with Power BI, those problems are no more. I can design the reports once and set it to update automatically each day, so I don't have to daily recreate the reports. Then the managers can view the reports any day, especially on Saturday and Sunday, and see the updated (real-time) analysis. Lastly, they don't have to be on their PC. They can access the reports on their smartphones, tablets and any internet connect device that has a good browser.

And those aren't just the benefits. You get drill-down capabilities, enhanced visualizations, KPI trigger alerts and many more benefits that managers won't want to turn a blind eye to. Below is the extract of the slides I use to present the benefits of Power BI to managers. You can also view one of my openly available Power BI dashboards that I often use to show the power of Power BI: here and here. Enjoy! 

Note: the sample dashboard slides are extract from publicly available dashboards on Power BI Data Stories Gallery and the quote + architecture slides are from Brandon George's presentation.