Archive for August 29, 2016

Office 365 Groups – Making Life Easier

Projects and group work happen all the time at the office. With the digital revolution it’s all about getting this work done in less time. While being more efficient is great, it can be challenging at times to keep up with the pace in ever-changing work environments. Moving your technology infrastructure to the cloud can be a great way to keep up with the evolving technology landscape by staying up to date with the latest innovations. As an Office 365 coach, I enjoy teaching and sharing the latest features of Office 365 with our clients, including my new favorite, Office 365 Groups.

If you have ever worked on a group project, I am sure you know there are usually a few things that you need to have your IT department setup for you to help track group progress, communicate etc. For example, you may want a distribution list created for emailing team members, a shared calendar created to track events and meetings or a shared folder on a network drive for storing documents related to the group. While it is possible to set up and configure a mailbox, network drives, assign permissions and so forth, this can take valuable time away from being productive. Even after everything is configured, you may find yourself with technology that is not user friendly. For instance, you may have created a distribution list for email and then set up a Dropbox folder or a network share folder for storing documents. Using different apps and having to shift back and forth between them can slow down the progress of your project, which is where Office 365 Groups comes in to play.

Office 365 Groups solves the issue by providing all of the collaboration services you would need in a focused work area within Office 365—eliminating the issues caused by using disparate systems and apps. Each group in Office 365 contains the following:

  • Inbox – Group emails
  • Calendar – Group meetings/events
  • Document Library – Storing files and folders
  • OneNote Notebook – Taking meeting/project notes
  • Planner – Manage project tasks
  • Connectors – Connect your favorite apps to the group

office 365 groups graphic


All of these features can be created in less than 10 seconds without any IT involvement. This can be a huge timesaver for groups in the business world thanks to the power of the cloud. Getting work done faster and more efficiently is a win for the employee and a win for the business. Office 365 Groups is just one of the many examples of how the cloud is making everyone’s lives a little bit easier.

To learn more about Office 365 Groups and how your company can use them, contact our BlumPOWER team at

CTA Blog (2)

How to Setup the Waterfall Chart in Power BI

In this article, I wanted to touch on a visualization that was part of the initial release of Power BI, but one I seldom see on Dashboards or requested by Business Users: The Waterfall Chart. What is it? How do I set it up? What is it useful at displaying? How does it differ from a simple Column chart? We’ll answer those questions below.

What is the Waterfall chart?

A Waterfall chart is a column type chart that shows aggregated data over time. It is useful for displaying the individual components of a measure and how they continually contribute to the overall number. Something like ‘Variance to Goal’ would make good use of a Waterfall chart. I’ll explain more of the features as we explore and set up a simple example.

For this exercise we’ll make up some data in the Power BI Desktop designer. Click the Enter Data button on the Home ribbon and enter values and Column Headers as follows:

Waterfall Data

After clicking OK and loading the table, format the Date column as “(MMMM, yyyy)” and the other two as your favorite currency. That’s it. That’s all we need to move on to some charting. And first up will be a Clustered Column chart showing both Sales and Sales Goal side-by-side for the 12 months:

Sales Goal Column Chart

Because the default for a Column chart is to show the full height, this particular comparison, where the variance between the two numbers is relatively small compared to the total height, the eyes may have a hard time differentiating the columns. Also, we have to work hard to find the four months where the Sales value was below the Goal.

I see this type of visualization often and every time I think, “There’s got to be a better way to show this.” Fortunately, there is, but we need to add a variance calculation. Let’s add a Calculated Column to the table with the following formula:

Sales Goal Variance = [Sales] – [Sales Goal]

This should also be formatted as currency. Charting this value in a simple Column chart will give us a little more insight into how the variance has changed over the course of those same 12 months:

Sales Goal Variance Column Chart

This is a little easier to understand, particularly when it comes to determining when the Variance is negative or positive. But it still lacks the ability to show at what point, for example, we recovered from the shortfall in January and broke even, or if we are above or below our Goal for the entire year.

As useful as this plot is, there is an even better way. Here’s what the Waterfall chart would do with these same data points:

  1. Plot negative numbers in a different color than positive ones.
  2. Start each succeeding month at the point where the prior month ended.
  3. Show a total (positive or negative) for the entire time frame.

For example, if we could slide down the February column so that it started at the end of January’s ($2K),

Waterfall 1

then slide March’s $500 down so it starts where February ended  at ($1k) ( = ($2K) at the end of January + $1K added by February ) and so on, the result would be a Waterfall chart as show here:

Waterfall ChartThe resulting plot is an easy to understand column-type chart showing how each monthly segment contributed to the overall value for the total period. From this chart, we can easily pick out the following tidbits from our data that were not readily available in either of the two previous chart styles:

  • January was disastrous we knew, but by the end of April we had recovered and were back on track.
  • We had four consecutive months of Sales greater than the corresponding monthly Goal (February through May), then settled into a back-and-forth for most of the rest of the year.
  • November was just as bad as January, and brought us slightly behind the Goal for the year.
  • December’s gain was the best, and brought us over our Goal by a wide margin.

How do I set up a Waterfall Chart?

The Waterfall chart is one of the easiest in Power BI to set up. There are three very basic steps, as outlined below, and which need not be done in the order specified.

Select Waterfall chart

  • Select the Waterfall chart from the Visualizations palette. If you have not already added any other elements, it will add a blank chart to the report canvas.
  • Select the Y Axis. In our case, we used a Calculated Column called Sales Goal Variance, which, being a numeric data type, was automatically summed by default. We could have just as easily selected a Measure that already had the appropriate aggregation defined.
  • Select the Category. Typically, a date type is used here, and be careful after selecting as Power BI tends to create Date Hierarchies which must then be manipulated. For this exercise, since my data was already at a monthly grain, I by-passed the hierarchies and went straight for the Date column.

select Date

There are some useful format options, too, that should be noted. The most prominent one is the Sentiment Colors option. With this, the designer can assign colors to the Increase, Decrease and Total bars if, for example, the data was such that a DECREASE was favored over INCREASE.

Sentiment Colors

How does a Waterfall chart differ from a Column chart?

As shown, the two are very close in layout, but there are some major differences:

  • The Waterfall chart cannot show a Series, such as Territory or Product, as either stacked or clustered, like a Column chart can. It is limited to one value only.
  • It does not allow superimposing of a line with a secondary Y axis that shares the same X axis.
  • It can only be displayed with vertical columns and does not allow horizontal bars.

What is a Waterfall chart useful for?

Limitations above aside, the Waterfall chart is still quite useful in the right situation and with the right data. As already shown, when plotting a variance, numbers where there is a potential for negative values, the Waterfall chart excels. It gives somewhat of a Year-to-Date look and feel of the data without the need to write the DAX expression. Note that the ending point for each month (the top of each green column and the bottom of each red column) represents the point of YTD Variance for that month. (I sometimes refer to a Waterfall chart as a ‘poor man’s YTD’.)

Consider the following Column chart that plots the DAX Measure:

YTD Variance = TOTALYTD(SUM(‘Table1′[Sales Goal Variance]),’Table1′[Date])

YTD Variance

This plot is, I believe somewhat misleading to the viewer, even though the ENDS of each monthly column correspond with the ENDS of the columns in the Waterfall. All we can tell for any one month is where we are in YTD Variance, but not how we got there. To arrive at July’s YTD Variance value of $750, for example, we had to DROP from June’s point of $1,750, something that the Waterfall chart clearly indicates, but something we need to derive in the above plot based on the position of July’s end point relative to June’s. Our Sales Goal Variance was NEGATIVE for July, but the above plot seems to indicate that July was POSITIVE!

And lastly, YTD plots always end at the end of the year because, well, that’s in their definition. A Waterfall chart can span multiple years with ease, or even be sliced or filtered to start at a different point along the X (Category) axis. The plot below charts the same data, but shows April through October.

April Waterfall

Hopefully, now that you understand the benefits and limitations of the Waterfall chart, you’ll be more inclined to introduce it and explain its benefits to Business Users for displaying variance data.

Learn more about Blum Shapiro Technology Consulting

Also by this author: KPI’s in Power BI, Not as Hard as You Think.

5 Warning Signs Your Company Has Outgrown QuickBooks

Cloud accounting image

If you’re a small business, you’re most likely running QuickBooks. In fact, millions of businesses use QuickBooks as their very first accounting system. Why?

When companies are starting out, they can’t afford to make huge investments in finance systems. They spend $100 dollars or so and they are all set. They don’t have to invest in training and can be up and running in a matter of days.

For a lot of businesses, QuickBooks is the last accounting system they will ever have to buy because their needs don’t change.

What if Your Business is Growing?

But if your business is growing and evolving, your finance system needs to adapt. Your reporting requirements evolve. More and more people depend on critical reports and financials and need them quicker.

Most businesses respond to these increased expectations by compensating with manual entries, workarounds and the biggest crutch of all…spreadsheets.

As they continue to evolve, they add more workarounds, and more manual, duplicate data entry and more band aids. Now they are so in the weeds trying to get basic financials issued each month that they lose sight of how difficult their life has become each month.

The Key Warning Signs You Have Outgrown QuickBooks

Based on my experience with hundreds of companies, I would like to share with you 5 Warning Signs That Your Company Has Outgrown QuickBooks. We’ll cover the first two warning signs in this post and discuss the last three in our next post.

Warning Sign #1 – Monthly Reporting Nightmares
QuickBooks designed its reporting capabilities for very small businesses. In order to get more complex, meaningful financial reports, all of the data must be exported to Excel, summarized, formatted and printed manually each month.

Change a single amount and you need to repeat the entire process again.

How much time are you wasting taking all of these extra steps each month? What more productive and valuable activities could you be working on instead?

Warning Sign #2 – Disconnected Critical Systems
Let’s face it, as your company grows, your systems become more complex.

You need more systems to manage the operational aspects of your business: customers, time and billing, sales, orders, production, payroll, scheduling, delivery and fulfillment.

QuickBooks was designed to stand alone, creating disconnected silos of information that are very difficult to manage as you grow.

If you are only entering your sales data once a month from your billing system, it’s hard to have any visibility into operations during the month.

Want to Learn More?

If you would like to learn more, we have compiled a free e-Book for you. Simply click here to download.

Please see the original post on the Cloud Accounting Blog >>