Tag Archive for Microsoft Power BI

5 Tips to Make Power BI Easy on the Brain

How you present your data driven insight is important! But unfortunately, analysts can sometimes forget to tell their story effectively, leaping from data exploration to a dashboard without giving much thought to how audiences will receive the information. Your insights can get lost in a messy report. If the information is critical, shouldn’t the communication medium be crisp, clean and understood at a glance?

Advanced Analytics tools, such as Qlik and Power BI, are fantastic for creating interactive dashboards and reports you can use to explore large datasets, understand trends, track key ratios and indicators, and then share insights with your colleagues, or your boss. What makes these tools useful? They take data and refine it into information by placing a visualization over it, thereby helping our visually oriented brains make sense of the numbers. When it comes to understanding the meaning behind the numbers, a data table or Excel report can leave a brain very, very tired.

Here are some quick tips for making your next analytics report “Easy on the brain”!

Our 5 Power BI Tips:

Respect the Rim

Before my career in technology began, I worked as a waiter, and I worked at some pretty classy spots. If you have never had the pleasure, let me share with you that before each plate makes it to its appointed destination, it is briefly inspected. If any sauces, herbs, or actual food has errantly landed on the rim of the plate, it is removed. “Respect the Rim,” my mentor once told me. The same is true for your data and information. Enforce a thin empty “margin” around each of your Power BI reports. By using the “Snap to Grid” feature, make sure that each visual on the report is aligned to your self-imposed margin. The analysis will look sharper and more credible.

What’s the Headline?

Most reports have data points which are essential, such as Key Performance Indicators (KPI) defined by management, or other indicators such as “Bottom Line” financials, Net Income or EBITDA. These essential measurements are the Headline for the report. Don’t bury the Headline – always place key information in the upper left-hand corner of the report, either in a Power BI Card or KPI visual.

Once you have done that, you can further segment visual information into key categories, and keep them segmented into groups. For example, beneath your KPI you may want to provide leading indicators or contributing factors. Another option may be to provide a group of categorical breakdowns together, or key ratios that contribute to the success or challenges of your headline. You may want to provide a group of visuals providing detailed exposition – a table or other visual with detailed categories. The information should flow from the Headline to the Exposition, just as a newspaper story would.

              

Have a Perspective

Reports that provide multiple ways to filter and slice the data are very helpful to data analysts, data scientists and casual explorers. These are tools to help you with data exploration. Once you’ve found insights worth sharing, focus the audience’s attention on that information by removing the extraneous bits. Don’t worry – the underlying Power BI data model remains for exploration of new insights later.

Make It Mobile

I always make a point of creating a phone layout for my reports, because it is very easy in Power BI. Due to the smaller form factor, phone layouts require you to further choose the essential information. However, if you’ve followed my advice, then you know what the headline is already. Simply drag the headlines onto the phone layout for your report before publishing. Among many outstanding features, the Power BI mobile app allows users to get notifications and data-driven alerts. End users can even mark up phone reports, distribute with their annotations and launch a conversation.

Intentional Style

Use good judgement and don’t get carried away with excessive colors, logos, or background images. I find that a company logo can be helpful for some audiences. However, when it comes to colors, be mindful of some universal rules.

  1. Some colors convey information, intended or otherwise (Red, Yellow and Green, for example)
  2. Company branding adds a professional touch – use the color scheme
  3. Use no more than 10 data colors, no more than 3 backgrounds and no more than 4 fonts

I recommend saving a Custom Theme for Power BI that reflects this guideline. Save off your company theme and save for later use. Any changes can be applied globally.

Your Most Important Information, Quickly Understood

Critical information is more valuable when it is quickly understood. Indeed, each visualization available conveys information in its own manner; therefore, it is important for professionals who prepare analysis with advanced analytics tools to be mindful of the strengths and weaknesses of each. Regardless of audience, these five guidelines apply.

Advanced analytics tools are a critical component to digital transformation, because they enable data-driven decision making. Among other things, data-driven decision making requires the creation of information from data. Often, that data is massive, or moving quite rapidly. To extract insights and reduce business uncertainty, talk to BlumShapiro about our analytics service offerings. We’ll provide a road map to data-driven decision making, enabling digital information at your fingertips. And you can focus on your business.

Berry_Brian-240About Brian: Brian Berry leads the Microsoft Business Intelligence and Data Analytics practice at BlumShapiro. He has over 15 years of experience with information technology (IT), software design and consulting. Brian specializes in identifying business intelligence (BI) and data management solutions for upper mid-market manufacturing, distribution and retail firms in New England. He focuses on technologies which drive value in analytics: data integration, self-service BI, cloud computing and predictive analytics

Microsoft Announces Power BI Premium: Removes Functionality on Free Version

Many of our clients come to us looking for solutions to help them achieve “Business Intelligence for Everyone” in their organization while avoiding the pitfalls of reporting in Excel. Our response is simple: Microsoft Power BI is an easy-to-use, non-technical business intelligence tool which is far more robust than Microsoft Excel for reporting. End users who rely upon Excel for reporting often view Power BI as a logical step up. With Power BI, users can automate mundane data transformation steps, connect to a broad range of data sources and securely collaborate with colleagues  —all within an environment that looks and feels just like Excel. Our clients have reported that Power BI’s free edition includes enough functionality to get started on any reporting initiative, automate data extraction and transformation activities and share the results with a team of executives, analysts, managers and colleagues. However, as Power BI data and report volumes grow, organizations may choose to step up to Power BI Pro, which upgrades users from 1GB to 10GB of data and enables complex analytics sharing capabilities, even outside the organization.

Finding a Solution for Larger Organizations

The current Power BI service does present some challenges to larger, more sophisticated organizations. Some of the issues include:

  •   Sharing and collaboration features would often become complex and difficult to manage
  • Compute resources are shared, not dedicated, and there is no ability to provision additional compute resources
  • Structured reporting capabilities are not well suited for interactive reports and “single pane of glass” dashboards delivered in Power Bi

These issues begged for a simpler, more manageable model for large organizations.

Introducing Power BI Premium

In early May 2017, Microsoft announced its intention to introduce a new licensing level for Power BI, Power BI Premium. Power BI Premium is designed to address the shortcomings of Power BI Pro. Here are three things to know about Power BI Premium:

  1. Power BI Premium Edition will support Power BI Apps. Power BI Apps replace Content Packs and Power BI Embedded. Organizations that currently share Power BI content externally with Power BI Embedded should plan to migrate to Power BI Premium Edition.
  1. Power BI Premium Edition offers dedicated capacity for organizations that need more control. Instead of paying strictly per user, Power BI Premium is licensed on a combined capacity and usage model. This enables organizations who struggle with the per user data limits enforced on Free and Pro Edition users (1 GB and 10GB maximums, respectively) to load data models that are much larger. As with other Azure services, organizations can scale up and scale down capacity as their needs change.
  1. Power BI Premium Edition includes a license for Power BI Report Server—a full featured on-premises solution supporting both Power BI (interactive) reports and Reporting Services (paginated, structured) reports.

Important Note for Power BI Free Edition Users

Power BI Free Edition became quite attractive because many users within the same organization could share content without paying any fee. Unfortunately, Power BI Free Edition functionality will be changing soon. Users on the Free Edition will no longer be able to share dashboards with colleagues, other than by printing them out, or showing others their “personal dashboard” in a browser. As of June 1, users enjoying dashboard sharing will no longer be able to do so under the Free Edition.

June 1st is right around the corner, and some organizations have built fully functional company dashboards using Free Edition licenses. These organizations now face the prospect of having to either upgrade to Power BI Pro Edition ($10/user/month) or lose vital collaboration features. This is why Microsoft is offering a 1-year trial of Power BI Pro licenses to users who have previously signed up for Power BI Free Edition. This allows organizations to carefully consider which users need Power BI Pro for data model, report and dashboard creation and collaboration and which do not. Some organizations will stay on the Free Edition, and simply share their BI content via PowerPoint. Others will look at Power BI Pro or Premium licensing and continue to see value.

Next Steps

Microsoft has stated that general availability of Power BI Premium is on the horizon, but no specific release date has been communicated. If your organization has many users creating reports and dashboards with the Free Edition, here are some things you can do to get ready for the change.

  1. Take advantage of the 1-Year Power BI Pro trial – encourage users to respond to any email communication from Microsoft and take advantage of the grace period
  1. Download the Power BI Report Server and take it for a spin
  1. Review the Power BI Premium Calculator to understand what your costs would look like under the Power BI Premium model

For more information on how to achieve high performance analytics and reporting with Power BI, contact Brian Berry and our Data Analytics team at bberry@blumshapiro.com, or by phone at 860.570.6368.

Berry_Brian-240About Brian: Brian Berry leads the Microsoft Business Intelligence and Data Analytics practice at BlumShapiro. He has over 15 years of experience with information technology (IT), software design and consulting. Brian specializes in identifying business intelligence (BI) and data management solutions for upper mid-market manufacturing, distribution and retail firms in New England. He focuses on technologies which drive value in analytics: data integration, self-service BI, cloud computing and predictive analytics

A Digital Transformation – From the Printing Press to Modern Data Reporting

Imagine producing, marketing and selling a product that has only a four-hour shelf life! After four hours, your product is no longer of much value or relevance to your primary consumer. After eight hours, you would be lucky to sell any of the day’s remaining stock. Within 24 hours, nobody is going to buy it; you have to start fresh the next morning. There is such a product line being produced, sold and consumed to millions of people around the world every day. And it’s probably more common than you think.

It’s the daily newspaper.

With such a tight production schedule, news printers have always been under the gun to be able to take the latest news stories and turn them into a finished printed product quickly. Mechanization and automation have pretty much made the production of the modern daily paper a non-event, but it has not always been that way.

150 years ago, the typesetter (someone who set your words, or ‘type’, into a printing press) was the key to getting your printed paper mass produced. With typesetters working faster than your competitors, you could get your product, your story, out to your consumers faster, gaining market share. However, it was still very much a manual process. In the late 1800s the stage was set for a faster method of setting type. One such machine, the Paige Compositor, was as big as a mini-van and had about 15,000 moving parts. (Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the failed invention, leading to his financial ruin.) On a more personal scale and at the modern end of the spectrum, we think nothing of sending our finished work, perhaps the big annual report, off to the color printer or ‘office machine’, or upload it to a local printing vendor who will print, collate and bind the whole job for us in a fraction of the time it would take a typesetter to layout even the first page!

So why am I telling you all this? It’s certainly not for a history lesson. The point is that the printed news industry went through a transformation from nothing (monks with quill pens), to ‘mechanization’ (Gutenberg’s printing press), to ‘automation and finally to ‘digitalization.’ And, they had to do so as the news consumer evolved from wanting their printed subscription on a monthly basis, down to the weekly, to the daily and even to the ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ editions. Remember, after four hours, the product is going stale and just about useless. (We could debate whether the faster technologies was what drove news consumers to want information faster, or if the needs of the consumer inspired the advancements in technology, but we won’t.)

Data and reporting has followed the same phases of transformation, albeit not along a much accelerated time span. The modern data consumer is no longer satisfied with having to request a green-bar, tractor fed report from the mainframe, then wait overnight for the ‘job’ to get scheduled and run. They’re not even satisfied with receiving a morning email report with yesterday’s data, or even being able to get the latest analytics report from the server farm on demand. No, they want it now, they want it in hand (smart phones), and they want it concise and relevant. To satisfy this market, products are popping up that fill this need in today’s data reporting market. Products like Microsoft’s Power BI can deliver data quickly and efficiently and in the mobile format demanded due to the industry’s transformation to digital processing. Technologies in Microsoft’s Azure cloud services such as Stream Analytics, coupled with Big Data processing, Machine Learning and Event Hubs have the capabilities to push data in real time to Power BI. I’ll never forget the feeling of elation I had upon completing a simple real-time Azure solution that streamed data every few seconds from a portable temperature sensor in my hand to a Power BI Dashboard. It must have been something like Johannes Gutenberg felt after that first page rolled off his printing press.

Gutenberg and Clemens would be amazed at the printing technology available today to the everyday consumer, yet we seem to take it for granted. Having gone through some of the transformation phases with regard to information delivery myself (yes, I do in fact recall 11×17 green-bar tractor-fed reports) I tend to be amazed at what technologies are being developed these days. Eighteen months ago (an eon in technology life) the Apple watch and Power BI teamed up to deliver KPI’s right on the watch! What will we have in another eighteen months? I can’t wait to find out.

About Todd: Todd Chittenden started his programming and reporting career with industrial maintenance applications in the late 1990’s. When SQL Server 2005 was introduced, he quickly became certified in Microsoft’s latest RDBMS technology and has added certifications over the years. He currently holds an MCSE in Business Intelligence. He has applied his knowledge of relational databases, data warehouses, business intelligence and analytics to a variety of projects for BlumShapiro since 2011. 

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