Transparency–reports become the pane of glass

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The journey to becoming a data led organisation through the implementation of a data centric reporting structure

When you ask yourself the question “what does reporting mean to me?” It is a highly subjective question. The answer is of course that reporting means different things to almost everyone in an organisation, Team leaders will use it monitor and manage their teams, while C-level consumers will use it to validate and assess progress along strategic goals. The promise of Big Data and in many ways the biggest value add that it can bring to any business is that suddenly it is possible to have everyone accessing the same data ideally through the same dashboards.

The idea of transparency scares a lot of people, but the bigger question is of course is it right to be afraid to be transparent internally? Under no circumstances am I advocating a showing customers a warts and all reporting window, but internally we must. All too often strategic goals have been created or devised using pie in the sky highly spun tales of business performance and then success is equally measured on these spun metrics. Therein lies challenge #1 of moving your organisation down the transparent route – Performance Tweaking.

Performance Tweaking – The act of presenting your performance by excluding “outliers”

Removing outliers or areas outside your control is internally – for many organisations – standard practice, however if you look at what can be done when a corporation reports financial  data you’ll see a radical shift – transparency – a business cannot just exclude bad transactions and only report on successful ones, they can classify the bad as such but still it must be accounted for. Day one on your journey to transparent reporting will no doubt involve a good deal of this – assessing what goes into metrics and how to balance the view, a team leader will want to see everything but they will not want “everything” to be seen by a C-level.

Challenge #2 – Fear – “What would happen if a C-Level drilled down to my team to see what they’re doing!” normally disguised as “Senior managers don’t have time to look at all the data so why make it available?” The goal of transparency is that absolutely everything should be available to everyone, and make no mistake like any new tool/toy it will be experimented with when it is first received leading to some very difficult – but ultimately worthwhile conversations as alignment begins be achieved. Make no mistake however after the launch and the first couple of weeks the toy becomes a tool and a tool is there to be used. The fear however that someone else of another manager or even worse someone senior will know more than “me” is a terrifying one. Traditionally businesses run internally on a currency of Information. The information I have about how my team/department/division runs enforces the traditional hierarchical management chains and serves to enforce practices that in the information age can ultimately be counter productive.

Fear – The fear that others may come to know more about my area of responsibility than I do

Challenge #3 – the unmentionable – the third challenge is often the most difficult, it is characterised by the throw away comment of “this is too complex for me” and “I’m not an analyst how can I be expected to understand this?” The reality is that in many ways this is one of the biggest enemies to progress, the view that a big data tool, must somehow be too complex for any “normal” consumer to understand. In truth this is proof of the requirement to have a clear development model with a consumer focused design philosophy, your single pane of glass must have a clear and simple layout that is both intuitive and self guiding.

For a toddler it’s going well

As Power BI approaches 2 (24-July-2017) I’m amazed by the progress that has been made so far and the pace that growth and development are happening. The milestones are coming thick and fast! Thinking back to my kids when they were two I’m really surprised, by just how much Power BI can do already. I wonder how many human year are in a Microsoft year? #thingsToMakeYouGoHmmm

The end of Free?

In a lot of ways Free is now dead certainly for a corporate customer perspective. I’m sure Microsoft is actually very happy about that as I have been told by their team in the past the Free is NOT for corporate customers.

A new hope?

At last there is an Enterprise strategy within Power BI, this will not be seen as great by many people, but for me in the corporate world it’s great. Power BI Premium means that suddenly I don’t have to go cap in hand back to management every five minutes to ask for another few Pro subscriptions. Free never really worked in a corporate environment since you could only share manually (or 3rd party) refreshed data, suddenly the shackles are off. It will be a challenge selling the initial jump up to management, but considering you are in a much, much better place once you switch it’s worth it. All that’s missing now is a confirmed date for release… come on Microsoft!

Overall I’m really excited by the changes that have come about around this birthday, and really looking forward to taking customers through the changes and watching as the data expands peoples understanding of their own business. I’ve never seen anyone see Power BI for the third time and not just be dumbstruck. The First view is always seen as a scripted demo, the second people are always overwhelmed, but by the third, they start to get it and start to build their internal use cases and realise just how much time this will save while giving themselves so, so much more.

March of change

Well the March 2017 Power BI Desktop update has arrived and all I can say is wow!

Matrix Preview is just that, suddenly I was back in the late 90’s watching “bullet time” for the first time.
“Wait you can make a functional matrix table now that can also be used to replace a load of slicers?” Mind was blown!

Themes seem like such a minor thing, but as soon as you try and undertake corporate work you end up spending more time changing the colour scheme all the time to meet your corporate standards. Suddenly you can do it all easily and save yourself hours. Great feature, but keep adding to this guys, there’s more we need.

I’ll do more posts on these features as they evolve.

Merry New Year!!!

As we start a new year I can’t help but feel that elements of comedy will be involved… actually I really hope they will be. On a personal note I’ve signed up already for two of the four events I will be running this year; The Wall and The Great North Run, next will be the Edinburgh Ultra Trail and the Gateshead 10km. I love my challenges and am looking forward to them all! This year I won’t be running for any charities, but I would ask that you donate to your local blood bank, either blood, plasma, platelets or cash.

Power BI in 2017 – so after suffering some set backs and there being issues with the way that the current Enterprise On-Premise Gateway is implemented I had to call a halt to Direct Query testing. To be honest I can see Direct Query being a blessing and a curse to an organisation. Some of our use cases will need Direct Query to be fully realised – mostly operational reporting. But our traditional reporting really benefits from the Power BI. I’ve lost count of the number of calls I’ve had recently that have felt like infomercials. “Oh you want to report on that by something different, that’s no problem with Power BI it’s a snap” and while privately I do throw up in my mouth a little at the sheer cheese factor, I’m blown away each and every time as are my colleagues.

Maybe starting the post and thinking of doing something drawing parallels to Trading Places was a stretch too far, but I do feel ahead of the game now. Experience and many scars teach us that no matter what is produced they’ll always want more, but now instead of running around frantic like the other guys in the stock exchange I’m calm and collected. So I’ll end with a quote from the cinematic classic that is Trading Places

“Looking good, Billy Ray!”

“Feeling good, Louis!”

Direct Query: Power BI on drugs… probably sedatives

Direct Query: Power BI on drugs… probably sedatives

It’s no secret that I think Power BI is great, even on days like today when Power BI has well and truly shafted me. Half the day has been lost by crashes and everything is getting tense, but still Power BI is going to deliver. The biggest challenge you’ll face with Direct Query is that it is only able to do a subset the things that your normal “full fat” Power BI deployment can do. As you no doubt read in my other post “A Plan Forms” lots of businesses will like Direct Query, certainly as a day one proposal when starting in Power BI.

Once you start down the Direct Query route be prepared to consider that you have to make sure there’s plenty of headaches on the road to victory. Undertaking it though is well worth it. I will continue to keep you informed of my progress and you can sneer at my mistake and hopefully we can have some thigh slapping moments together.