So what’s this CSI thing then?

Nope, if you came here looking for a fan site, I’m afraid this isn’t what we are, CSI or Continual Service Improvement is a process of structured change and development that ultimately leads to the improvement of a service being delivered.

The human brain sees “improvements” automatically, I’m sure we’ve all received a set of directions and having completed the journey a few times thought “I’ll bet if I just change… I would get to my destination quicker/safer/more economically”. That’s the simplest form of “Improvement” I can think of. The more analytical of you may have timed your journey different routes or used another benchmark (was it by a busy road, how much petrol did I use) the point would be you are actually making a comparison, the net result is that you are able to look at you journey times and make and informed decision on which route is the most appropriate. A few weeks/months later no doubt some more changes come to mind or open up or there are road works on your “optimal” route, does that mean having changed once that you can’t change again? Heck no, you’ll change your route to the best, who knows you many have even found that a different route was always preferable at key times/days. What you’re actually doing is living the Continual Service Improvement (CSI) process.

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My Ultimate Date Dimension! at least until I figure out a better one….

As you progress in Power BI (and Power Pivot), you quickly find you need a date dimension, the problem is that date dimensions are difficult to build and even more difficult if you want them to be more than just a list of dates.

“Stop I’m confused… how can a list of dates be more?”

The role of a good date dimension is indeed to be more than just a list of dates, there are functions in Power BI to produce a list of dates, the issue is that you want something that is more. I’ll be honest at this point before we dive into the queries, I use, I cannot remember where I got the original source, I found three or four different date dimension SQL queries initially and then started pulling them together and adjusting them to fit my needs. For me we were going to have the majority of our data coming from a SQL server so it makes sense to have a SQL date dimension, based on what we did and after doing some benchmarking within Power BI I would recommend housing it on a Database, putting it in Power BI or excel won’t stop things working, but I have got best results from this method.

The important thing about the first bit is that there are many, many scripts out there to do what you need. Typically they have the same format.

I’ll make these source files available to download

  1. Define Table
  2. Populate Dates Dimension
  3. Deal with 1 character days and months
  4. Set Fiscal Year Months – where I work we use August to July so I needed to add a case statement here, case statements sound more complex than they are
  5. Set Fiscal Year
  6. Set Fiscal quarter
  7. Set Fiscal week

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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.