Dashboard in a Day: 5 key points from the Power BI training session that will transform your business
Over the recent months, we have been delivering “Dashboard in a Day” (DIAD) training sessions to businesses and IT decision makers, using Power BI technologies, at the new Microsoft building in Dublin. This is a Microsoft initiative which is designed to show users from a beginner or intermediate level the many uses and benefits which Power BI can potentially deliver for their reporting needs. DIAD is leading the way in making data analytics transparent for businesses. Decision makers are using it to understand where their data is coming from, and how they should use it to leverage competitive advantage.
The content of the day’s training mainly consists of demos, followed by hands-on practical labs of Power BI Desktop and Power BI Service. Emphasis is placed on the labs as the step-by-step instructions allows the users to explore the many features of the tool, while in turn reaching the end goal of producing a report and dashboard.
We have delivered a number of sessions, with each session producing great results and gathering productive feedback. Not only did the users find some major benefits in the product, but our recurring Q&A got me thinking about other methods that could potentially be used within Power BI, to create reports specific business needs. It’s always good to talk and find out about the real-world/real-business experiences and how these can be remedied.
With that in mind, in this blog I am going to go through the features that captured the most attention in the DIAD sessions so far, the ones which provided solutions to real business problems and delivered a, what I like to call, “wow” factor for the attendees:
1. Transformation Capabilities
In several scenarios, if a user wanted to display or format a field in a particular way, or shape the whole information in a certain structure, then that usually meant fixing it at the source. If an Excel or flat file was the source, then modifications needed to be completed there first. If the source was in a location where it could not be edited directly, then that meant transformations or changes needed to take place there.
One of the powerful options in Power BI Desktop is the Query Editor, which enables many common transformations such as changing data types, adding new columns, splitting a column and merging and appending queries. Once the query is in the structure required, then all data can be refreshed with the transformations already in place, resulting in better formatting and display of reports.
2. Interactive Visualisations
After multiple visualisations have been added to a report, the power of interactivity between these report parts is immediately seen. Click a bar on a bar chart and see every other visualization change its output accordingly. Choose a location in a map visual and again all other charts, lists and KPIs will show values for this location. Also, sometimes you may not want a chart to be filtered based on choices within other visuals. This can be easily achieved in Power BI by turning off the filter on this chart.
Speed, clarity and structure is enhanced; leaving you spending less time on creating the reports, and more time analysing them and putting them into action.
3. Quick Measures
To create your own metric in a data set in Power BI, you can use DAX expressions. DAX is designed to be very similar to Excel functions, but takes away the hassle of getting bogged down in reams of Excel reports. To get needed information like, for example, last quarter’s net sales, this can be done very quickly and easily in a DAX function.
There are occasions when certain popular measures need to be derived and this means a more complex DAX expression (e.g. YTD, Month on Month Growth etc.) This is where the Quick Measures feature comes to the fore. For example, if you need to get YTD, running totals, averages, percentage differences and so on, then Quick Measures allows you to easily create these and produces the DAX expression for you, saving a lot of time.
Within Power BI is a feature that allows you to see the hidden information on your data. By choosing the Insights option on a chart, multiple charts are produced on this data that could potentially give you more astute metrics. When these insights provide helpful information, you can pin this visualization to your dashboard to revisit whenever needed.
For example, you can see clearly if more revenue is generated in a certain product category for a manufacturer, or if a country is showing noticeably less sales variances for a specific individual product. This opens up a level of never before seen transparency for your business, leading to identifying trends and saving on costs.
5. Compression and Performance
The data sources used in the DIAD training are multiple Excel and flat files. One of these Excel files contains over 11 million rows. Opening this sheet on your machine could hang Excel, and sometimes not all data will get loaded. Even if you do successfully open this file, you will have further issues in producing meaningful reporting information from this data in the form of pivots and charts.
Power BI will not have this problem. Millions of rows will be loaded and ready to be transformed in a short space of time. As well as this, the combined total storage for these individual files comes to 420 MB. Once loaded to Power BI Desktop, file size can be reduced to 50 MB. A massive saving on storage and, in turn, performance.
Dashboard in a Day is more than just a quick-fix lab session or demo; it equips businesses with the platform and technology needed to take full advantage of the data lying in their organisation. Data that is used properly will cut costs, improve transparency and help make better informed strategic decisions to keep an organisation moving forward in a competitive industry. Power BI does the technical work so you don’t have to, turning a tedious or difficult task in to a simple, business enhancing one.