Power BI: 6 Steps to building reports that really work
In an era of Big Data, analytical strategic decision making is becoming pivotal for success. Managers at every level are expected to be able to substantiate their decisions based on historical or predictive analytics. However, with many companies having a number of diverse sources of information available to them, how do you know where to start?
The first thing to remember is: building reports is like telling a story.
So, as with any good story, you should always consider the 5 W’s (and the 1 H!)
- What is the purpose of the report?
Before building any report, you must first identify what story you are trying to tell.
For example, if you are measuring the performance of a team, you must first identify what success looks like for this team. Tell this story through your reporting. If someone cannot look at the report and clearly understand the story you are telling, it is too complicated and will become obsolete.
- Who will consume the report?
One of the most common pitfalls when building reports is limiting the scope of who will read your story. Often, we build reports for a particular consumer in mind, but then forget that they will then likely share this with other people.
When building out your story, keep it clear and concise. Your initial consumer may implicitly understand the context, but when retold to another user, this context can be lost. One of the biggest time wasters in organisations is the “back and forth” in an attempt to understand report context and the story.
- Why is this report required?
Far too regularly, people are tasked with building a report that they will then blindly spend hours of their day gathering information for before sending it back to the original requester. Before creating any report, stop and consider if this question can be answered in another way.
Many times, they are looking for one number that can be simply accessed from the source system in 2 minutes, or a system view will provide them with the list of information they require. Not every report needs to be an epic opus, sometimes they are as simple as one line.
- When is the report required?
This question is twofold; firstly, how regularly does the user require the information? Secondly, how quickly do they need the information? If the request is for a single use, I would revert to the previous section and provide the one-line story. However, if this is something that will be reviewed regularly, then it is advisable to take the time to build out the full story.
This links into the second consideration, a common pitfall is not managing expectations when committing to providing these stories. As with any good story, dynamic reliable reports take time. Even if it is considered a high priority and time is tight, you should always take time to validate your information. Nobody wants to read a story riddled with typos.
- Where is this report available?
Once you have identified what story you are going to tell you must consider how others will access this information. As everyone is expected to use these reports they must be shared in a collaborative manner. Nobody wants to be the only person in a company that can tell a story. You want to empower others to share this story easily with others.
How do you get started?
Now that you have considered these key questions, knowing how to get started is the next essential step. Although my first piece of advice for this was to tell your reports like a story, you will unfortunately find out that it is rarely as simple as putting a pen to paper.
Lets apply our W’s to a simple common scenario - a sales manager reporting on the performance of their team:
Sales managers will be routinely asked how the sales team are performing. But what is success? Is it deals won? Is it orders placed? Is it a strong pipeline? All of the above?
Once we have agreed what success looks like for this team, you next need to ask yourself who cares about this? Is it just senior management? Will they be using these numbers with customers or other key stakeholders?
If we are looking at sales, why do we need a report at all? Is this information not available in the system that they track this information in? Or is this information tracked across several systems?
How up to date are these numbers expected to be? Are sales working day-to-day or week-to-week? Many organisations can manage deals in one system and actual orders in another. Will multiple data sources be required?
If your sales team work across different systems, where do you go to see this single view of performance?
If this sales team were capturing their deals in a CRM system, such as Dynamics CRM, but then the actual orders are being transacted through another ERP system, you would need to use a third system to tell this story. Excel has been the weapon of choice for many years, however it can be limited in its processing power, especially when querying many rows of data from multiple systems.
This is where Power BI offers the casual user far superior processing, even on their local machine. Using desktop designer reports, designers can connect to multiple data sources to clean, transform, explore and visualise this story. They can then simply publish it to their web portal and easily share it with any users in their organisation. Furthermore, this sales manager can then embed the report back into the Dynamics CRM system, facilitating easy collaboration and transparency.
As I said before, we are in the age of Big Data. The reports you use must tell a clear, full story. But getting started can be tricky. There can be doubt. That’s why it is recommended to partner with an expert to ease the transition, one who will identify where your company can gain optimal advantage through the use of analytics. Ergo are equipped to do just that. A Microsoft certified expert in Power BI, we have the personnel and resources needed to design, implement and showcase a customised, transformational solution to fit your business need.
Leveraging your data opens up the opportunity for your business to design and create result driven plans, which leads to tangible outcomes and real benefits. Poorly used data or reports will only complicate your work environment, creating confusion and spreading doubt throughout your management and teams. The question is not if you should start using data and reporting in your day to day routine, but actually, can you afford not to?
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