Microsoft Power BI should be at the forefront of everybody’s mind for dashboard building and business intelligence tools. What is Power BI? Many people may not have heard of it, but they definitely would have heard of Microsoft Excel. So let’s start there.
Excel has been great for many users all around the world. The need for Excel-based analytical skills is pervasive in business of all sizes. Most people are basic on their Excel skills and they get the job done.
However, these days, getting the job done is not enough. We are living in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world. What this means is that in order for our businesses to not just survive but thrive, we need to adopt methods that are more efficient. Excel can continue as a key tool in the business arsenal for smaller businesses that do not want to pay for expensive software or solutions. However, we need to learn how to use Excel in the right way, when to use Power BI and how these two powerful tools can synergize. Let’s first talk about the 2 best things that Excel is best for.
Excel is no doubt one of the best tools for data tables. This means storing information in a structured manner which provides users with the visual guide to understand which data should go where. For more advanced users who utilize data validation, it further enhances by storing the data where it should be. This means that if a column must contain only numbers, it will accept nothing else such as a remark which can cause errors in tabulation.
This is also why Excel provides a “Format as Table” function which many users do not use. It helps basic users to adopt more consistency as it runs formulas down the entire column and each row sticks to the same formula. This reduces error and the need to check formulas all the time.
Got a calculator at your desk? Great! However, you don’t want to repeatedly punch numbers into your calculator if there are many things you are calculating. Setting an Excel files with all the day-to-day calculations which you may use is great. It is a cheat sheet of sorts, with different tabs which can be color-coded. This can come in very handy when you set it up correctly.
You can leverage on Pivot Tables to generate quick charts. For a retail shop, it might have a sales data table with columns on date, categories, products and price. From the table, you can generate a quick chart that shows the product categories sale by year or month.
People rarely use Pivot Tables because they either don’t know how or don’t have their data structured properly. They usually have a table with many formulas which commonly leads to a “circular reference” error. As your Excel table becomes progressively complex, it may not be wise to rely on that information to make critical decisions.
Microsoft Power BI is a business intelligence and dashboard building tool, built upon the Power Query and Power Pivot add-ins to Excel. In 2020, Microsoft has yet again been recognised as the Leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platform for 13th consecutive years – 3 years before this product was even released. It is positioned a significant gap away from the next most popular tool, Tableau in terms of the ability to execute and completeness of vision.
Power BI represents the next milestone in data analytics and business intelligence, going beyond Excel which is limited to 1 million rows (1,048,576 to be exact). It can pull and merge data from multiple Excel files to give you the analysis you need.
As your business grows and your software toolbox increases, Power BI can integrate data from a variety of services, including SQL servers, SAP, Oracle, IBM, Teradata, Azure, Salesforce, Google, Amazon databases and many more. Therefore, regardless where you are in your digital transformation journey, whether you are a small business or a large corporation, you will be able to leverage on Power BI as your core business analytics service.
The ability to bring across data from various factors means that we can get a very good understanding of our business. For example, one could see the impact of marketing expenses across both product sales, production numbers, overall revenue, and impact to other business units.
This means that you can uncover insights that can make a significant difference to your business, such as focusing more on a particular marketing channel since it has been proven effective for the particular product. Or it could be that the product has not been generating sufficient sales despite the marketing spend. This guides you on
Power BI dashboards has fantastic time-based intelligence analysis. It allows you to compare data over the years. Your ability to make sense of information across the different time period is crucial to understanding what went wrong. These dashboards helps to show the progress over the years and what areas you can improve on.
This is one of the fundamental ability for Power BI to compare across past periods, be it the performance in the same period last year or any time period you wish. This allows dashboards that provide sensible information that is not only insightful but also very intuitive.
It is important for any business intelligence tools to compare across different time periods. For example, one might like to know the sales performance during the same period last year. This allows dashboards that provide sensible, insightful and intuitive information.
One of the beauty of Power BI is that it is like Lego blocks which you can build upon gradually. This means that you retain the benefits of the initial efforts to systemise and structure your data. Your subsequent models can easily change when your business changes.
In a larger organisation where there has been many changes to the workflows or business model, it should not require an entire redesign of the system. Rather, we will incorporate additional changes as separate blocks that can be added to the model. When your dashboards are built with sufficient flexibility, it can remain adaptable to organisation’s needs.
Power BI is an extremely powerful tool and can be a game-changing part of your digital transformation’s arsenal. It is time for businesses to level up their competitiveness and synergise their efforts across the organisation. For those who are already in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem (previously known as Office 365), it is even easier to get started. Get the dashboards and business intelligence requirements you need with Power BI.