Business intelligence (BI) and the ability to gain actionable insights from your big data is fundamental for any organisation striving to be agile, future-proofed and ready for tomorrow.
Just ask the 90% of large organisations expected to hire big data officers by 2019.
As companies expand and evolve, data can become more difficult to manage on a consistent basis. As a result, businesses regularly face obstacles that prevent them from performing comprehensive analysis of their data to drive informed business decisions.
Whether it’s incompatible systems that prevent the sharing of data, or the silo mentality fostering divergent goals and wildly different reporting structures, it’s common for organisations to be forced to act based on inadequate data that doesn’t quite give the full picture. But there are new and powerful enterprise tools doing away with these issues.
Top BI software in 2018
Gartner predicts the BI market will grow to US$20 billion by 2019, and with that comes a lot of choice.
There is a plethora of business intelligence software and services you can currently leverage to gather and organise your data more effectively, improve information accessibility across your company and ultimately help support more accurate, reliable results.
Microsoft Power BI is one such popular BI tool gaining traction for its economical model and extensive analytics capabilities. It’s proven to enable significant cost savings and increased productivity, with a number of high-profile international companies using the software.
But forget all of that - you should use it because is it’s easy.
We breakdown five ways Microsoft BI can benefit your business goals and enables smarter insights with greater efficiency - and why you should start using it.
1. Simple and accessible insights
You don’t have to be a technical whiz to start using Power BI for data analysis or understand how it presents information. The tool makes reading and presenting visual reports as simple or as detailed as you want it.
The graphical interface for building dashboards is drag-and-drop, so you can organise data with a few clicks and customise how it is presented further by downloading free add-ons from Microsoft and third-party apps.
Beginners and experts can use Power BI desktop for quick explanations of increases or decreases in your data charts by right-clicking at data point and selecting the analyse button. This delivers automated smart analysis on your selected data using machine learning algorithms.
The results are displayed in a window with a simplified visualisation (ribbon chart, scatter chart, stacked column chart, waterfall chart) and an insightful description outlining which categories influenced the increase or decrease in your data.
2. Unify large datasets into one dashboard
Everyone has different levels of business intelligence aptitude. A data analyst might be tracking sales performance and numbers across 20 different countries and keeping tabs on multiple other metrics, but this level of information probably isn’t suitable for everyone in the business.
The same applies to advanced Power BI users. Detailed visualisations are great to use and easy to track with this versatile digital tool, but executives or employees from different departments will most likely want a consolidated view of the business for convenience.
Thankfully, Power BI can quickly create simplified visualisations of your most business-critical data that anyone can read and understand at a glance using official free add-ons. These apps provide highly customisable graphics that can be used to present your data as simply or creatively as you desire.
- Infographic Designer lets you build custom pictograms with simplified bar charts, column charts and lists, with colourful uncomplicated graphics and neat features like being able to alter the size and fill percentage of icons. It can turn complex data into digestible information with minimal training - we use it to great success for quick weekly reports of our site traffic.
- Power KPI presents key performance indicators and supporting information in a simplified dashboard format, with a high level of user control over both the look of the visuals and the business logic that drives the indicators.
Why is any of this useful? A unified dashboard can act as a quick reference for any employee needing to access relevant data in a hurry, such as in a meeting. It also makes sharing insights easier if you collaborate remotely and across multiple connected devices.
3. Manage and monitor Azure databases better
Power BI is optimal for businesses already using Microsoft cloud solutions for their data warehousing, as it can be used to to monitor your Azure environment more effectively.
For example, you can deploy a Power BI solution template called Azure Activity Log Analytics to generate insightful Power BI desktops reports on your last 90 days of Azure Activity Log data, allowing you to visualise patterns in usage and issues pertaining to server failures, outages and maintenance during your Azure subscription in one single dashboard.
We found the Power BI System Center Configuration Manager to be another essential add-on; you can create real-time visual reports that monitor your cloud environment's current server health, malware security, installed software and any connected devices requiring software updates.
The SCCM solution template is great because it works for both managers and executives. Summary pages with simplified graphs and charts can present key data for fast consumption, while detail pages help the experts find exactly what they need to take action.
4. Quick questions and faster answers with Power BI Q&A
If you’re struggle to retrieve useful insights from your current business intelligence set-up, it’s recommended to take advantage of the natural language features within Power BI.
The inbuilt Q&A feature lets users type a data-specific question using natural language, such as “what were total units sold last year,” which then generates fast and useful visualisations in response.
Q&A answers your questions by relying on the designated names of columns, tables and fields, so if you have a typical Excel spreadsheet labeled ‘Sales’ with common fields denoting profit and numbers sold, Q&A can generate relevant results efficiently.
Using more complicated naming structures and the Q&A feature gives less accurate answers, but if you keep your data well organised, you can get much more specific insights and faster answers than a manual search over multiple dashboards would yield - and it’s fully visualised and neatly presented for your convenience.
5. Past trends, current performance, future predicting
Advanced data modelling has made it possible to forecast trends and predict future outcomes relatively accurately with modern-day software, and Power BI is one such tool that provides great predictive analytics and forecasting features to explore reliable future outcomes.
Using the analytics and forecasting tools in Power BI desktop, you can run and compare different ‘What If’ scenarios on your information such as financial forecasts or industry-specific growth markets by adding a forecast to your line chart - all without any explicit coding involved.
It uses built-in predictive forecasting models to automatically detect seasonality and next reporting period (week, month, year) and provide forecasting results. These models learn from historical data using statistical algorithms (often of the data mining or machine learning kind) to derive probable results and project them in an helpful manner with a graphical visualisation.
Why should I use Power BI?
Business intelligence applications like Power BI empower you to analyse your data and keep your company efficient, and provides you the tools necessary for better strategic analysis of how you can consolidate your data streams, improve accessibility and gain smarter insights. If you're already integrated or engaged with the Microsoft Cloud platform, the Power BI service is seriously worth checking out. If you need additional help in understanding how Power BI could benefit your business, visit Xello's Business Intelligence solutions page for more information.