Creating impact! Increasing data-driven decision making with Power BI
Visual analytics with Power BI can revolutionise the way Local Government uses data to make increasingly complex decisions; but data tools can’t achieve this on their own. Investment in technology needs the right investment in analytical skill, to ensure engaging reports that genuinely make an impact…
I recently had the opportunity to present at the London Power BI User Group and debated with myself for a number of weeks over the best way to fill my keynote slot. Having learned a lot technically from these sort of forums in the past, I decided to take a slightly different approach.
I’ve been a user of Power BI since the day it was released. Working as an analytics consultant, I have the opportunity to support a wide range of organisations to advance their Power BI journey. This has taught me it can be relatively easy to deploy new business intelligence tools but they can quickly fall flat if the analytics they are presenting are not adding value to the organisation.
Watch my presentation from the London Power BI User Group here:
So how can you ensure that you are creating analytics that have impact? And not just visualisations that are immediately impressive, but sustainable analytics that continuously drive-forward the thinking of your organisation?
From my experience as an analyst in the Public Sector for the last 15 years, I’ve distilled my approach down to three key principles:
- Connect with your subject matter
Taking time to understand your subject matter makes a huge difference to the quality of your analytics. Very simply, this is about understanding the business processes; what is the journey that services users and/or customers go through when engaging with the department?
Talking to the people that run the service or work with clients on a daily basis helps you to connect with ‘numbers on a page’ and real people’s lives. But this is all too easy to forget when you’re engrossed in a million rows of data.
Understanding the subject matter makes your analysis much more relevant. It means that as well as engaging the business area in your requirements gathering, you can also start to offer some challenge about reports they think they need, versus what you know could offer value.
When defining requirements for analytics, my approach is always to ask “what do you need to know?” rather than “what graphs and charts do you want to see?”. By building knowledge of the subject matter, you can start to formulate the relevant analytics based on the questions that need to be answered.
A successful Power BI report is one that answers business questions and prompts further questions based on the inferences drawn through the data analysis.
- Keep it simple but add layers of depth
With data visualisation, simple is generally better. There are over 200 visualisations available to use within Power BI (excluding those that you can create yourself!) so we’ve all been tempted to use the latest addition to the visuals gallery because it looks impressive rather than having a clear purpose in the context of your analysis. Unfortunately, I see many examples of ‘analyst ego’ – reports that look generally ok on the surface but contain no depth of analysis.
But simple doesn’t mean easy; it takes more skill to simplify a complex business process with relevant analytics than it does to throw everything at the page. It also takes confidence in your analysis to pare it back.
Power BI offers some really valuable functionality to enhance your analysis without over complicating or cluttering your reports. I especially like to make use of features such as drill-downs, filters and smart use of colours to highlight patterns and trends within the data.
Consider the message on each report page. But also ensure that the users can access the relevant level of detail to avoid constant requests for further information.
Another important factor that is often overlooked is the general ‘polish’ of reports. It might seem a low priority but alignment of visuals and consistency of presentation makes a massive difference to how users perceive reports. What’s the point of spending time building a brilliant data model and producing relevant analytics if it all looks just a bit messy? Don’t underestimate how distracting a badly formatted report can be to an end user.
In summary, allow your findings to shine through!
- Think like the business
My final principle is about putting yourself in the shoes of the end-users. Have you ever received a report that you couldn’t make sense of without someone explaining it to you? Or something that looks good on the surface but you struggle to navigate or understand the purpose?
- Don’t try to make your reports all-things-to-all people; consider the level of detail your audience requires. For example, don’t overload senior directors with all the detail and conversely don’t make it difficult for operational team leaders to get at a list of cases
- Make use of dashboards and alerts to provide a view of exceptions and key areas of focus
- Test your own reports! It’s crucial to involve the business in the testing process but have navigation through your reports from end-to-end and consider what your business users will be thinking each step of the way.
The final step is often the most important; work with your end-users to handover your analytics. So much emphasis is put on data analysts to use Power BI that it’s often overlooked that the business need support when adopting new tools and processes. Transitioning your organisation to Power BI is a change management process as much as an analytical and technology project and without this investment in time and effort, there’s a risk of it all being for nothing.
Power BI is an incredibly powerful tool in the right hands. Real analysts have a pivotal role to play in transforming any organisation to become data driven. That includes understanding requirements and translating these to useable analytics and supporting key decision makers to understand how to apply their intelligence.
Get this right within your organisation and you can start your journey toward data-driven decision making with Power BI.