Date: Tuesday, March 6th, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Danbury Hospital Auditorium
Presenter: Sean N. Henderson, CMS
Let’s say your boss asks you to monitor company sales, organized both by country and by customer type. First you try to set this up with some Excel spreadsheets. But you encounter all kinds of difficulties. The company has 5 million sales transactions per year, and you discover that Excel itself is limited to only about 1 million rows. Trouble. You also find that some of the data is on the company intranet, but some data is only available on the internet … and you need to manually enter the internet data into the spreadsheet. More trouble. Finally your boss leans over your desk and asks you to display the data for first one country and then another country … and each time you respond by quickly trying to change some formulae in the spreadsheets. The boss walks away saying you should show all 5 million annual sales transactions and make it easier to display graphs from arbitrary countries. And don’t forget to utilize live up-to-the-minute data from the internet sources too, without any manual entry. Big trouble. Your Excel approach is not working out so well!
How can you meet the boss’s demands? Enter “Business Intelligence” (BI) software. This is a whole class of software applications, with many applications available for purchase. At our March 6 General Meeting, Sean N. Henderson will tell us about Microsoft’s BI product called “Power BI”. With this product, you can meet your boss’s expectations!
Sean is a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) who uses Microsoft BI every day. He currently works as an analyst on the business intelligence team of a large worldwide manufacturing firm, helping it deploy BI analytics across its business functions and locations. Sean also has specific expertise in Microsoft SQL Server and Adobe ColdFusion. He helped build the first social professional business graph application prior to LinkedIn, and he developed a Web application that helps protect NASDAQ companies from adverse trading activity.
Microsoft describes its Power BI application as a “suite of business analytics tools” that simplifies data preparation and display. With Power BI, an individual nontechnical employee can perform various analyses as needed. First, the employee “connects” Power BI to “data sources” … and Power BI accepts a wide variety of data sources, including Excel and many non-Microsoft products. In fact, Power BI can connect to data sources as disparate as SQL Server, Web pages, flat database files, and even “Analysis Services” databases. Once Power BI is connected to the relevant data sources, the employee creates an interactive dashboard, such as the type demanded by the boss in the above example.
As another example, a financial analyst assigned to a company’s travel department might set up a dashboard to monitor the number of employee business trips per week and the average nightly hotel cost across the entire business. The dashboard can appear whenever his or her computer is on and this application is open, with no need to recreate it each day. It will continually and automatically update with live data. The dashboard then serves as an easy reference for the analyst. He or she can refer to the dashboard as a source of information during the course of the analyst’s daily work.
Power BI is designed for use by nontechnical personnel, i.e. employees that do not have a programming background. The methods used to “connect” Power BI to data sources and to dashboards are simple and intuitive.
Power BI is most often used to create interactive dashboards as described above. It can also be used to create graphical pictures, commonly known as infographics, which can be printed or utilized within a PowerPoint presentation. After all, once Power BI is connected to the various data sources, the data is handy right there in the application. It is not necessary to copy data from Power BI, to say Excel, in order to print a graph. Power BI is set up to produce great-looking presentation materials.
Power BI is a cloud-based application. This means that it runs in the cloud, working on data that is also typically located in the cloud.
Power BI includes a method by which the company can appropriately guard its confidential data. A manager can set the appropriate permission level for each employee, controlling what data that employee can utilize. This approach is known as “role-based security”.
Once an employee has Power BI and has been assigned a permission level to access company data, the employee can begin extracting data, generating reports, and running queries on his or her own. With this system in place, the employee no longer needs to request such items from the company’s business information staff. This new independent approach is known as “self-service analytics”, and it saves money by reducing the need for business information staff to handle requests.
Power BI is free for applications with a small amount of data. It’s not free for users in larger organizations that have larger amounts of data.
Power BI is typically used by large businesses, and it is often described in terms of its “enterprise” capabilities. However, since it is free for applications with a small amount of data, small companies and individuals can also reasonably use Power BI on small projects.
If you do not work in a large business, you might ask why you would want to create a data dashboard or a fancy infographic. There are many reasons! Maybe you are an investor who wants to see your portfolio displayed in a certain way; your dashboard will show live data in just the way you want it. Or maybe you are conducting a job search, and you want to keep track of your job applications with a self-updating system. Or maybe you are preparing for the annual banquet of a sports team, and you just want to utilize the infographics capability to show the season results. We live in a data driven society, and information visualization is a way to make sense of data.
Sean will tell us a lot more about information visualization, role-based security features, self-service analytics, instant interactivity, filters that are known in the BI world as “slicers”, and how Power BI can be used for some data processing. He will tell us what we need to get started; he will demonstrate how to use Power BI; and he will compare it with competitors’ BI applications.
Come to the General Meeting! You will see the wonders of software that aggregates and transforms large data sets in a graphically interactive way!