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The Power of Microsoft Power BI

21st Mar 2024
Brought to you by
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With our plug-and-play Power BI reporting for Xero we support accountants and bookkeepers like you...
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We have written several articles for AccountingWEB about the simplicity of getting started with Microsoft Power BI. If you know us [Tugger] this won’t surprise you because this is kind of our thing. But while we’ve been focused on highlighting the fact that Power BI can be simple to set up and use, we wonder if we could have led some people to believe that Power BI is simple in its capabilities…err, sorry if we did that!

The Power of Power BI
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You may have read our article ‘Soupe up your Excel spreadsheets with Power BI’ in which, we dip our toe into the water of some of the more complicated Power BI capabilities. We also promise to cover this in more detail so here goes, in this article we take a closer look at some of the super-impressive data analysis possibilities you gain with Power BI. 

But before you read on, we urge you to remember that Power BI is extremely flexible and there are benefits to be had no matter how complicated, or simple, you want your reporting to be. 

Data Integration

One key component of Power BI that really elevates the offering is that you can integrate and analyse data from a multitude of data sources. Data from across your business is shared as one complete picture in real-time, visual dashboards. This overall view enables you to interrogate and make sense of the data in a way that isn’t possible when you look at it in silo. This is commonly called ‘data storytelling.’ 

This complete view takes your reporting to hero status. For example, you’re empowered to look beyond overall profit and loss figures to get a deeper insight into what has caused this (the story behind the data). So in the areas you’re profitable, you can see why, and the same goes for identifying those pesky inefficiencies. 

If you’ve ever had any business training, like ever, you will understand that this is not so much a benefit, as a core requirement for a healthy business. You can’t accurately assess what’s going on if your departments are working in silos. Looking at data from project management, customer relations, daily operations, and finance in one neat view is paramount.

What is more, with Power BI you can share this data with colleagues across the business, so your departments can learn how to best work together and everyone is guided by the same data. 

Hurray, no more bickering over where to steer the business, or what those rogue stationery orders are really costing the company. You can even see if giving everyone Friday afternoon off or more whole company trips to the pub is boosting productivity. 

Power BI Connectors

In terms of getting all this data into Power BI, it’s worth mentioning that there are some pretty nifty Power BI ‘connectors’ available. The good ones can be installed by non-techies and can take data from the cloud and/or on-premise sources. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, we would say this as we have developed a fair few of these connectors ourselves, but these connectors, when developed properly, really can help. If you’re using different apps and tools in customer service, marketing and sales, finance and more, these connectors help you bring all your data into Power BI for this master behemoth of a report. It’s also worth noting that these connectors are for transferring the data, they don’t actually store it, so there are no concerns over the transfer of sensitive data.

Re-use data sets across multiple reports 

Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. You may have heard the popular term ‘a single source of truth’. The basic idea that there is one set of never-wrong figures, generated from one master source. This has become a hugely popular term, because so many of us have got in a right royal mess trying to use multiple systems all spitting out different figures. Leaving you the choice to spend hours wading through data to check for errors, or to use rock, paper, scissors to decide which figures are correct! 

An extremely helpful feature of Power BI is that, when you have a data model set up - which is basically a specific, tried and tested way of working out a calculation - you can re-use this data model across your connected reports. 

By defining your KPIs, and how to calculate these, in one central dataset, then applying this logic across multiple reports, you can be confident that you’re always comparing apples and apples. So when you’re digging into team or department-specific data, you won’t lose sight of your overall gross revenue for example. And perhaps more importantly, you won’t be forced to give a politician’s answer when you’re embarrassingly faced with figures you can’t explain. 

Customisable visualisations 

You don’t have to use the default setting pretty much ever in Power BI. Heaps of your set up is customisable and this includes how you view your data. So depending on how many data sources you’re inputting from and the complexity of these data streams, you may want to produce something bespoke so that you can better understand the meaning behind the data. And the best part of this customisation in Power BI is that, once you’ve set it up, it’s not just for you. You can share and have others input into these visual reports in the exact same way as with Power BI’s out-of-the-box reports.

So the more people that see the report, the more likely you are to get that Friday afternoon down the pub to boost Monday’s productivity! 

Co-Pilot for Power BI

Co-Pilot is Power BI’s AI offering. As the name suggests, it’s your wingman. it’s there to help you get more from your reports with suggestions that make digesting and/or presenting on your data easier and faster.

Here are some of the features available with Co-Pilot. 

Power BI Q&A 

Thanks to Power BI’s AI capabilities, you can ask Power BI questions about your data. Now this isn’t Google, you can’t ask ‘who’s idea was it to bring Gladiators back to the Saturday night telly?’ But, when using the ‘Ask a question about your data’ feature, you can ask Power BI questions about your data and Power BI will respond in the most appropriate format. 

For example, if you’re asking a question that involves percentages, Power BI may answer you with a pie chart. Or if you are looking for a specific type of visual demonstration, you can include the report type in your question. For example ‘show me a line chart showing SLA’s hit and missed month-by-month over the last two years.’  And you can ask these questions in your natural language, no fancy tech talk or Power BI secret language required.

Not only does this AI-powered feature save you time when you’re exploring your data and questions are naturally transpiring, but it can be extremely helpful when you’re presenting your data to others. If you’re asked unexpected questions, or questions lead to more questions, you’re armed with all the research you could ever need. All you do is you ask Power BI questions live from the meeting. It’s a bit like Googling the answers under the table at the pub quiz, only less cheaty and more ‘wow, how are they doing that?’

 Smart Narratives

Another time-saving feature within Power BI is ‘smart narratives’. This feature creates summary text to support your visual reports. It’s a little like adding comments to your Excel spreadsheet but Power BI will write this for you based on your data. These comments can be based around key takeaways, trends or anomalies. They really speed up the process of getting to grips with what is worth digging into deeper and what’s worth highlighting to colleagues. 

 Suggestions

With Co-Pilot, Power BI will also make suggestions based on your data. Following on from smart narratives, it may suggest an additional visual representation or a slide to add to your report if it thinks you’ve failed to address something that the algorithm has noticed in the data. It might not quite be the Power BI equivalent of ’Alexa, write my presentation for me’ but it can certainly help you ensure that you’ve not missed something and to help you draw out noteworthy trends and anomalies. 

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Summary 

The article is still only really scratching the surface of what’s achievable within Power BI, and the clever folk at Microsoft are continually expanding the offering. 

But before we go, we want to point out that, whilst the capabilities of Power BI are anything but simple, it is up to you how deep you delve into the more complicated features. Lots of the businesses we work with find that simply inputting their existing data sources into Power BI using our pre-built connectors and reports, and seeing data from across their business in one place is illuminating. 

And the real beauty is that once you're started in Power BI, it can grow with you so you can develop the complexity of your data reporting alongside the complexity of your business. 

So no matter what your requirements, Power BI can help you get the insights you need to have real impact on your business. 

Get in touch with the team at Tugger to discover how we can help you get even more out of Power BI.