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Transforming your business through business intelligence - with Microsoft modern BI & adv. analytics

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

This is part 2 of a 4 part business intelligence (Microsoft Power BI) series.

Modern BI Platform

To effectively create a Modern BI experience that is conducive to a data culture, it’s necessary to work with a platform that enables extracting intelligence seamlessly by:

  • Connecting to the data in seconds, whether it is structured or unstructured, on the cloud, or on premises—and do it in seconds.

  • Modelling without limits, regardless of the size of the model that is required. Analyzing and authoring through unique experiences that empower all users to extract value from the data, like asking questions with plain language, using visuals that are customized to the use case, or getting insights in an automated fashion.

  • Delivering insights to everyone and enabling anyone to share their findings broadly in a targeted and secure way.

Let’s examine how Power BI delivers on this vision of Modern BI.

Microsoft Business Intelligence

The Microsoft BI platform offers the flexibility that customers need to transition to Modern BI in their terms.

This overview shows that Microsoft has been delivering BI capabilities to help customers model, analyze, and deliver business insights, which can be consumed by business users on mobile devices, on the web or embedded in apps. Most capabilities have been available on-premises with SQL Server Analysis Services and Reporting Services as well as Power BI Desktop and Excel.

A recent key addition to the Power BI portfolio is Power BI Report Server. Power BI Report Server offers self-service BI and enterprise reporting in one solution, being the perfect bridge to move to the cloud at your pace.

In the cloud, we are primarily relying on Power BI to deliver business insights – with data connections to many cloud data sources and SaaS apps. In addition to cloud data sources customers can access on-premises data sources such as SQL Server Analysis Services using the on-premises data gateway.

Let me spend a few minutes going sharing our vision of how Power BI delivers on our vision of Modern BI.

Microsoft Power BI. Experience your data any way, anywhere.

Power BI has in its DNA the goal of enabling everybody to experience their data any way, anywhere—in seconds and at global scale.

Power BI offers a set of capabilities that are uniquely enabled by its global and cloud nature:

The ability to harness data from Excel spreadsheets, on-premises data sources through the data gateway, big data, streaming data, and cloud services. It doesn’t matter what type of data you want or where it lives, Power BI allows you to connect to hundreds of data sources.

Out-of-the box SaaS content packs that deliver a curated experience with pre-built dashboards to get you up and running quickly. We have hundreds of ISVs building content packs to cater to the needs of millions of Power BI users.

Unmatched, unique ways for users to experience their data with speed and agility: Live dashboards that maintain a real-time pulse on the business and provide critical insights. Natural language query that enables users to simply and intuitively ask questions of their data, including through Cortana. Custom visuals that bring data to life and surface intelligence hidden in the sea of data, with our community leveraging the Power BI visualization stack to create new ways to visualize data in a way that makes more sense. (Now available in the Office store.)

Integration of Power BI with the Microsoft stack. Power BI is part of larger ecosystem that integrates with services like Microsoft Teams, Office 365, and Dynamics 365. These services are aware of Power BI, are wired to Power BI, and enable you to use Power BI in the context of your work.

Anywhere access to insights. Whether in the office or on-the-go, Power BI provides anywhere access to insights with dashboards accessible via the desktop, on the web, or across mobile devices. Inside Excel, embedded—we have hundreds of ISVs embedding Power BI in their offerings.

Microsoft Power BI Dashboard

A Power BI dashboard is a single page, often called a canvas, that uses visualizations to tell a story. Because it is limited to one page, a well-designed dashboard contains only the most-important elements of that story.

The visualizations you see on a dashboard are called tiles and are pinned to the dashboard from reports. Note - Dashboards are a feature of Power BI service and are not available in Power BI Desktop. Dashboards can't be created on mobile devices but they can be viewed and shared.

The visualizations on a dashboard come from reports and each report is based on one dataset. In fact, one way to think of a dashboard is as an entryway into the underlying reports and datasets. Selecting a visualization takes you to the report (and dataset) that was used to create it.

Dashboards are a wonderful way to monitor your business, to look for answers, and to see all of your most-important metrics at a glance. The visualizations on a dashboard may come from one underlying dataset or many, and from one underlying report or many. A dashboard combines on-premises and cloud-born data, providing a consolidated view regardless of where the data lives.

A dashboard isn't just a pretty picture; it's highly interactive and highly customizable and the tiles update as the underlying data changes.

Dashboard creators and dashboard consumers

Depending on your role, you may be someone who creates dashboards for your own use or to share with colleagues. You want to learn how to create and share dashboards. Or, you may be someone who receives dashboards from others. You want to learn how to understand and interact with the dashboard.

Microsoft Power BI Natural language query

Sometimes the fastest way to get an answer from your data is to ask a question using natural language. For example, "what were total sales last year." Use Q&A to explore your data using intuitive, natural language capabilities and receive answers in the form of charts and graphs. Q&A is different from a search engine -- Q&A only provides results about the data in Power BI.

Asking the question is just the beginning. Have fun traveling through your data refining or expanding your question, uncovering trust-worthy new information, zeroing in on details and zooming out for a broader view. You’ll be delighted by the insights and discoveries you make. The experience is truly interactive…and fast! Powered by an in-memory storage, response is almost instantaneous.

How does Q&A know how to answer data-specific questions?

It relies on the names of the tables, columns, and calculated fields in the underlying dataset. So what you (or the dataset owner) call things is important!

For example, suppose you had an Excel table named “Sales”, with columns titled “Product”, “Month”, “Units Sold”, “Gross Sales”, and “Profit”. You could ask questions about any of those entities. You could ask "show sales, "total profit by month", "sort products by units sold", and more.

Q&A can answer questions that are based on how your dataset is organized.

How would this work for data in Salesforce? When you connect to your account, Power BI generates a dashboard automatically. Before you start asking questions with Q&A, take a look at the data displayed in the dashboard visualizations and also at the data displayed in the Q&A dropdown. If the visualizations' axis labels and values include "sales", "account", "month", and "opportunities", then you can confidently ask questions such as: "Which account has the highest opportunity, or show sales by month as a bar chart.“ If the dropdown includes "salesperson", "state", and "year", then you can confidently ask questions such as: "which salesperson had the lowest sales in Florida in 2013.“

If you have website performance data in Google Analytics, you could ask Q&A about time spent on a web page, number of unique page visits, and user engagement rates. Or, if you’re querying demographic data, you might ask questions about age and household income by location.

Microsoft Power BI Quick Insights

If you have a new dataset and not quite sure where to start? Or you need to build a dashboard quickly? Or you want to look for insights you may have missed? You can run quick insights to generate interesting interactive visualizations based on your data. Quick insights can be run on an entire dataset (quick insights) or on a specific dashboard tile (scoped insights). You can even run insights on an insight!

The insights feature is built on a growing set of advanced analytical algorithms developed in conjunction with Microsoft Research that allows people to find insights in their data in new and intuitive ways.

How does Insights work?

Power BI quickly searches different subsets of your dataset while applying a set of sophisticated algorithms to discover potentially-interesting insights. Power BI scans as much of a dataset as possible in an allotted amount of time. You can run insights against a dataset or dashboard tile.

Examples of some of the algorithms you can use include:

  • Category outliers (top/bottom) - highlights cases where, for a measure in the model, one or two members of a dimension have much larger values than other members of the dimension.

  • Change points in a time series - highlights when there are significant changes in trends in a time series of data

  • Correlation - detects cases where multiple measures show a correlation between each other when plotted against a dimension in the dataset.

  • Majority (Major factors) - Finds cases where a majority of a total value can be attributed to a single factor when broken down by another dimension.

Microsoft Power BI Cortana Integration

By integrating with Power BI, Cortana can retrieve key information directly from Power BI dashboards and reports. All it takes is Windows 10 November 2015 version or later, Cortana, Power BI, and access to at least one dataset.

For a while now you've been able to use Cortana to retrieve certain types of report pages. Now Microsoft has added a new experience -- the ability to also retrieve dashboards. Eventually the new experience will be extended to include Cortana search for reports as well. One of the key benefits of the new experience is that you don't need to do anything special to set it up -- no enabling Cortana or configuring Windows 10 -- it just works.

The underlying technology is using Microsoft's Azure Search Service. This search service provides extra capabilities such as smart ranking, error correction, and auto complete.

When you use Cortana to ask a question, Power BI can be one of the places Cortana looks for answers. In Power BI, Cortana can find rich data-driven answers from Power BI reports (that contain a special type of report page called a Cortana answer card) and from Power BI dashboards. If Cortana finds a match, it displays the name of the dashboard or report page right there in your Cortana screen. The dashboard or report page can be opened in Power BI. Report pages can also be explored right in Cortana - they're interactive.

There are many different ways to use and open Cortana: select the Cortana icon in the taskbar, use voice commands, or tap the search icon on your Windows mobile device. Once Cortana is ready, type or speak your question into the Cortana search bar. Cortana displays the available results. If there is a Power BI dashboard that matches the question, it shows up under Best match or Power BI.

Microsoft Power BI Live dashboards

With Power BI real-time streaming, you can stream data and update dashboards in real-time. Any visual or dashboard that can be created in Power BI can also be created to display and update real-time data and visuals. The devices and sources of streaming data can be factory sensors, social media sources, service usage metrics, and anything else from which time-sensitive data can be collected or transmitted.

Microsoft Power BI Custom Visualizations

When creating or editing a Power BI report, there are many different types of visuals available for you to use. These visuals display in the Visualizations pane.

Custom visuals are created by developers, using the custom visuals SDK, to enable business users to see their data in a way that fits the business best. Report authors can then import the custom visuals files into their reports and use them as any other Power BI visuals.

Custom visuals are packages that include code for rendering the data that is served to them. Anyone can create a custom visual and package it as a single .pbiviz file, that can be imported into a Power BI report.

Power BI admins can deploy custom visuals into their organization, so that report authors can easily discover and use the custom visuals that the admin has approved to use inside of the organization. This gives the admin the control to choose specific custom visuals to deploy in the organization, as well as an easy way to manage (i.e. update version, disable/enable) those visuals.

Members of the community, as well as Microsoft, have contributed their custom visuals to the benefit of the public and published them to AppSource marketplace. These visuals can be downloaded and added to Power BI reports. All of these custom visuals have been tested and approved by Microsoft for functionality and quality.

Publishing to the web with Microsoft Power BI

With Power BI Publish to web, you can easily embed interactive Power BI visualizations online, such as in blog posts, websites, through emails or social media, on any device.

You can also easily edit, update, refresh or un-share your published visuals.

When you use Publish to web, the report or visual you publish can be viewed by anyone on the Internet. There is no authentication used when viewing these reports.

When you embed content within a blog post, you typically need to fit it within a specific size of the screen. You can also adjust the height and the width in the iFrame tag as needed, but you may also need to ensure your report fits within the given area of the iFrame, so you also need to set an appropriate View Mode when editing the report.

After you create your Publish to web embed code and share it, the report is updated with any changes you make.

Microsoft Power BI integrates with Microsoft apps and services

As creator or admin of an app workspace in Power BI or in Office 365, you manage some aspects of the workspace in Power BI. Other aspects you manage in Office 365.

Power BI app workspaces are great places to collaborate with your colleagues on dashboards, reports, and datasets to create apps. That's what workspaces are designed for -- collaboration. After you finish collaborating on your dashboards and reports with colleagues, then you package it as an app and distribute it. But collaboration doesn’t end with workspaces in Power BI. Office 365 offers other group services such as sharing files on OneDrive for Business, conversations in Exchange, shared calendar and tasks, and so on.

With Excel 2016, you can publish your Excel workbooks right to your Power BI site, where you can create highly interactive reports and dashboards based on your workbook’s data. You can then share your insights with others in your organization.

You can also connect to Excel workbooks on OneDrive for Business and pin tiles to a dashboard from that workbook. When you share that dashboard, or create a content pack that includes that dashboard.

Microsoft Power BI Mobile Capabilities

Power BI offers a set of mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 mobile devices. In the mobile apps, you connect to and interact with your cloud and on-premises data.

So you create reports in Power BI Desktop. You create dashboards, and view dashboards and reports in the Power BI report service. And you view on-premises Power BI reports on Power BI Report Server. All of these reports and dashboards are available in the Power BI mobile apps, whether they're on premises or in the cloud. Try viewing and interacting with them on your mobile device, be it iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or Apple Watch), Android phone or tablet, or Windows 10 device.

You can also use Microsoft Intune to manage devices and applications, including Power BI mobile apps for Android and iOS. Microsoft Intune lets organizations control items like requiring an access pin, controlling how data is handled by the application, and even encrypting application data when the app isn't in use.

Create powerful reports with Power BI Desktop

A Power BI report is a multi-perspective view into a dataset, with visualizations that represent different findings and insights from that dataset. A report can have a single visualization or pages full of visualizations. Depending on your job role, you may be someone who creates reports and/or you may be someone who consumes or uses reports.

Reports are based on a single dataset. The visualizations in a report each represent a nugget of information. And the visualizations aren't static; you can add and remove data, change visualization types, and apply filters and slicers as you dig into the data to discover insights and look for answers. Like a dashboard, but more-so, a report is highly interactive and highly customizable and the visualizations update as the underlying data changes.

Power BI Desktop is a self-service BI tool designed to allow users to pull data together from multiple different data sources. Transform and clean that data. Model and add custom calculations. And then visually explore and create interactive reports that can be easily published and shared through the Power BI service. In addition – you can now create your own custom visualizations though our open source visualization framework.

  • Discovery & exploration—integrated experience for connecting and preparing data for visual data exploration

  • Easy report authoring—freeform canvas for drag-and-drop report design

  • Custom visualizations—create your own custom interactive visualizations

Connect to all the data around you with Microsoft Power BI

Connect all the data around you. How can users combine data from multiple sources and of multiple data types, across on-premises and cloud, into a set of reports and dashboards? This is where Power BI Desktop and Excel come in. These are powerful analytical tools for use by business analysts – with them analysts can connect to a wide range of data sources; cleanse, transform and model interrelationships between the data; explore the resulting mashed up datasets and create beautiful, interactive reports or powerful spreadsheets.

One data preparation experience across both desktop tools. We put the same based capabilities and engines for data preparation into both tools. Anyone who knows how to use one tool will automatically know how to use the other. This full data preparation experience includes the following set of capabilities:

  • Connect to a broad range of data across on-premises and cloud sources. In the connection dialog of both tools we provide a long list of data connectors for sources across flat files, databases, SaaS applications, Big Data technologies such as Spark, and others, and we continue to add to this list on a regular basis. With these data connectors business analysts can connect to all the data they need to access for their analysis.

  • We also provide powerful capabilities that allow users to shape, transform, and clean this data for analysis. Data is rarely in the right format for analysis and a self-service business analysis tool must provide the flexibility to transform and clean data before it can be properly analyzed. We provide these capabilities as an integrated part of the data preparation experience, providing a more flexible, and ultimately a faster, experience for business analysts to work with data and build reports.

  • We provide one of the industries leading modeling experiences, for joining this data from multiple data sources together across different types and sources, for analysis and for creation of custom calculations and measures. Leveraging the same powerful modeling capabilities and in-memory engine as in our server technology (SQL Server Analysis Services), we provide business analyst with a complete range of modeling capabilities.

  • We also provide extended capabilities allowing analysts familiar with technologies such as R to incorporate this work into their reports incorporating advanced analytic to their analysis.

Microsoft Power BI powerful self-service analysis

Excel as the world’s most flexible and widely used data analysis tool, providing familiarity and flexibility when working with data in the context of the Excel grid and native charts and graphs. Excel uniquely allows users to perform ad-hoc analysis, blending structured and unstructured data together for analysis in the familiar Excel environment.

We also introduce Power BI Desktop as a tool for business analysis to create visually interactive reports for data exploration. Power BI Desktop provides a free-form canvas for drag and drop exploration of your data, an extensive library of interactive visualizations, and authoring experience to create visual and interactive reports for business end users to view and explore.

In addition we provide the ability for you to create your own Power BI custom visualizations. We have contributed the source code of our visualization framework and the complete collection of native visuals supported by Power BI and Power BI desktop to the open source community under the permissive MIT license. This paves the way for completely custom visualizations in Power BI and Power BI Desktop. These can be uploaded to your Power BI tenant, or attached to a report, providing maximum flexibility for how you visualize your data.

Microsoft Power BI One-click publish

Both Excel and Power BI Desktop are seamlessly integrated with the Power BI service. With a single click, these live spreadsheets and reports can be published and refreshed from the Power BI service for ease of access for business users across the organization.

With Excel 2016, you can publish your Excel workbooks right to your Power BI site, where you can create highly interactive reports and dashboards based on your workbook’s data. You can then share your insights with others in your organization.

Microsoft Power BI Report Server

Power BI Report Server is an on-premises report server with a web portal in which you display and manage reports and KPIs, along with the tools to create Power BI reports, paginated reports, mobile reports, and KPIs. Your users can access those reports in different ways: viewing them in a web browser or mobile device, or as an email in their inbox.

Power BI Report Server is the on-premises solution you can use today. And because it’s included with Power BI Premium, you can move to the cloud on your terms.

Power BI Report Server gives your users access to data and insights, and the enterprise reporting capabilities of SQL Server Reporting Services—in a modern, on-premises solution. It lets people visually explore data and quickly discover patterns to make better, faster decisions. At the same time, it can generate the precisely formatted reports your business needs. You’ll also be able to confidently scale to thousands of users because Power BI Report Server is based on a proven, enterprise-grade platform.

Microsoft Power BI Case Study

Precision Diagnostics in San Diego, California, helps hospitals, clinics, private practices, and insurers throughout the United States collect, distill, and benefit from all that data. Using its Precision Analytics platform built with Microsoft Power BI and Azure, the diagnostics lab helps providers aggregate, analyze, and display data in a usable way to improve healthcare and battle public-health crises.

Precision Diagnostics receives and processes more than 1,500 body fluid samples a day from hospitals, clinics, private practices, and insurers throughout the United States. When doctors send samples to any lab, they usually only request a standard list of tests—but most samples contain dozens of valuable data points. Precision Diagnostics recognized the need for data-driven decision making when it comes to testing for more comprehensive and accurate diagnostics, particularly for behavioral health issues such as opioid addiction.

Precision Diagnostics knew that the secret to behavioral health insights was more accurate data and more data points. But it also recognized that many providers already dealt with hours of data entry every day, so it wanted to aggregate and display the data to make it helpful for doctors. Precision Diagnostics was able to serve a large number of its customers with the right insights by using Azure SQL Data Warehouse for its analytics layer. The lab can quickly connect Power BI with disparate data sources and easily authenticate users and manage access with Azure Active Directory. It links Precision Analytics to a lab information management system (LIMS) supported by Azure SQL Database. All lab work is processed in the LIMS, while population and geographic data is connected to Power BI through SQL Data Warehouse.

With the data Precision Diagnostics now delivers, doctors can see a holistic view of their patients in one dashboard and then filter for what they need. They can search for unexpected outcomes or severe drug-to-drug interactions and determine if they need to schedule more or less clinic time with certain patients. It’s also useful for insurers to see doctor outcome history. They can find the doctors with the most unexpected outcomes or severe interactions, gather more information, and ensure that unnecessary risks are minimized.

Microsoft Power BI case study

Kennametal has created the tools and industrial materials that we rely on daily, serving market segments that include aerospace, automotive, construction, mining, and oil & gas. Today, the company has more than 12,000 employees and customers in more than 60 countries.

While Kennametal had an abundance of intellectual property, it could be difficult to tap. The company had solved part of the problem when it implemented an SAP ERP system and encouraged scientists to record data in the software instead of in notebooks. However, extracting and working with the data posed another hurdle. Employees tried a variety of analytics tools, from individual spreadsheets to specialized software like Tableau, but nothing was particularly easy to use and results fell short of the company’s goals for more detailed analytics. Worse yet, the proliferation of uncontrolled documents and data saved to desktops had become a potential security risk. Instead, Kennametal wanted a business intelligence (BI) solution that would be centralized, powerful, and easy to use.

Power BI provides 12,000 employees working across multiple geographies with cloud-based access to sophisticated analytics and project data. Visualizing information in minutes, business users can explore data and uncover new insights without specialized help. They can also use Power BI to draw insights from their existing Excel notebooks. The company can connect Power BI with Microsoft Dynamics CRM and looks forward to integrating with other internal applications. Kennametal also plans to equip employees with Windows 10 tablets for mobile access to Power BI and Cortana.

Stay Up To Date:

Stay tuned for Part III next week, and in the meantime if you have any Power BI related questions please do not hesitate to contact us.


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