Power BI: Use the Ladle Please
Up here in the North Country the chill of the fall weather is just starting to set in. Over the next few months we'll hit some bone chilling temperatures and dig out the long-underwear. Nothing warms the heart and soul like a hearty bowl of soup, especially one perfected through the years with a bit of Grandma's love. If Grandma has taught us anything, it's that when you serve her soup you don't use a teaspoon - you use the ladle.
How does Grandma's soup have anything to do with data visualization, more specifically Power BI? No, we haven't built a Power BI dashboard featuring greatest soup recipes (although that's a brilliant idea). Not all soup recipes are created equal and neither are all Microsoft Data Analytics partners. The recipe for a successful Power BI deployment depends heavily on finding a trusted partner & the best resources. With everyone seemingly having Power BI expertise, ask yourself if your current partner has a vetted process for Power BI deployment or are they really just making up the recipe as they go along?
"There is no elevator to success with Power BI - you must take the stairs"
See the wonderful thing about Power BI is that "everyone" can create data analytics. In fact, I once witnessed a salesman who built a Power BI report as a Valentine's Day gift to his wife. True story, they're still married. After all, Microsoft designed Power BI as self-service business intelligence tool built on many of the same principles as Excel. Excel has proven there will always be a time and place for disposable departmental analytics. Perhaps your organization has survived off of these reporting methods for years. Many have indeed. This is where everything changed in July 2015. With the release of Power BI, it produced an alternate reality where self-service analytics can exist within a governed enterprise data model. Dream with me for one second. Imagine a single IT governed data model, secured departmentally, refreshed in real-time with end-users getting the exact visualization they desire. No more data extracts. No more department by department discrepancies. No more business-critical Master Excel files stored on Bob's desktop. Bob is sure not going to be too happy about this.
Power BI was engineered to be THE business intelligence tool of the future across the enterprise - not simply a fragmented departmental tool to visualize your data extracts. How is this even possible for my company? Well the answer is not in building measures & calculations in Power BI Desktop, rather it's in perfecting the underlying model that will scale and allow governance across the business. This is Microsoft's recommended method for enterprise deployment. A Power BI dashboard should only take a matter of days, yes days, to produce once that underlying model is finalized. The secret recipe is getting this model right the first time. If your partner doesn't start by discussing scalabe infrastructure - you may want to reconsider who's helping with your Power BI deployment. Unless you simply intend to use the tool like Excel. Then simply ignore everything above, grab a spoon and continue as you were. The art is really understanding how all the ingredients come together with a pinch of the right seasoning to produce something incredible that will last the test of time. When you have something good you don't serve it with a spoon - you use the ladle.
There is no elevator to success with Power BI - you must take the stairs if you desire to roll out an enterprise business intelligence solution that ensures scalability, reliability and security. Consulting companies promising a Quick Start or simple Power BI deployment are potentially misguided. It's likely not intentional, rather just a reflection of their inexperience with the product and data architecture principles in general. This is where Beyond Impact, as a Microsoft Gold Partner, has helped rescue companies from complete Power BI disasters with our team of trusted resources. Once the model is built incorrectly, it's nearly impossible to scale. Often the resolution is to scrap the months of work building departmental measures/calculations in the desktop in favor of a consistent enterprise data model with proper governance & security. Time and time again we've seen companies toss out the entire pot and start over. There is no short-cut to the perfect recipe.
Maybe you can taste your Grandma's savory soup as you read this last line. Perhaps you've already called her. It's my Grandma's birthday today. She passed away this spring. With 13 kids, she knew a thing or two about soup & wooden ladles. Whatever the case - I hope you thank Grandma for not taking a "short-cut".
Robert Gerads is a Microsoft Data & Analytics Solution Strategist and Evangelist at Beyond Impact, a Microsoft Gold Partner based in Minneapolis. As Director of Business Development, he assists companies on their journey with Azure, Power BI, Big Data, and SQL Server. Robert is also the Founder of the Power BI Meetup - Minneapolis chapter.