Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Achieving Goals with Microsoft Power BI

Goals are an important part of business; they provide focus, direction, and motivation. Good goals can inspire us to perform better than our best – what Jim Collins calls Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). But there is a difference between setting a goal and achieving it. Otherwise we would all be slim and complaining about the worldwide shortage of yachts.

Microsoft Power BI can help you achieve the goals you set. How? Research by Deloitte  suggests there are three principles you should follow with goals:
  1. Goal clarity
  2. Ongoing review
  3. Making goals matter

Goal clarity

Goal clarity comes from defining how the goal will be measured.

By setting a goal and defining the measurement criteria at the same time, including which system the data will come from, you remove any discussion about what the goal means.

What often happens is that we set a seemingly simple goal, let’s say sales per month, without defining the data that will be used because it seems obvious. A sale is a sale, isn’t it? Three months into the year, and discussions start. Is it:
  1. When the Sales department get agreement from the customer to proceed?
  2. When the contract has been signed?
  3. When the deposit has been paid?
  4. When some of the work has been invoiced?
  5. When all of the work has been invoiced?
  6. When all of the work has been paid for?
  7. Including commission/charges/carriage? 

Unless the measurement of the goal is clearly defined, debates and discussion will follow. Or worse, some people will work to one set of rules, and others will work to another set of rules.

Ongoing review

The Deloitte research also found:

“Organizations that have employees revise or review their goals quarterly or more frequently were three-and-a-half times more likely to score in the top 25 percent of business outcomes.”

With clear measurement criteria in place, Power BI makes it possible to review as frequently as required. Power BI has a range of options to review progress to targets, from tables to cards, gauges to KPI indicators.

What’s important is that once the report is linked to the data it can be regularly refreshed, so everyone is working on current information.

Make goals matter

Power BI helps you clarify your goals, and review progress. It also helps with setting goals that matter to everyone, by allowing employees to set and monitor they own goals.

Goal setting power is in everyone’s capability with Power BI due to the range of data sources it works with, including Excel and Access databases. In addition, it gives everyone the ability to create powerful visuals that compare actuals to targets.

As most of us have repeatedly found, it’s not setting the goal that’s difficult, it’s tracking progress and keeping it visible that’s hard.

Power BI is a game changer when it comes to goals, targets, key performance indicators (KPIS). Far from “just” being able to visualize progress, it helps us clarify how we will measure our goals and track our progress towards them. And it gives us the ability to share that progress with others.
And for the first time, this isn’t something that happens within IT – everyone has the ability to create their own hard-hitting reports that show progress towards important goals.

If you’d like to find out more about using Power BI to track your goals, get in touch to find out more.

Bersin by Deloitte - Effective Employee Goal Management is Linked to Strong Business Outcomes 

Friday, 6 March 2020

Power BI Dashboards

Power BI Dashboards are particularly powerful reports that have more to them than meets the eye. In this blog post, I look a bit more closely at Microsoft’s own definition of a Power BI dashboard. This is what they say:

A Power BI dashboard is a single page, often called a canvas, that tells a story through visualizations.

Intuitively, we understand what a dashboard is – we’ve all got them in our cars. But what’s a Power BI dashboard? Let’s unpick Microsoft’s definition …

Power BI dashboard 

A dashboard isn’t a regular report. Power BI dashboards are created using reports that have already been created. Power BI reports are created using data from one or more systems. So, that means that a Power BI dashboard is made up of elements from one or more reports, perhaps from different parts of the organization, using data from a number of different sources.

The dashboard is updated when the underlying report is updated, so you always have the latest information. That’s powerful! We might be used to our car dashboards always being up to date, but sadly it’s not always true of our business reports.

Single Page

The analogy with a car dashboard only goes so far. Modern cars do allow you to change the view on the dashboard, which you could argue is like changing the page. A Power BI dashboard, however, is limited to a single page. That’s not for a technical reason, rather it’s to limit the data and visuals you can add. By constraining the dashboard to a single page, you are forced to choose only those visuals that are important and necessary.

As anyone who has ever written an academic essay knows, when there is a limit, somehow the final version is better for it!


Canvases are normally found in artists’ studios, waiting for a masterpiece to be painted. The Power BI canvas is also blank – waiting for a picture of sorts. In contrast to the checked page of Excel, Power BI starts with a white canvas. It doesn’t suggest lists of numbers, rather it encourages visuals to be created and positioned for the greatest impact.

If you’ve ever tried to create a dashboard using a spreadsheet, you will know how difficult it is to design something that looks good. The Power BI blank canvas, on the other hand, is easy to align, position, and move visuals to where they make the most sense.

Tells a Story

Story telling has become fashionable business notion, even though most CEOs are more comfortable with numbers and charts.

However, stories do have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that’s a useful idea when it comes to designing dashboards. The beginning is where we’ve come from. The middle is where we are now, and sometimes why we are where we are. And the end is what we want to achieve, or the target.

To tell the story we can use comparisons to last year, last quarter, etc. Or comparisons to target, or a key performance indicator. Although the CEO might not recognise it as a story, it gives a logical flow and sense to the data.


Visuals make data easier and faster to understand. They are great at comparisons – large blocks and small blocks are recognised by the brain a lot faster than a table of figures.

That’s not to say that everything should be shown on a chart or a pie chart. When the number is important, prominence and size might win out over fancy and visual. Headline performance indicators such as revenue or profit for the period might be simply stated – big and bold.

Visuals can clarify and enhance understanding, but if they don’t think about simplifying and highlighting only what’s important.

So that’s a Power BI dashboard, from the horse’s mouth, as it were. Power BI dashboards have power and punch, and can be used by departments and businesses to keep up to date with important data.

If you’d like to find out how you could be using Power BI dashboards within your organisation, get in touch.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

What Drives your Decisions?

One of my favourite quotes comes from Jim Barksdale, the CEO of Netscape and COO of FedEx. He is credited with saying:
“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”
But having data isn’t enough – most businesses have more data than they can analyse. Data must be presented in such a way that it communicates something useful and actionable. In other words, you need to turn raw data into something the business can use.

Raw data often has inconsistencies, errors, and different ways of reporting the same thing. Power BI allows you to clean up these problems and manipulate the data into something you can work with. It also allows you to create a data model that will drive analysis and visuals. In other words, it has all the business intelligence features you need to make informed decisions.

It has several game-changing features such as:
  • Being able to link to many different data sources.
  • Being able to manipulate and clean the data.
  • Presenting data in new and compelling ways.
  • Creating dashboards and scorecards, including key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Being able to share reports and dashboards securely.
This means you can track specific business indicators, updated by one or more than one data source. You can create reports that use more than one data source. And you can create powerful dashboard-type reports that focus attention on specific areas. All updated automatically when the underlying data is updated. It’s powerful – as the name suggests.

Business intelligence was once out of the reach of departments and mid-sized businesses. Budgets were large and project lead times were long. Microsoft Power BI is the next generation of business intelligence and it has changed the way we work, and how we make decisions.

It’s easy to get started; you can download Power BI Desktop for free. If you need some help, we have end to end experience from cleaning data, creating data models, and advising on impactful reports. And we can train you in all aspects of Power BI.

So, if you are a department that wants to bring data together from more than one system, track specific indictors, or present data in a way that can’t be ignored, get in touch.

Monday, 6 January 2020

6 Reasons to Rethink Your Business Reporting

Well-designed business reports can support business strategy, form the backbone of decision-making, and guide your every action. Unfortunately, many businesses are working with reports that do a lot less.

Legacy systems often produce lists of figures that send us to sleep, rather than prompt action. Which is a shame, because regardless of how or where your data is held, modern, visual reporting is now available to everyone. Unfortunately, most business data is never analysed or used to make data-driven decisions, even though data analysis has become a competitive issue.

So, are your management reports driving your business forward, or holding it back? Here are 6 reasons to rethink your business reporting.

1.     Support your strategy. Implementing strategy is tough. Conflicting views and too many distractions make it easy to get blown off course. Clear reporting that shows the status of your key business goals improves the chances of implementing your plans.

2.     Visuals are better. Visuals have two big advantages over lists of figures: speed and impact. When data is shown visually, it’s much easier to understand. Our brains can process variances, comparisons and trends within a fraction of a second. And when data is shown visually it becomes compelling and much harder to ignore.

3.     Dashboards let you travel faster. Having data on a single dashboard has big benefits. Firstly, part of planning is deciding what’s important and what’s not. By designing a report on a single page, focus on the important goals is improved. Secondly, having a visual and single page view gives you an instant view of how well things are going. When you are driving, you don’t expect to have to examine a 16-page report to find out whether you are running out of fuel or the engine is overheating. Business dashboards give you the same at-a-glance view of your business journey – allowing you to travel safer and faster.

4.     Big picture to detail. Interactive reporting works in the same way as our brains, allowing the big picture to be understood before the detail. The ability to drill down allows us to understand the overall situation first, and then investigate interesting parts further. Whether things are going well or badly, big picture to detail allows us to work in a logical way.

5.     Access from anywhere. We may still do most of our work in the office but thinking happens anywhere and anytime. Reporting that can be viewed on a mobile or a tablet means you have your data with you, whether you are working from home, travelling, or suddenly get a flash of inspiration during breakfast.

6.     Better collaboration.  All of us work better when more brains are on the problem. Modern reporting encourages collaboration by sharing reports and allowing input.

Modern reporting software has much more ambitious goals than the listing reports of old. Highly visual, compelling reports that convey more understanding, more quickly. Thanks to software like Microsoft Power BI, it’s never been easier to create highly effective visual reports.  

If you want to rethink your business reporting, get in touch to find out how.