I work as an analyst, so I very clearly know how cumbersome it is to get data and do it for even small, sort of everyday requests. I think many of you know how painful it is to wait every time for IT when you need even the slightest change in a query. The whole point of data driven marketing is to have easy, fast and flexible access to data, to make choices on that. Now Hadoop, NoSQL, NewSQL, etc. might sound fancy and are excellent to derive insight from Big Data, but what really is going to impact your bottom line is having every marketer to play with data and safely slice and dice it for their own taste so that you can keep the speed and agility of every day marketing business fuelled with data. This is exactly where the phenomenon of Self-Service BI steps in.
The Tableau website have some very clear points on what is required for a “DIY BI” solution:
- Make it easy to access data
- Make BI Tools easy to use
- DW solutions to be fast to deploy and easy to manage
- Having BI results easy to consume and tweak
Nevertheless I actually got excited of the concept upon starting to work with several elements of the Microsoft Power BI family. Based on the above principles let me explain my point of view. Before we dive in though I wanted to be clear, that I have no affiliation with Microsoft, so the below points represent a purely personal opinion.
- Microsoft Excel is still the most widespread data analysis application. If you want people to use a report or an application it is much easier in a familiar environment. Even if Microsoft has introduced new ways of work with these BI tools, Excel fundamentally remains the same and familiar to everyone. This situation lowers a lot of barriers for people to try and play with new tools and also the consumption of the generated reports becomes easier in a well known environment.
- Most of these add-on features are free to use. Yes, you need to buy Excel, but once you have the right version they are free or even already built in. Considering again that Excel itself is really widespread makes entering the Self Service BI field super cost efficient.
- These tools integrate very well with the most common database architectures. Be it Oracle, SQL server, Teradata, IBM DB2 or different file types in servers, these features can handle them. This provides a good enough flexibility to integrate these tools into the usual IT architecture of most organizations.
What are the tools which actually deliver all these benefits? I will list all of them with their key features, but for more details I suggest you visit the Marketing & Sales Solutions site of Microsoft.
- PowerPivot – The first of the Power BI family and still the backbone of it. In the back it enables IT or analysts to create and manage a visual database structure with which you can work magic (check out tips from e.g.: PowerPivot Pro). What makes it truly remarkable is the front application, which is simply put are Pivot Tables. Ok, they have many additional features, but the simplicity of Pivot tables when it comes to data discovery or reporting is unparalleled and Microsoft puts it to good use.
- PowerQuery – If you want to enrich your reporting from external sources (for example for benchmarking purposes) and you want this data automatically refreshed and processed into a desired format, then PowerQuery is your tool. Though many of these options were available for a VBA Macro Master, this tool makes them available for the less technically savy people, which well, is most of us.
- PowerView – Interactive visual reports at your fingertips… as the marketing pitch says. Here I need to say that the direction is right, the implementation has some hiccups as PowerView (at least with me) tends to be slow and at times buggy which destroys the experience for me. There is good potential, but also a lot of work to be done.
- PowerMap – As I live in Hungary and work on local aspects mostly, this is the most underused tool for me. I do understand that bigger countries, regional or global organizations should find a lot of benefits using it… after Microsoft worked on it a bit. Generally it is using the same engine as PowerView, so carries the same issues, plus adding the general analytical difficulties of geo tagging. Work needs to be put here.
There are many other excellent tool out there, I’m certain. If I get to use any of them, I might also dedicate post(s) to them and hey, I definitely plan on using Tableau Public, so you will see some vizzes from there on the blog once I get time to learn this software. Until then, I’m excited to sense lots of developments on this field.
I see a vision of marketing people being able to slice and dice their own data and create reports for daily use. This makes them more educated on deriving insights and making decisions based on data and in the same time frees up hardcore analysts to work on discovering less obvious relationships in the data, instead of generating standard reports. A real win-win which can introduce a much needed synergy in a simple and cost effective manner.