Connecting Technology and Business.

Forecasting using Power BI

Two weeks before, the Garage Series folks from Microsoft decided to put Power BI to the test and see if they could combine multiple data sources and use the visualization engines in Excel and Power BI in an attempt to predict the outcome of El Clásico after hearing from fans of both clubs.  The nice thing with a scenario like this is that detailed data is easily available via sources like Wikipedia, but using Power Query in Excel they could mash up external data keying off dates and geographical locations to bring in things like temperature, humidity and even moon phases to see if any of these things had an impact on the matches between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

Microsoft made use of several technologies in the latest Excel and Power BI:

  • Excel Spreadsheet to enter Data
  • Power Map

Power Map.jpg 

  • Q &  A in Power BI

Q and A in Power BI.jpg 

  • Power BI Data Visualization

Data Visualization in Power BI.jpg 

  • Timeline View

Power BI - Timeline view.jpg 

Regardless of the data being used, everything can be modelled in Excel with all of the data slicers and visuals. Then via simple drag and drop Excel file can be added into Power BI. Once the files are loaded into Power BI, it is easy to add them into the Q&A engine simply by right-clicking and adding the file into Q&A. With everything loaded into Power BI, people can view and interact with the data directly from the browser – they don't need the latest version of Office installed or a powerful computer to run it. All the compute is actually running in the Power BI service. It's pretty amazing.

Now if you're wondering how it turned out, the images above show just how close the teams and players are matched. You may have watched El Clásico a few weeks back and know who won, (Real Madrid won 3-1 against Barcelona) but it is wonderful to see how well Power BI, Excel and the disparate data did to help predict the outcomes.

The Power of Power BI

Business intelligence (BI) is the set of techniques and tools for the transformation of raw data into meaningful and useful information for business analysis purposes.

Business Data might be structured like database tables or unstructured like emails and IMs. This data might have been collected over long years. This might have been stored in various data stores like Database management systems (Oracle, SQL or Access DB), Exchange servers or SharePoint servers or even Social media Apps (if the business has a page in Facebook or a handle in Twitter).

The purpose of storing this data might vary from business to business but there is one common purpose – for compliance purposes. The government might require businesses to retain data for a certain number of years for audit purposes or the business is forced to comply with some regulations dictated by a certain agency for certification or business continuity.

Little do the business know that the data stores that they are maintaining are treasures troves of information that can help them grow their business, compete better and lead their respective vertical in terms of scale and profitability. These data stores also contain information as to why a certain business unit is not showing desired results or why even after enough effort has been put a certain group of people have not been able to attain their targets.

There is no limit to the amount of information that can be pulled out of these data stores. Very valuable information that can transform business can be made available to the Business Decision Makers from these data so that they can make very informed decisions that might lead to cut expenditure and lead to revenue growth and profits.

Even though this data is available in the business, it does not reach the decision makers in the right form at the right time. Many times, the DBAs or the system administrators put rules, policies and procedures in place for stricter security reasons that the data is far out of the reach of those to whom it really matters. People who have skills to analyze data are not able to do it because of data inaccessibility.

On the other side, even if the data is accessible, there are no proper user friendly "tools for the transformation of raw data into meaningful and useful information". Tools so far available were designed with the skilled analyst in mind. A BI professional had to know the complex analytical technics that are far from the grasp of the decision enablers or decision makers. Even he had to adopt to the tool running through a long learning curve. So, the BDMs could not appreciate the value of the data that was lying in close proximity. The potential that underlay the dormant data remained unexplored.

Enter Microsoft and its Power BI tools. Suddenly, the scenario has undergone a sea change with the power of Business Intelligence brought to the end user. BDMs don't have to depend on analysts to provide them with BI info anymore. They can have access to databases through the powerful querying and importing tools, create data models themselves using the familiar Microsoft Excel and visualize the data to arrive at informed business decisions. They can also share BI information and collaborate on a common platform enabling other decision makers to arrive at informed decisions towards common goals of the enterprise.

More about this in a later post…

Power BI from Microsoft

Microsoft's Power tools are designed to be Self-service BI as anybody who is familiar with MS Excel can start using it right from day one and can use it with little or no dependence on system administrators, DBAs and skilled BI analysts. Microsoft's Power BI also brings the power of the cloud to the end users so that users can remain in the familiar SharePoint platform to exploit its features.

There are currently over 1 billion MS Office Excel users who can now put to use the capability of Excel to discover, analyze and visualize data using Power BI. Already feature-rich Excel that has been catering to the needs of business through its data import capabilities and various analytical features like pivot tables, "What if "analysis has been enriched today with add-ins like Power Pivot, Power Query, Power View and Power Maps all available for free for those who want to enhance their analytical experience using Power BI.

Also, 1 in every 4 enterprise customers is a user of Office 365 online services from Microsoft. What this means is that they are already using the SharePoint platform to collaborate. So, Power BI will be a natural extension of this experience in the cloud for these users. They can now share BI info, search and find relevant information that can be of vital importance to them. What more, they can access these info from anywhere using their mobile devices so that real-time information that is critical to their business can be put to use at the right time to win a deal or avoid a loss of revenue or opportunity.

Power BI by Microsoft is also a highly scalable feature that can help people to begin small but move up to complex data models that will require higher computing power and space to store data and the resulting information.

As this also has cloud integration, it can be managed by the enterprise. Enterprises can provide a secure atmosphere for their users to work on critical data that would remain confidential but still enable them to access data from various data stores in a secure way and share info only with the stake-holders form who the BI info is crucial.

Microsoft, being a trusted technology for decades and having established itself as a dependable online service provider for even a major chunk of the Fortune 500  companies worldwide, todays corporates and business houses can jump into this bandwagon of cutting edge Power BI technology and start capitalizing on its offerings.

More about Power BI in later posts…