14 September 2020
Power BI: Smashing Efficiency Targets with an AI Tool You Already Have
Like us, your business probably already puts ongoing effort into improving efficiency. Over the last couple of years, we had already used up-and-coming technologies to shave operating costs and increase return on our efforts. In business, though, it is never wise to rest on our laurels. When we had a chance to work with Microsoft’s Power BI app, included with our Microsoft 365 licence, we were keen to see if it could help us to do better. Spoiler alert: it did.
What is Power BI?
As businesses are increasingly digitised, they create data in almost every action. Some is compiled into reports, some exists as a record, but much of it goes unnoticed. A business integration app, Power BI helps you to connect all data, allowing users without specialist skills to create fascinating reports that shine a light on the inner workings of your organisation. It helps you to find immediate answers to business questions, and it is surprisingly easy to make gains.
Solving Costly Business Challenges
2020 has highlighted just how fast business changes happen. Like every one of our customers, we have had to make fast decisions, and adjust plans to work around the impact of a global pandemic. In the past, many of our business decisions were made using data that was compiled into monthly reports. In many cases, only senior management had access to the systems and raw data involved. Preparing reports was time consuming, and because of the seniority of those involved, it was costly. When the reports were shared, they were based on information that was accurate 4-6 weeks ago.
Timeliness was not the only problem. Different members of our team worked with the information in different ways, finding the best value they could by interpreting a static report. More staff time, then, was devoted to this effort.
Smarter Reports Lead to Smarter Decisions
There are three very obvious differences since we began to use Power BI. The first is that we get reports when we want them, from up-to-the-minute data. No waiting around for reports that are already weeks old. As you might imagine, the rapid pivots needed to help our customers through a highly unpredictable business climate were made much easier when we could always get our hands on timely information.
Secondly, any staff member can work with available data sources to compile reports the way they want them. They can select dates, locations, customer types, or any other relevant factor, combining data from multiple sources to get remarkably deep insights. It is easy – only the most complex of reports will be beyond your admin team or finance staff to build.
Thirdly – and this is a big one – the data is presented in beautifully eye-catching visual format. Gone are the dry spreadsheets and rows of figures, and in their place, we have graphs, charts, and maps.
We can interpret the information far more rapidly, and understand it more instinctively. People explore and interact with the data their own way. The possibilities are almost endless; we can narrow down how different teams are performing, predict which customers may find a new product most relevant, and target services where they are most likely to be needed. In other words, we give our customers more of what they want, and better understand how we can offer the right services at the right time.
Because we had already tightened up on business efficiency, the resulting 6% gain was beyond expectations. Other organisations have reported gains of more than 20%.
Is Business Intelligence Expensive?
Historically, business intelligence (BI) solutions were only within reach of the top end of town. They were costly, and required specialist consultants to design reports. Because Power BI is included in Microsoft 365 licences, and in most cases requires little or no outside help to get started, it doesn’t bust the small to mid-sized business IT budget. It is worth starting small, on a simple task or report, to see how quickly it can make a difference.