There are many options when it comes to data analytics tools. Choosing the right one for your organization will depend on a number of factors. Since many of the reviews and articles on these tools are focused on business users, the 2nd Watch team wanted to explore these tools from the developer’s perspective. In this developer’s guide to Power BI, we’ll go over the performance, interface, customization, and more to help you get a full understanding of this tool.
Why Power BI?
Power BI is a financially attractive alternative to the likes of Tableau and Looker, which either offer custom-tailored pricing models or a large initial per-user cost followed by an annual fee after the first year. However, don’t conflate cost with quality; getting the most out of Power BI is more dependent on your data environment and who is doing the data discovery. Companies already relying heavily on Microsoft tools should look to add Power BI to their roster, as it integrates seamlessly with SQL Server Analysis Services to facilitate faster and deeper analysis.
Performance for Developers
When working with large datasets, developers will experience some slowdown as they customize and publish their reports. Developing on Power BI works best with small-to-medium-sized data sets. At the same time, Microsoft has come out with more optimization options such as drill-through functionality, which allows for deeper analytical work for less processing power.
Performance for Users
User performance through Power BI Services is controlled through row-level security implementation. For any sized dataset, the number of rows can be limited depending on the user’s role. Overviews and executive dashboards may run somewhat slowly, but as the user’s role becomes more granular, dashboards will operate more quickly.
User Interface: Data Layer
Data is laid out in a tabular form; clicking any measure column header reveals a drop-down menu with sorting options, filtering selections, and the Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) behind the calculation.
User Interface: Relationship Layer
The source tables are draggable objects with labeled arrows between tables denoting the type of relationship.
Usability and Ease of Learning
Microsoft Power BI documentation is replete with tutorials, samples, quickstarts, and concepts for the fundamentals of development. For a more directed learning experience, Microsoft also put out the Microsoft Power BI Guided Learning set, which is a freely available collection of mini courses on modeling, visualization, and exploration of data through Power BI. It also includes an introduction to DAX development as a tool to transform data in the program. Additionally, the Power BI community forums almost always have an answer to any technical question a developer might have.
Power BI can easily connect to multiple data sources including both local folders and most major database platforms. Data can be cleaned and transformed using the Query Editor; the Editor can change data type, add columns, and combine data from multiple sources. Throughout this transformation process, the Query Editor records each step so that every time the query connects to the data source, the data is transformed accordingly. Relationships can be created by specifying a from: table and to table, the keys to relate, a cardinality, and a cross-filter direction.
In terms of data transformation, Power Query is a powerful language for ensuring that your report contains the exact data and relationships you and your business user are looking to understand. Power Query simplifies the process of data transformation with an intuitive step-by-step process for joining, altering, or cleaning your tables within Power BI. For actual report building, Power BI contains a comprehensive list of visualizations for almost all business needs; if one is not found within the default set, Microsoft sponsors a visual gallery of custom user-created visualizations that anyone is free to explore and download.
Permissions and User Roles
Adding permissions to workspaces, datasets, and reports within your org is as simple as adding an email address and setting an access level. Row-level security is enabled in Power BI Desktop; role management allows you flexibly customize access to specific data tables using DAX functions to specify conditional filters. Default security filtering is single-directional; however, bi-directional cross-filtering allows for the implementation of dynamic row-level security based on usernames and/or login IDs.
Ease of Dev Opp and Source Control
When users have access to a data connection or report, source and version control are extremely limited without external GitHub resources. Most of the available activities are at the macro level: viewing/editing reports, adding sources to gateways, or installing the application. There is no internal edit history for any reports or dashboards.
Setup and Environment
Setup is largely dependent on whether your data is structured in the cloud, on-premises, or a hybrid. Once the architecture is established, you need to create “data gateways” and assign them to different departments and data sources. This gateway acts as a secure connection between your data source and development environments. From there, security and permissions can be applied to ensure the right people within your organization have access to your gateways. When the gateways are established, data can be pulled into Power BI via Power Query and development can begin.
The most common implementation of Power BI utilizes on-premises source data and Power BI Desktop for data preparation and reporting, with Power BI Service used in the cloud to consume reports and dashboards, collaborate, and establish security. This hybrid implementation strategy takes advantage of the full range of Power BI functionality by leveraging both the Desktop and Service versions. On-premises data sources connect to Power BI Desktop for development, leading to quicker report creation (though Power BI also supports cloud-based data storage).
Summary and Key Points
Power BI is an extremely affordable and comprehensive analytics tool. It integrates seamlessly with Excel, Azure, and SQL Server, allowing for established Microsoft users to start analyzing almost instantly. The tool is easy to learn for developers and business users alike, and there are many available resources, like Microsoft mini-courses and community forums.
A couple things to be aware of with Power BI: It may lack some of the bells and whistles as compared to other analytics tools, and it’s best if you’re already in the Microsoft ecosystem and are coming in with a solid data strategy.
If you want to learn more about Power BI or any other analytics tools, contact us today to schedule a no-obligation whiteboard session.
Tableau gets a good reputation for being sleek and easy to use and by bolstering an impeccable UI/UX. It’s by and large an industry leader due to its wide range of visualizations and ability to cohesively and narratively present data to end users. As a reliable, well-established leader, Tableau can easily integrate with many sources, has extensive online support, and does not require a high level of technical expertise for users to gain value.
One of the easiest ways to ensure good performance with Tableau is to be mindful of how you import your data. Utilizing extracts rather than live data and performing joins or unions in your database reduces a lot of the processing that Tableau would otherwise have to do. While you can easily manipulate data without any coding, these capabilities reduce performance significantly, especially when dealing with large volumes of information. All data manipulation should be done in your database or data warehouse prior to adding it as a source. If that isn’t an option, Tableau offers a product called Tableau Prep that enables data manipulation and enhanced data governance capabilities.
Performance for Users
Dashboard performance for users depends almost entirely on practices employed by developers when building out reports. Limiting the dataset to information required for the goals of the dashboard reduces the amount of data Tableau processes as well as the number of filters included for front-end users. Cleaning up workbooks to reduce unnecessary visualizations will enhance front-end performance as well.
User Interface: Data Source
After connecting to your source, Tableau presents your data using the “Data Source” tab. This is a great place to check that your data was properly loaded and doesn’t have any anomalies. Within this view of the data, you have the chance to add more sources and the capability to union and join tables together as well as filter the data to a specific selection and exclude rows that were brought in.
User Interface: Worksheet
The “Worksheet” tabs are where most of the magic happens. Each visualization that ends up on the dashboard will be developed in separate worksheets. This is where you will do most of the testing and tweaking as well as where you can create any filters, parameters, or calculated fields.
User Interface: Dashboards
In the “Dashboard” tab, you bring together all of the individual visualizations you have created. The drag-and-drop UI allows you to use tiles predetermined by Tableau or float the objects to arrange them how you please. Filters can be applied to all of the visualizations to create a cohesive story or to just a few visualizations to break down information specific to a chart or table. It additionally allows you to toggle between different device layouts to ensure end-user satisfaction.
User Interface: Stories
One of the most unique Tableau features is its “Stories” capability. Stories work great when you need to develop a series of reports that present a narrative to a business user. By adding captions and placing visualizations in succession, you can convey a message that speaks for itself.
Usability and Ease of Learning
The Tableau basics are relatively easy to learn due to the intuitive point-and-click UI and vast amount of educational resources such as their free training videos. Tableau also has a strong online community where answers to specific questions can be found either on the Help page or third-party sites.
Creating an impressive variety of simple visualizations can be done without a hitch. This being said, there are a few things to watch out for:
Some tricks and more niche capabilities can easily remain undiscovered.
Complex features such as table calculations may confuse new users.
The digestible UI can be deceiving – visualizations often appear correct when the underlying data is not. One great way to check for accuracy is to right-click on the visualization and select “View Data.”
Unlike Power BI, Tableau does not allow users to create a complicated semantic layer within the tool. However, users can establish relationships between different data sources and across varied granularities through a method called data blending. One way to implement this method is by selecting the “Edit Relationships” option in the data drop-down menu.
Data blending also eliminates duplicates that may occur by using a function that returns a single value for the duplicate rows in the secondary source. Creating relationships among multiple sources in Tableau requires attention to detail as it can take some manipulation and may have unintended consequences or lead to mistakes that are difficult to spot.
The wide array of features offered by Tableau allows for highly customizable visualizations and reports. Implementing filter actions (which can apply to both worksheets and dashboards), parameters, and calculated fields empowers developers to modify the source data so that it better fits the purpose of the report. Using workarounds for calculations not explicitly available in Tableau frequently leads to inaccuracy; however, this can be combated by viewing the underlying data. Aesthetic customizations such as importing external images and the large variety of formatting capabilities additionally allow developers boundless creative expression.
Permissions and User Roles
The type of license assigned to a user determines their permissions and user roles. Site administrators can easily modify the site roles of users on the Tableau Server or Tableau Online based on the licenses they hold. The site role determines the most impactful action (e.g., read, share, edit) a specific user can make on the visualizations. In addition to this, permissions range from viewing or editing to downloading various components of a workbook. The wide variety of permissions applies to various components within Tableau. A more detailed guide to permissions capabilities can be found here.
Ease of Dev Opp and Source Control
Dev opp and source control improved greatly when Tableau implemented versioning of workbooks in 2016. This enables users to select the option to save a history of revisions, which saves a version of the workbook each time it is overwritten. This enables users to go back to previous versions of the workbook and access work that may have been lost. When accessing prior versions, keep in mind that if an extract is no longer compatible with the source, its data refresh will not work.
Setup and Environment
With all of the necessary information on your sources, setup in Tableau is a breeze. It has built-in connectors with a wide range of sources and presents your data to you upon connection. You also have a variety of options regarding data manipulation and utilizing live or static data (as mentioned above). Developers utilize the three Tableau environments based primarily on the level of interactions and security they desire.
Tableau Desktop: Full developer software in a silo; ability to connect to databases or personal files and publish work for others to access
Tableau Server: Secure environment accessed through a web browser to share visualizations across the organization; requires a license for each user
Tableau Online: Essentially the same as Tableau Server but based in the cloud with a wider range of connectivity options
Once your workbook is developed, select the server and make your work accessible for others either on Tableau Online or on Tableau Server by selecting “publish.” During this process, you can determine the specific project you are publishing and where to make it available. There are many other modifications that can be adjusted such as implementing editing permissions and scheduling refreshes of the data sources.
Summary and Key Points
Tableau empowers developers of all skill levels to create visually appealing and informative dashboards, reports, and storytelling experiences. As developers work, there is a wealth of customization options to tailor reports to their specific use case and draw boundless insights for end users. To ensure that Tableau gleans the best results for end users, keep these three notes in mind:
Your underlying data must be trustworthy as Tableau does little to ensure data integrity. Triple-check the numbers in your reports.
Ensure your development methods don’t significantly damage performance for both developers and end users.
Take advantage of the massive online community to uncover vital features and leverage others’ knowledge when facing challenges.
If you have any questions on Tableau or need help getting better insights from your Tableau dashboards, contact us for an analytics assessment.
87% of data science projects never make it beyond the initial vision into any stage of production. Even some that pass-through discovery, deployment, implementation, and general adoption fail to yield the intended outcomes. After investing all that time and money into a data science project, it’s not uncommon to feel a little crushed when you realize the windfall results you expected are not coming.
Yet even though there are hurdles to implementing data science projects, the ROI is unparalleled – when it’s done right.
Coca-Cola has used data from social media to identify its products or competitors’ products in images, increasing the depth of consumer demographics and hyper-targeting them with well-timed ads.
You can accelerate your production timelines.
GE has used artificial intelligence to cut product design times in half. Data scientists have trained algorithms to evaluate millions of design variations, narrowing down potential options within 15 minutes.
With all of that potential, don’t let your first failed attempt turn you off to the entire practice of data science. We’ve put together a list of primary reasons why data science projects fail – and a few strategies for forging success in the future – to help you avoid similar mistakes.
You lack analytical maturity.
Many organizations are antsy to predict events or decipher buyer motivations without having first developed the proper structure, data quality, and data-driven culture. And that overzealousness is a recipe for disaster. While a successful data science project will take some time, a well-thought-out data science strategy can ensure you will see value along the way to your end goal.
Effective analytics only happens through analytical maturity. That’s why we recommend organizations conduct a thorough current state analysis before they embark on any data science project. In addition to evaluating the state of their data ecosystem, they can determine where their analytics falls along the following spectrum:
Descriptive Analytics: This type of analytics is concerned with what happened in the past. It mainly depends on reporting and is often limited to a single or narrow source of data. It’s the ground floor of potential analysis.
Diagnostic Analytics: Organizations at this stage are able to determine why something happened. This level of analytics delves into the early phases of data science but lacks the insight to make predictions or offer actionable insight.
Predictive Analytics: At this level, organizations are finally able to determine what could happen in the future. By using statistical models and forecasting techniques, they can begin to look beyond the present into the future. Data science projects can get you into this territory.
Prescriptive Analytics: This is the ultimate goal of data science. When organizations reach this stage, they can determine what they should do based on historical data, forecasts, and the projections of simulation algorithms.
Your project doesn’t align with your goals.
Data science, removed from your business objectives, always falls short of expectations. Yet in spite of that reality, many organizations attempt to harness machine learning, predictive analytics, or any other data science capability without a clear goal in mind. In our experience, this happens for one of two reasons:
1. Stakeholders want the promised results of data science but don’t understand how to customize the technologies to their goals. This leads them to pursue a data-driven framework that’s prevailed for other organizations while ignoring their own unique context.
2. Internal data scientists geek out over theoretical potential and explore capabilities that are stunning but fail to offer practical value to the organization.
Outside of research institutes or skunkworks programs, exploratory or extravagant data science projects have a limited immediate ROI for your organization. In fact, the odds are very low that they’ll pay off. It’s only through a clear vision and practical use cases that these projects are able to garner actionable insights into products, services, consumers, or larger market conditions.
Every data science project needs to start with an evaluation of your primary goals. What opportunities are there to improve your core competency? Are there any specific questions you have about your products, services, customers, or operations? And is there a small and easy proof of concept you can launch to gain traction and master the technology?
The above use case from GE is a prime example of having a clear goal in mind. The multinational company was in the middle of restructuring, reemphasizing its focus on aero engines and power equipment. With the goal of reducing their six- to 12-month design process, they decided to pursue a machine learning project capable of increasing the efficiency of product design within their core verticals. As a result, this project promises to decrease design time and budget allocated for R&D.
Organizations that embody GE’s strategy will face fewer false starts with their data science projects. For those that are still unsure about how to adapt data-driven thinking to their business, an outsourced partner can simplify the selection process and optimize your outcomes.
Your solution isn’t user-friendly.
The user experience is often an overlooked aspect of viable data science projects. Organizations do all the right things to create an analytics powerhouse customized to solve a key business problem, but if the end users can’t figure out how to use the tool, the ROI will always be weak. Frustrated users will either continue to rely upon other platforms that provided them with limited but comprehensible reporting capabilities, or they will stumble through the tool without unlocking its full potential.
Your organization can avoid this outcome by involving a range of end users in the early stages of project development. This means interviewing both average users and extreme users. What are their day-to-day needs? What data are they already using? What insight do they want but currently can’t obtain?
An equally important task is to determine your target user’s data literacy. The average user doesn’t have the ability to derive complete insights from the represented data. They need visualizations that present a clear-cut course of action. If the data scientists are only thinking about how to analyze complex webs of disparate data sources and not whether end users will be able to decipher the final results, the project is bound to struggle.
You don’t have data scientists who know your industry.
Even if your organization has taken all of the above considerations into mind, there’s still a chance you’ll be dissatisfied with the end results. Most often, it’s because you aren’t working with data science consulting firms that comprehend the challenges, trends, and primary objectives of your industry.
Take healthcare, for example. Data scientists who only grasp the fundamentals of machine learning, predictive analytics, or automated decision-making can only provide your business with general results. The right partner will have a full grasp of healthcare regulations, prevalent data sources, common industry use cases, and what target end users will need. They can address your pain points and already know how to extract full value for your organization.
And here’s another example from one of our own clients. A Chicago-based retailer wanted to use their data to improve customer lifetime value, but they were struggling with a decentralized and unreliable data ecosystem. With the extensive experience of our retail and marketing team, we were able to outline their current state and efficiently implement a machine-learning solution that empowered our client. As a result, our client was better able to identify sales predictors and customize their marketing tactics within their newly optimized consumer demographics. Our knowledge of their business and industry helped them to get the full results now and in the future.
Is your organization equipped to achieve meaningful results through data science? Secure your success by working with 2nd Watch. Schedule a whiteboard session with our team to get you started on the right path.
Insurance providers are rich with data far beyond what they once had at their disposal for traditional historical analysis. The quantity, variety, and complexity of that data enhance the ability of insurers to gain greater insights into consumers, market trends, and strategies to improve their bottom line. But which projects offer you the best return on your investment? Here’s a glimpse at some of the most common insurance analytics project use cases that can transform the capabilities of your business.
Use your historical data to predict when a customer is most likely to buy a new policy.
Both traditional insurance providers and digital newcomers are competing for the same customer base. As a result, acquiring new customers requires targeted outreach with the right message at the moment a buyer is ready to purchase a specific type of insurance.
Predictive analytics allows insurance companies to evaluate the demographics of the target audience, their buying signals, preferences, buying patterns, pricing sensitivity, and a variety of other data points that forecast buyer readiness. This real-time data empowers insurers to reach policyholders with customized messaging that makes them more likely to convert.
Quoting Accurate Premiums
Provide instant access to correct quotes and speed up the time to purchase.
Consumers want the best value when shopping for insurance coverage, but if their quote fails to match their premium, they’ll take their business elsewhere. Insurers hoping to acquire and retain policyholders need to ensure their quotes are precise – no matter how complex the policy.
For example, one of our clients wanted to provide ride-share drivers with four-hour customized micro policies on-demand. Using real-time analytical functionality, we enabled them to quickly and accurately underwrite policies on the spot.
Improving Customer Experience
Better understand your customer’s preferences and optimize future interactions.
A positive customer experience means strong customer retention, a better brand reputation, and a reduced likelihood that a customer will leave you for the competition. In an interview with CMSWire, the CEO of John Hancock Insurance said many customers see the whole process as “cumbersome, invasive, and long.” A key solution is reaching out to customers in a way that balances automation and human interaction.
For example, the right analytics platform can help your agents engage policyholders at a deeper level. It can combine the customer story and their preferences from across customer channels to provide more personalized interactions that make customers feel valued.
Stop fraud before it happens.
You want to provide all of your customers with the most economical coverage, but unnecessary costs inflate your overall expenses. Enterprise analytics platforms enable claims analysis to evaluate petabytes of data to detect trends that indicate fraud, waste, and abuse.
See for yourself how a tool like Tableau can help you quickly spot suspicious behavior with visual insurance fraud analysis.
Now, high-powered analytics has the potential to provide insurers with a real-time understanding of loss ratios, using a wide range of data points to evaluate which of your customers are underpaying or overpaying.
What percent of your enterprise data goes completely untapped? It’s far more than most organizations realize. Research suggests that as much as 68% of global enterprise data goes unused. The reasons are varied (we can get to the root cause with a current state assessment), but one growing problem stems from misconceptions about CRMs, ERPs, EHRs, and similar operational software systems.
The right operational software systems are valuable tools with their own effective reporting functions. The foundation of any successful reporting or analytics initiative depends on two factors: on a centralized source of truth that exists in a unified source format. All operational software systems struggle to satisfy either aspect of that criteria.
Believe it or not, one of the most strategic systems for data-driven decision-making is still a dedicated data warehouse. Here is the value a data warehouse brings to your organization and the necessary steps to implement that enhance your analytics’ accuracy and insight.
CRMs and ERPs Are Data Silos with Disparate Formats
Operational software systems are often advertised as offering a unified view, but that’s only true for their designed purpose. CRMs offer a comprehensive view of customers, ERPs of operations, and EHRs of patient or member medical history. Outside of their defined parameters, these systems are data silos.
In an HBR blog post, Edd Wilder-James captures the conundrum perfectly: “You can’t cleanly separate the data from its intended use. Depending on your desired application, you need to format, filter, and manipulate the data accordingly.”
Some platforms are enabled to integrate outside data sources, but even that provides you with a filtered view of your data, not the raw and centralized view necessary to generate granular and impactful reports. It’s the difference between abridged and unabridged books – you might glean chunks of the big picture but miss entire sections or chapters that are crucial to the overall story.
Building a dedicated data warehouse removes the question of whether your data sets are complete. You can extract, transfer, and load data from source systems into star schemas with a unified format optimized for business users to leverage. The data is formatted around the business process rather than the limitations of the tool. That way, you can run multifaceted reports or conduct advanced analytics when you need it – without anchoring yourself to any specific technology.
Tracking Down Your Data Sources
In all honesty, organizations not familiar with the process often overlook vital information sources. There might be a platform used to track shipping that only one member of your team uses. Maybe there’s a customer service representative who logs feedback in an ad hoc document. Or it’s possible there’s HIPAA-compliant software in use that isn’t automatically loading into your EHR. Regardless of your industry, there are likely gaps in your knowledge well outside of the CRMs, ERPs, EHRs, and other ostensibly complete data sources.
How do you build a single source of truth? It’s not as simple as shifting around a few sources. Implementing a dedicated data warehouse requires extensive planning and preparation. The journey starts with finding the invisible web of sources outside of your primary operational software systems. Those organizations that choose to forgo a full-fledged current state assessment to identify those hidden sources only achieve fragmentary analytics at best.
Data warehouse implementations need guidance and buy-in at the corporate level. That starts with a well-defined enterprise data strategy. Before you can create your strategy, you need to ask yourself questions such as these:
What are your primary business objectives?
What are your key performance indicators?
Which source systems contribute to those goals?
Which source systems are we currently using across the enterprise?
By obtaining the answers to these and other questions from decision-makers and end users, you can clarify the totality of your current state. Otherwise, hunting down those sources is an uphill battle.
Creating Data Warehouse Value that Lasts
Consolidating your dispersed data sources is just a starting point. Next, you need to extract the data from each source system and populate them within the data warehouse framework itself. A key component of this step is to test data within your warehouse to verify quality and completeness.
If data loss occurs during the ETL process, the impact of your work and veracity of your insights will be at risk. Running a variety of different tests (e.g., data accuracy, data completeness, data transformation, etc.) will reduce the possibility of any unanticipated biases in your single source of truth.
What about maintaining a healthy and dynamic data warehouse? How often should you load new data? The answer depends on the frequency of your reporting needs. As a rule of thumb, think in terms of freshness. If your data has gone stale by the time you’re loading it into your data warehouse, increase the frequency of your data refresh. Opt for real-time analytics if it will provide you with a strategic advantage, not because you want to keep current with the latest buzzword.
Improving Your Results with an Outsourced Partner
Each step in the process comes with its own complications. It’s easy to fall into common data warehousing pitfalls unless you have internal resources with experience pinpointing hidden data sources, selecting the right data model, and maintaining your data warehouse post-implementation.
One of our clients in the healthcare software space was struggling to transition to a dynamic data warehousing model that could enhance their sales. Previously, they had a reporting application that they were using on a semi-annual basis. Though they wanted to increase the frequency of their reporting and enable multiple users to run reports simultaneously, they didn’t have the internal expertise to confidently navigate these challenges.
Working with 2nd Watch made a clear difference. Our client was able to leverage a data warehouse architecture that provided daily data availability (in addition to the six-month snapshot) and self-service dashboards that didn’t require changes or updates on their part. We also set them on the right path to leverage a single source of the truth through future developments.
Our strategies in that project prioritized our client’s people instead of a specific technology. We considered the reporting and analytics needs of their business users rather than pigeonholing their business into a specific tool. Through our tech-agnostic approach, we guided them toward a future state that provided strategic advantage and a clear ROI that might have otherwise gone unachieved.
Want your data warehouse to provide you with a single source of the truth? Schedule a whiteboard session to review your options and consolidate your data into actionable insight.