Right now, with whole companies moving to all-remote operations, decision makers and leaders are feeling more frustrated than ever by how hard it is to get real insights into what’s happening across their teams, departments, and projects. The challenge of developing a truly robust reporting solution to deliver these insights, however, is balancing application and reporting needs. You may need a more interactive platform that enables self-exploration, or embedded visualizations that tell a clear story: that takes development time and effort. But getting reporting right is critical too—how do you pull your reporting needs forward and make sure you’re getting the most out of your data? The trick is to turn these “either-or” considerations into “both-and” decisions: Start with the right analytics platform, and go deep on it.
TL;DR: Turn the tradeoff of “reporting vs features” into “reporting and features” during app development. Power BI makes this really organic in the Microsoft ecosystem.
Power BI solution
While there are plenty of great reporting platforms out there, Microsoft’s Power BI offers the flexible “both-and” reporting capabilities that make it amenable to a number of use cases. We decided to prove out what it could do for us internally. Back in 2015, we consolidated all our internal reporting and analytics onto a single, consistent platform using Microsoft Power BI. Having a common reporting model and platform that we could apply across all our systems and applications led to us being able to build integrated reports and dashboards that cross departments. These bring all our financial, service delivery, marketing, budgeting, and sales information into an integrated forecast model. We get better insights and faster data-driven decisions as a result.
Microsoft Power BI has enabled us to deliver rich, interactive reporting solutions for our clients across industries. We’ve delivered solutions that provide deep insights into the performance of ambulance services, collegiate and professional sports, at-risk youth intervention programs, statistical process control for manufacturing, and more. We’ve also leveraged Power BI to derive actionable insights from employee engagement surveys.
There are two specific features that make Power BI stand out in terms of developing solutions that companies can benefit from immediately and continue to build upon:
1. Composable Measurement Definitions
Because Power BI measures can be composed from other measures, it’s easy to build up a library of consistent aggregations and surface them in appropriate charts and graphs without having to redefine them for each individual chart.
For example, we can compose an integrated set of measures for different kinds of capacities and then bring them together in a single chart to see how supply compares to demand:
Full Time Capacity = SUM('Capacity Planning'[Committed Capacity]) Contractor Capacity = SUM('Capacity Planning'[Contractor Capacity]) Planned Hires Capacity = SUM('Capacity Planning'[Planned Hires Capacity]) Committed Capacity = [Full Time Capacity] + [Contractor Capacity] Expected Capacity = [Committed Capacity]+[Planned Hires Capacity]
2. Embedded Reporting
For customer-facing products, embedding Power BI as your in-solution reporting and analytics platform means faster delivery, a unified interactive reporting canvas with deep integration into your application’s user interface, and the ability to scale dedicated hosting for your reporting needs separate from the scale-out needs of the rest of the application. For internal reporting needs—in addition to those same advantages—embedding your Power BI reports will drive higher adoption rates.
The best way to get business intelligence and data-driven insights into your stakeholders’ hands is to place them in the business applications they’re already using.
There are a number of different hosting options for Power BI embedded and report deployment, depending on your current license SKUs, and whether you need to share your reports outside your organization or not. Our Analytics engagements typically start with identifying exactly which deployment model is best suited for your particular solutions, so that you get the access and reach you need at the right price point.
A brief case study: Streamlined reporting with Workify
Workify, an employee engagement company, was hitting a crossroads in their analytics and reporting. They’d been leveraging Power BI to build the right reporting for their clients, and the clients loved the insights and interactive exploration. The challenge, though, was that they were building new, unique reports with unique reporting models for each individual client. The number of custom reports and one-off variations across their 60+ clients was too much for their scrappy Client Success team to keep supporting, much less scale. There was also a significant overlap with summary views and reports that were built into the application. We found plenty of cases in which the same core value, like the Employee Net Promoter Score, was calculated two or three different ways in different reports or parts of the app. The development team was also having a hard time responding to requests for more interactivity and insightful chart types inside the application. They couldn’t keep up with the end-user experience the Client Success team was providing in their custom Power BI reports.
So we got together with Workify’s Development, Client Success, Sales, and Marketing teams and developed a new approach: A single, consistent set of data imports and measurement definitions, and a single set of report pages, all of which were then embedded directly into the Workify application. This sounds simple, except that because Workify handles such sensitive employee engagement information, every client is managed in their own separate database. So we had to work out a custom deployment pipeline for our Power BI files, where we could publish a new version of the report and have it automatically fan out to a separate installation for each client’s unique, isolated database and reporting dataset. (Azure DevOps was a huge part of that deployment solution, but that’s a topic for another day.)
When we launched later that month with our first beta customer install, the response was outstanding: The clients loved the unification of the rich reporting inside the application, and were instantly able to start self-servicing for a whole set of analyses that they’d previously had to funnel through Workify’s Client Success team.
For Workify, within a month of starting the project, they saw a whole set of related benefits:
- Consistent measurement and analysis of engagement results across all their clients
- Reduced time-per-survey in Client Success, allowing them to take on more clients without growing their staff
- Faster conversion of new prospective clients based on the live, hands-on demo ability of the new embedded solution
- Complete look and feel integration of the embedded reports with the rest of the application for a seamless user experience.
- New reports, measures, and visualizations shipping into production without requiring any capacity from the development team
Turns out, you can have it all at once: user-centric application features and robust reporting. Are you looking for a way to accelerate both development and insights? Or perhaps you’re just getting started with Power BI and could use some support? Our Analytics Engagement team would love to help you (and/or your customers) achieve the kind of comprehensive business intelligence you need—whether distributed or together. We’re here to kick your initiative into high gear!