How many of us can claim that all of our business-critical data comes from one place? Bringing together data that crosses systems and departments is a huge challenge for companies. Unfortunately, integrated data warehouse solutions have some of the highest failure rates in our industry. How, then, do you streamline and scale your reporting solutions in a sustainable fashion?

In Part 1 of our Analytics roundtable, experts from Headspring and Workify talk about their respective journeys with Microsoft Power BI, and why it made sense to dive deep on a single tool. They cover:

  • The business challenges they were trying to solve
  • Why and how they decided to dive deep into Power BI
  • Why it’s the solution they suggest to clients and others

Workify comes at it from a client reporting side: They needed something that they could adopt quickly and customize to individual client needs. Headspring talks about leveraging the tool internally: How we can now streamlining the reporting of data from Sales, Marketing, Service Delivery, and HR platforms and build analysis models on top of the data.

One of the nicest things about Power BI is that you can start where you’re at and scale from there, so you can see value in days versus months and continue to build your expertise in ONE toolset.

Watch the video to learn about our teams’ slightly different journeys, and how Power BI can drive your reporting needs. And if we can help you get started or scale your Power BI solution, please don’t hesitate to reach out to reporting@headspring.com.

 


Video Transcript

 

Garo Yeriazarian: Welcome everybody my name is Garo Yeriazarian, I’m a Principal Consultant with Headspring, and we’re doing a series here on our analytics engagements with power BI and how it can enhance existing application development efforts and reframe your current plans for application development and also reporting.

Here I’ve got with me Glenn and Evan.

Glenn, you wanna introduce yourself.

Glenn Burnside: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks.  good to be here with you all in the cyberspace.

Great to be here with you all today. Like Garo said, my name is Glen Burnside. I’m the Executive Vice President of Operations and Strategy at Headspring.  We are a custom software engineering and consulting firm and  happen to have a practice and expertise in the power BI space in particular for BI and data visualization: Something I’ve been really passionate about over the last several years and growing our practice in.  I’ve been with Headspring closing in on 10 years now, so I’m an old timer.  But really glad to be here and to work with great software engineers and consultants like these.

Evan?

Evan Brooks: Well, I just want to say good to see you guys as well. It’s nice to see your faces, even if it’s virtually…It’s been a minute. But yeah, happy to be here.

My name’s Evan Brooks. I work for a company called work Workify. We’re an employee engagement platform that’s kind of a sister company to Headspring. We’ve worked closely together and I actually, I’ve been at Workify for a couple of years now, and prior to that I was at Headspring for about five years. So not as much as old-timer is Glenn, but definitely been around for a bit. 

And over at Workify we’ve been using power BI since I started, but over the course of the last year or so, we’ve gotten a lot more involved with it and I definitely have spent a bunch of time with it. Moving up from just using it to deliver reporting to our embedded offering that we have for our clients. So I’m excited to talk more about that today.

Garo Yeriazarian: Well, thanks Evan. 

So we’re splitting this up into three segments and in this segment, we’re really going to talk about going deep on one platform, specifically a Power BI.

What we’ve seen with our clients is that when the data needs cross system and department boundaries, everyone tends to work on their own solutions and there’s little tiny one-off things all over the place and usually that spreads work and creates a lot of duplication. We’d like to talk about this solution tends to bring it all together.

So Evan, how did you guys wind up going so deep on Power BI? How did that get started?

Evan Brooks: That’s a good question. So, I’ll kind of take us back to the beginning of our reporting efforts at Workify. So a ways back, we, you know, we originally started with building reporting into the web app using various JavaScript libraries and that worked fine to a point, but we quickly quickly realized that that wasn’t going to scale. You know, with different reporting needs, different requests, we weren’t going to be able to build everything in a customized manner for our clients. So fast-forward a little bit and we offloaded reporting to our Client Success team who directly deals with our clients.

And it was really kind of rough going at the start. We would kinda just give them a data export. They would take it, dump it into Excel, build some charts, throw those charts in PowerPoint, create a PDF and deliver that as our reporting. Which was definitely giving insights to our clients, but it wasn’t to the level that we wanted, and that definitely wasn’t going to scale either. It’s just a little too much manual work to deliver reporting for every survey like that. 

So at that point, it kind of stayed, it stayed with our client success team, but they realized that they had to innovate in order to not just be working on reporting all day, every day.

And so, coupled with Headspring, who we had a good relationship with and who had some internal knowledge on Power BI and could help us get started, we went ahead and did that. We’d got started using power BI. And it also aligned with, with our Microsoft Azure stack really well. So it was just a good place to start from a stack perspective, we had some internal knowledge, and then once we jumped in, it was just really obvious that this is kind of one of the things that we’d been missing, which we learned really quickly. As soon as you open the tool, you have access to so many of the things that we needed to deliver reporting.

So we did that for a long time with our Client Success team, running the show, using power BI and fast forward to today and we have a fully embedded offering with rich reporting fully embedded right in the web app. But yeah, that’s how we got started. And I can talk more about the embedded stuff later.

Glenn Burnside: Yeah, you know, for us, it’s interesting, it was kind of a similar set of challenges, but a spread across lots of different departments. Cause where we got started with it initially was less about work with customers and first about how we do our reporting internally.  So, you know, we were coming from a place of having lots of different applications in play for how we run our business. Cause we are a 100% cloud-based business. So most of our data is siloed into different software as a service. Subscriptions. You know, we’ve got Salesforce, we’ve gotten Marketo, we’ve got Zero for accounting, we’ve got Bamboo HR for all of our people in talent development, we’ve got Small Improvements for one-on-ones, and we’ve got Greenhouse for recruiting. And they’ve all got their own reporting capabilities inside the apps. But they’re all isolated. And so for us, you know, we were trying to figure out how do we get this like cross-departmental view of what’s really happening with the business and how do we figure out how to answer those questions we have about the business faster.

The reward for figuring out how to build a new report is always a request for another report, right? There’s always one more question. There’s always one more thing somebody wants to know. So how do you keep iterating on that? How do you keep building it? 

We were trying all these different tools. We were doing things in Salesforce: reports, dashboards. We were trying things out with some of these other BI platforms that were out there. This is back in 2014, 2015. Things like Looker, things like a Google Data Studio, things like Domo. We were all over the map.

Our Service Delivery team really liked Looker and our Sales team really liked Domo. And so we were replicating a lot of work, but we were also replicating a lot of expertise development. We had pockets of people who knew this tool and people who knew that tool. But we didn’t have something that we could all come together on consistently. And we didn’t have a really great story when we wanted to figure out how to do this with a client, like Workify, because we didn’t really have a place to start from to be able to tell them, “Well, here’s what we do and here’s what works really well for us.” Cause we were doing a little bit of everything, everywhere.

So ultimately we got to the point where we said, we really need to focus our efforts on one platform that we can get really good at. We can bring all of our data together and that we can take into our client projects and actually have a recommendation. Like Evan said, we’re a Microsoft Gold Partner, Cloud Solutions partner now, also a Gold Data Analytics partner, so it made a lot of sense to look at something that was already in that ecosystem and was going to play nice with a lot of the systems we were already using: A lot of Azure SQL, a lot of SQL server analysis services, things like that. So that’s kind of where we got started on it–that need for consolidating across everything.

Garo Yeriazarian: I’m seeing a common theme here, right? It’s we had custom solutions, pulling a lot of different things together, a lot of manual operation, and you both found a way to take that journey on to a single platform to bring it all together and it ended up with the same solution it ended up at Power BI.

So what is it about Power BI that makes it a solution that we want to also share with our clients, or potential clients, and one that they should be using and focusing on.

Glenn Burnside: You know, I think one of the first ones, the obvious ones, we both already said it: it’s already in our ecosystem, you know. You’re already paying for it, right?  If you’re on the right Office 365 sku, then you’ve actually already got a license for it and you may not even know it, right?

But you know, it’s really a platform that we found that you could get started at it with a lot of different levels. It’s as easy as paying $10 a month for one person in your organization to get a pro license to get started on. And you can choose to do just that.

But one of the big things — this was one of the things that was really powerful for us early on — was the  fact that beyond just giving you access to the raw data from all of your different data sources and having all these great system connectors for direct connections to Salesforce or whatever external systems, whatever databases — the fact that power BI has got this embedded measurement expression language in it. And it’s actually the same expression language, if you are already familiar with doing things in Power Pivot and Excel or doing things in tabular model and SQL server analysis services, it’s the exact same expression language for building those measurements.

But the fact that we could get the data in and then we could put an analysis model on top of it, and then surface that model through these really great, rich visualizations — that was such a productivity booster for us. And so important in getting out of…I don’t know how many times we’d have conversations of, you know, “Well, my Excel spreadsheet is calculated this way and your Excel spreadsheet is that way.”

I tell the  story from when we were a much smaller company where our project leads were, when it came time to invoice at the end of the month, they were running raw SQL queries to calculate, aggregate up and figure out billable hours to revenue to put on client invoices.

And it turned out that one of our project leads was using a slightly different query that he had hand rolled himself cause he didn’t like the way the joins were done or something. And, and he was underreporting revenue to the clients on his projects. And so we were underbilling by thousands of dollars. I realized we underbilled one month by $3,000 because of SQL query bug.

So having a way to build these models and then being able to share the results of that in a single-package form out to everybody in the company means that we’re not just all looking  at the business at the same time, but we’re looking at it through the same lens in the same way, with the same calculations.

So we’ve got now like a common language of the domain model of our business, and that to me is hugely important. Nevermind the fact that it’s super fast to get started with, you know, it’s got a great API for integrating with other tools and things like that. And I think Evan can probably talk more about that side on the programming and integration side, but that for us was a huge piece of being able to go to this platform and then get started with it and have real, valuable, quality results really quickly.

Evan Brooks: Right.  I’ll just kind of double down on that. I think one of the things that stood out for us was the usability and the approachability of the tool. So I mentioned earlier that we had offloaded a lot of our reporting from our product team to our Client Success team. And in doing so, we kind of put this problem in the hands of a team that is not a bunch of software engineers, they don’t have a software background or a data visualization background.

But once we brought in Power BI, the team was able to kind of quickly learn, “Okay, here’s what we’re doing with this.” They understood the tool, they learned how to use it and got up to speed really fast. And we had a working prototype that was in our client’s hands pretty much within a week.

Once we started leveraging Power BI and a little bit of knowledge from Headspring, that was just a much faster turnaround than we could’ve ever hoped for on the dev side. If we were trying to build the same type of reporting in our web app, it would’ve taken longer than that, and all the changes would have taken much longer than they did with Power BI.

So I would definitely give it a thumbs up on approachability. And then, the other thing that’s been really good as we’ve continued our journey with Power BI are the APIs, and what they allow you to do both on the infrastructure side and on the JavaScript side. So we’ve got a deployment process that uses the infrastructure API and we’re going into this fully embedded offering that really leverages a bunch of different features of the JavaScript API.  And we’ve pretty much been able to do everything that we’ve wanted to do so far. And it’s just been, a pleasure to work with. There’s great documentation both on using the tool and on using the API. It’s really helped us do whatever we want as we continue the journey.

And then the last thing I would say is that it’s helped us scale quite a bit: scale our offering and then improve our innovation. As soon as you open Power BI, you’re opening a tool that has every kind of chart you could ever want to build and that we could ever want to put on the web app.

Garo Yeriazarian: Pie charts, bar charts, all the good ones, all the favorite charts?

Glenn Burnside: No pie charts. No, no, no, no.

Garo Yeriazarian: What?  Pie charts are the best!

Glenn Burnside: They’re ribbing me cause they know I’ve got a vendetta for pie charts Low information density.

Evan Brooks: You know, strongly as opinionated as you are, you can still find some charts for you and PowerBI.

Glenn Burnside: That’s right. That’s right.

Garo Yeriazarian: Well, what’s interesting is that both of your examples, both of your journeys, they resonate a lot with a lot of clients that we’ve talked with and a lot of situations in businesses where the need comes up and someone has to do it and someone takes it upon themselves to do it. And moving them into a standard single tool set like Power BI helps you get value more quickly.

And I hope these two examples really illustrated that. Even if you’re for external facing — this is our product — you’re able to find ways to quickly build visualization and understanding from a single tool. And then also for a company where this is our internal products, right? With Headspring, where we’re using it to consolidate all of our sources and our intelligence and get it down to one place to go. Right? Everyone’s looking at the same information. Everyone’s trying to make decisions on the same information and work off of how you visualize that. I think what you’re both saying is that Power BI is a great tool for consolidating that. From different skill levels of people, but also it gives you the flexibility to, to adapt it into different situations. So getting feedback with the consumers, adapting the tool that that’s really what it’s all about.

Thank you very much for sharing that with us and I’m looking forward to the next segment where we can talk more about how the embedded reporting that Evan mentioned a little bit, it goes a bit further into how you can also use it.

Glenn Burnside: You bet.

 

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