Driving a data culture with Power BI – Part 1 – What is a data culture?

Recently, I have presented a webinar about Driving a data culture in your organization. During this webinar, I presented what challenges you might face, what mistakes are made often and what you can do to drive a data culture in your organization! In this blog, I will introduce the topic Data Culture and elaborate on the challenges you might encounter.

Knowing that Matthew Roche also posted a series on Data Culture, which I definitely recommend reading, I wanted to share my perspectives on this topic as well from a slightly different angle. I talked to Matthew about this and agreed to continue writing and sharing this content.

Data driven ambitions

Something we often hear in today’s business, is becoming data driven. Every day, more organizations start using their data to steer their business towards future goalsfo. With all online business activities nowadays, creating a competitive advantage becomes more important to do better than your competitors and being unique in the market.

Having data as a valuable asset, is only a first step. To build upon this in order to transforming this data into intelligent action will expertise and knowledge. Some companies have this knowledge in-company, some hire externals or outsource.

By striving data driven ambitions, we are stepping away from steering on your gut feeling and start leveraging data to learn from the past and do better in the future.

Driving a data culture to transform data into insights and action

What is a data culture

As I explained above, many of today’s organizations are striving data driven ambitions. These ambitions can be pursued by creating a data culture in your organization. But what exactly is a data driven culture? A data driven culture exist of three different components if you ask me (inspired by Jonathan Woodward his presentation in 2014), where all three are required to be successful. In below section I elaborate on each of them separately.

Data

Data is one of the ingredients we use to drive our data driven ambition. This ingredient is the input for our second component in the data culture. Any type of data can be part of this, no matter if it is on premises, hybrid or in the cloud.

The same applies for the data structure, data can be either structured and unstructured and in any type. So not only talking about csv files or databases, but also about pictures, video, audio and whatever might be relevant to your business.

Data Culture: Data

Analytics

The second component in our data culture is Analytics in the broadest sense. In the end, analytics is what we do with the data. It combines platforms, tools and ways of working together into an intelligent platform which allows us to discover, explore analyze, visualize and share our insights across the organization.

In the previous section I mentioned that data that can have any structure. With today’s capabilities that we have on our fingertips, it is fairly easy for any analyst to transform the data in such a way that it will become useful for further analysis.

Data Culture: Analytics

People

People is the last part out of three that define the data culture. By people we aim for everyone within the organization, no matter what the background, education or department.

People is the most important aspect out of three, as this defines both the people building the insights as the ones leveraging them in the end to transform data into action based. The people need to have an understanding of both the data and analytics aspect to be successful in the data driven ambition.

Data Culture: People

All three together

As soon as we start combining the three components together, e.g. Data, Analytics and People, we will be able to start taking our decisions based on data instead of our gut feeling. While steering your business based on data, we can learn from the past and prevent to make the same mistakes again as we have already made in the past.

Let’s take an example of combining several data sources in your organization, which gives you the opportunity to execute targeted marketing. You can reach out to your customers with personalized offerings fitting their wishes and needs. This all can lead to a competitive advantage which gives you an edge over your competitors and puts you in front of them. You can be more efficient, effective, innovative and valuable to your market.

But… before we can start doing this, we need to have the right data, right tools and right people onboard. Let’s have a look at how Power BI as a platform can fit in your data culture.

Power BI as part of your data culture

Above described three components together define the data culture, as culture can be explained as everything that a society produces and transfers in material, behavior, manners and ways of working. Let’s now have a look at what tool people within the data culture can use to succeed their data driven ambition. It may be no surprise that we start talking about Power BI here.

Why Power BI?

I can start talking about the positioning of Power BI in the Gartner Magic Quadrant here, to position Power BI as a leader. Although it is a good overview of how Power BI is positioned in the market and their ability to execute, I will not use this in continuing my story about a data culture. I believe that the Magic Quadrant can be relevant for decision makes in an organization to select the tool that fits their purposes, but I would prefer to focus on the practical aspects. How can we enable everyone within the organization to start self-service analysis and build the data culture with that in mind?

With an interface very similar to the Microsoft Office tools that most organizations are using, I believe Power BI Desktop as a tool is very accessible for the majority of users in your organization. Especially the recent steps taken by the Power BI team with the new ribbon massively increased the ease of adopting Power BI for new users. This emphasized the vision of the Power BI team to become and continue to be the PowerPoint for data.

Other than the interface, the connectivity is also a huge win for Power BI. Common sources like Excel, CSV, text files and many more sources make it really easy to import data in Power BI and get started in minutes. Not even talking about the rich library of templated solutions in the marketplace that helps you to kick-start gaining insights from your own company data.

Integrations now and future

Another very strong advantage and huge driver behind a data driven ambition is the integration of Power BI with other tools and services. Especially in the working from home situation (welcome to 2020) the easy integration is a big plus!

Teams
Let’s start with Teams integration. The top ribbon in the Power BI Service has a new option to start chatting about specific reports. An easy conversation starter towards your Team or a specific channel which directly includes the link to the content you are talking about. A nice add-on would be to also integrate with the chat functionality in teams and send to one specific person.

Power BI Service Teams integration

Visual copy-paste
Besides teams, you might want to have other conversations starters elsewhere as well. Next to the native commenting and tagging functionality in Power BI which is there for a while now, you can also copy-paste visuals to any other application you want. For example, Word documents or mails. This option can be found in the visual header of every visual individually.

The big advantage of this feature is that it adds additional context, such as filters that were applied at the moment of copy and when the data was last refreshed. This helps the person receiving the data to better understand the context of what he/she is looking at.

Power BI Service copy visuals

So far, two powerful features that are available to you today and help driving the data driven ambition across the organization by being able to share insights with anyone within the organization. But there is more coming up!

SharePoint list integration
Upcoming SharePoint integration allows users to analyze data in a SharePoint list in a few clicks. For what we know so far, this will be a very powerful feature and brings Power BI even closer to the business users in self-service perspectives.

Read more about this feature in the release plan.

Image from Microsoft Public Release Plan

Challenges

Starting with Power BI to drive your data driven ambition, is not as easy as it looks like. By only enabling Power BI you are not there yet. There are a lot of things that definitely need attention. I have seen multiple organizations where they “just enabled” Power BI and one big mess as a result of that. Implementing Power BI in your organization asks for a clear vision, plan and governance!

Below I list some of the challenges (pretty high-over) that you might face. Not all challenges can be answered straight forward, but for sure there is enough to talk about!

  • Tenant settings, what do we allow the users to do? Do we make exceptions to these settings? How to control them?
  • Licensing, who to assign a Power BI license?
  • Best practices & guidelines, how to make sure that the self-service users follow best-practices and guidelines?
  • Control, how can we keep control on our Power BI tenant? Who owns what? Who else has access to this content?
  • Sanity, how do we make sure that we share relevant insights and clean-up what is not necessary anymore, outdated or orphaned?
  • Access, how do people get access to data? How to control access?

Probably, I forget about a lot of things here. If you have something in mind, please let me know in the comments below!

Wrap up

To summarize, your data culture consists of three components. Data, Analytics and People. These three can lead into a competitive advantage which can put you and your company in front of others in the market.

Power BI can be positioned in the data culture as an analytics platform which allows people in your organization to start using their data and transforming it into action. In the end, it is all about empowering all employees in your organization to become data driven.

Finally, I listed some challenges you are likely to face when you enable Power BI within your organization. This is just a start, but there is much more that comes into play for driving your data culture. Soon, I will continue the story around a data culture and how to approach these challenges.

NEXT UP: Driving a data culture with Power BI – part 2 – the role of a COE

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