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The “Rapid Response” Tool Businesses are Using Right Now

Being in the business of data has never been more important than it is right now. As business leaders assess the impacts of COVID-19 and plan for recovery, they are analyzing their operations from new perspectives and asking questions through an entirely new lens. With those new questions comes an unsettling realization: their data strategy may not be nimble enough.

We have all seen firsthand that today’s environment requires the ability to respond rapidly to changing conditions – to analyze data across the business, perform calculations with speed and answer new questions in real time. When the speed of business demands a “rapid response” tool, here is one I urge you to consider: Microsoft Power BI.

Data Silos Create Obstacles to Agility

Business data is inherently siloed. Think about a typical e-commerce sales funnel, which involves several data stores, such as: digital ad data from Facebook and Google, website visitor tracking data, and e-commerce transactional data. To perform any meaningful ROI analysis, the data must be blended from these disparate sources to create a unified picture.

While there are solutions for crossing data silos, most take time to engineer, requiring careful planning and development tailored specifically to the newly emerging business needs and questions. In other words, data silos turn every new business need into a time-consuming project. When changing conditions require rapid response, companies cannot afford the time it takes to engineer a solution to every new question.

Offering a different solution, Power BI allows data professionals to load data tables from various sources and drag and drop to achieve a unified view of the business, typically within minutes. No new infrastructure. No engineering. Drag, drop and splice. Then calculations can be layered on quickly for end-to-end performance analysis. To understand their sales funnel, a company can load data from the disparate sources and start calculating metrics immediately, such as ad spend by time period, revenue and ROI by ad type, trends over time, and more.

Velocity and Variety Apply to the Questions, Too

When we talk about velocity and variety in big data, we’re usually referring to the data itself, but these concepts also apply to the questions we need to ask. The answer to every question inevitably triggers a series of follow up questions, which cannot always be anticipated; we cannot know the real question we need to ask until we can see the answer to the original question.

Like velocity and variety of data, we must recognize this “question velocity and variety.” With business conditions changing daily, the speed of analysis needs to match it. If we do wait around long enough for a cross-silo project to complete, we quickly realize we have more and different questions than originally anticipated. Then the engineering process begins again, and we wait around for the next answer.

This engineering approach to answering questions can cause delays that are measured in days or weeks, which will never meet our needs for rapid response. Power BI, however, is fundamentally built to answer the unexpected questions, without re-engineering the system. Once loaded as separate tables from various sources, data is linked by creating relationships through lookups or dimension tables within the tool. Data professionals can think of Power BI as a rapid-response complement to their other platforms, freeing up time to remain focused on their longer-term projects.

Employ the Data Model

The secret to Power BI’s silo-crossing and question velocity capabilities is its data model, which is not constrained by database design or specific queries. While some other solutions can cross silos, as discussed above, most require time to engineer and then re-engineer to answer new questions. Tableau and other tools pioneered the ability to interact with data and ask questions, but without the ability to cross silos, the questions that can be asked are again limited by how the data is loaded in the tool. By contrast, the Power BI data model combines silo-crossing and interactive capabilities in one tool. With data linked by lookups or dimension tables, it can be dragged, dropped and filtered within the tool to perform new calculations and answer new questions. The data model thus delivers end-to-end performance analysis that can keep up with the variety and velocity of questions, even those that had not been anticipated when loading data in the tool.

Conclusion

In a business environment that is changing rapidly, business leaders must be able to analyze data across their operations, perform calculations with speed and answer questions in real time. When changing conditions lead to new questions that haven’t been asked before, business leaders and data professionals alike need a tool that is designed to cross data silos and respond to the velocity of questions, without re-engineering the system. Power BI can provide this “rapid response” and, as result, we’re seeing firsthand how businesses are turning to this tool to make faster, more informed decisions. What can your data tools do?

About the Author

Rob Collie, founder and CEO of business intelligence consulting firm P3. During his 13 years at Microsoft, Rob Collie led the BI-focused capabilities in Excel and was subsequently one of the founding engineers on Power BI. Through that insider’s perspective and experience with Microsoft, Rob developed successful and groundbreaking strategies that can be utilized across almost any industry. A sought-after public speaker and author of the #1-selling Power BI book, Rob and his team are relentlessly committed to “the new way forward,” making P3 a leading consulting firm in the industry, pioneering an agile, results-first methodology that bucks the traditional BI company model.

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