By: Lucy Warburton, Senior Manager, Product Marketing
It’s more important than ever for businesses to embrace data visualization as a way to effectively analyze and communicate complex data. Today we want to share one of the newest tools in our data visualization toolkit here at Lucid. Not only is Power BI having a huge impact on our business, but it also happens to be self service, very flexible, and available for free, making it beneficial for just about anyone out there.
As marketers and researchers, we are surrounded by vast amounts of very powerful data every day. But that data is only as powerful as the intelligence and insights that we extract from it. What we do with data and how we share our insights with others can mean the difference between driving a decision that enacts action and change and an idea or discovery falling on deaf ears only to be ignored and forgotten.
So how do we make sense of all of this data? How do we make it easily accessible? What’s the story behind it and how do we tell that story in a way that will connect with others in an impactful way? As Daniel Waisberg, Analytics Advocate at Google, explains in his “Tell a Meaningful Story With Data” article, “Most organizations recognise that being a successful, data-driven company requires skilled developers and analysts. Fewer grasp how to use data to tell a meaningful story that resonates both intellectually and emotionally with an audience.”
This is significant because it‘s the emotional response that makes a story memorable. Logic alone is not what drives most decisions.
One way to tell a story with data is by using visualization tools. While data visualization itself is nothing new in research, in the past this has often meant building bar charts and pie charts in Excel and slapping them into some PowerPoint slides. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these types of visuals. They might even be visually appealing, but they usually don’t make for the most engaging and memorable presentations. And for large sets of complex data they probably don’t tell the entire story.
There are of course other tools out there that do a better job of transforming your data into visuals than the basic charting features found in Excel. But none of them come even close to Power BI, an amazingly awesome new cloud-based suite of analytics and visualization tools introduced by Microsoft last July.
We began to roll out Power BI internally at Lucid in November and already we have seen it begin to transform our business. No longer is data exploration stuck within the confines of our Business Intelligence team. People from all areas of the business are now empowered to manipulate and model large data sets to their heart’s content, uncover trends, and forecast in ways that weren’t previously possible.
Not surprisingly, we now also have a small army of Power BI devotees on our hands. Two weeks ago a group of them made the trek out to Seattle for the inaugural Microsoft Data Insights Summit. There, they learned about the current state of Power BI and future developments to come, as well as about SandDance, another brand new Microsoft Garage project that is changing the game of data viz.
These new animated visualization tools make it easier for you to tell stories with data by helping you to uncover patterns and make insights you may have missed otherwise. From there, the narrative around the data comes more naturally.
Intrigued? If not, you should be 🙂 Here’s everything you need to know to get started with Power BI and SandDance so you can rock that next presentation and communicate insight like never before.
All you need is an email address
Power BI is designed so you can sign up in five seconds and start getting value out of data in less than five minutes. This is true for technical and non-technical users alike. The free version allows you to import data from Excel or CSV, and quickly create and share dashboards with other Power BI users. You can also create beautiful visualizations incredibly fast with its interactive drag and drop interface.
You don’t have to be a data scientist to use it
Power BI supports a wide range of users and skills. You don’t have to be a data scientist to use it, but it scales with experience and knowledge. Anyone can use it and get value from it on its own. It doesn’t run on Windows or rely on other Microsoft products. However, if you do use tools like Excel, Sql Azure, or Stream Analytics, you will get even more value. For data scientists, Power BI works seamlessly with one of the most popular data science tools on the market, R. R is a robust statistical programming language that works within Power BI as a data source and visualization aggregation, feature engineering, predictive analytics, expository analysis, and data merging tool. The visualization side of R works inside Power BI’s own visualization features; the same visuals that can happen in R can also happen in Power BI creating limitless opportunities for visual analysis and storytelling.
With Power BI, you can bring in data from multiple sources whether from Excel, Google Analytics, or your Salesforce CRM. This quality alone makes it incredibly powerful. When you can aggregate and then visually see multiple datasets alongside each other, you are able to make new and interesting connections. What’s notable here is that you can easily pull together data not just from Microsoft products but from other SAAS technology and services. Microsoft continues to add new cloud services, rolling out a minimum of one new content pack every week. You can also choose from a number of pre-built dashboards and reports for each of these many services.
Power BI’s real-time dashboards give you a live view of what’s happening with your data from almost any device across all major operating systems. So rather than analyzing only historical data to spot trends, you can take more of a forward looking approach. More real-time insights help you make better predictions and take action based on those predictions.
In addition, information that would take an hour to get in Excel takes five minutes in Power BI. You know those spreadsheets you have that cover a year’s worth of data and get several new rows appended every week? The ones that by July are completely unmanageable? With Power BI you can get the latest information from your connected data sources at any time – by simply hitting the “Refresh” button. That’s right – all you have to do is click one button. You no longer have to spend time and effort reconnecting your Excel charts and graphs to the most up-to-date data. Power BI interacts intelligently with your data to provide clear, clean, visualizations in real-time.
It’s open source
Microsoft’s code for the entire visualization layer of Power BI is open source and available on GitHub. This means developers can build their own custom visuals for dashboards and reports and then share them with others by contributing them back into the repository. This community of developers and growing ecosystem reinforces the more inclusive stance Microsoft has taken with Power BI. The more sharing and collaboration that happens, the better the product will become for all users.
SandDance is well, pretty sick
Finally, one of the most talked about features at the recent Data Insights Summit was SandDance, a new animated visualization tool from Microsoft Research. Sanddance lets you easily explore data, find insights in that data, and communicate those insights with others. The animations in SandDance show how data is connected in ways that weren’t previously possible by representing every data element in a set in a single visualization. You’ll have to see for yourself, but believe me, as a presentation and communication tool, SandDance will blow people’s minds. Here it is in action, using respondent data from Fulcrum.
Like the rest of Power BI, SandDance was developed with accessibility and collaboration at top of mind. It’s web-based and available with the free version of Power BI. This is just a glimpse of its offerings – to see more visit http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/sanddance/