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When I was a Sophomore in college, I got a job doing tape backups at a food ingredients company. The developers there maintained a stack of paginated reports for the managers in the corner offices. At the time, I thought it was very sad to know coding and end up working on reports all the time. Flash forward to today. I am implementing Power BI at a nonprofit in Kansas City (opinions are my own). How did this happen?

In college I ditched computer science for a BA and MA in English, and after college I found myself in a series of sales jobs. In one of these jobs, I took over administration of Salesforce, which was my gateway drug into the joys of custom reporting. Working as a salesperson made me see the value of reporting for business.

Eventually, I found myself in a job where I was re-creating three pivot tables every week from a table with too many VLOOKUPS and too many rows. Power Pivot in Excel saved me so much time (and oh so many Excel crashes). In the last two weeks of my contract, I bought the P3 video class and learned the fundamentals of data modeling and DAX.

Working with P3

Next, I started working for P3 as a principal consultant. This was an awesome and intense experience which caused me to really learn DAX on another level. I did incredible things in two-hour increments. While I loved working for Rob Collie and working with other consultants, I didn’t want to travel a whole lot. And, since discovering the Microsoft ‘power tools,’ my ideal job was helping a small organization implement Power BI.

In September 2017, I got an opportunity with the Greater Kansas City Community Foundationwhich serves donors nationally as Greater Horizons (Opinions are my own!). The Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization that helps families and companies build their charitable legacies through donor-advised funds and other giving vehicles.

Power (Query) to the People!

Cubicle with painting showing a sleek, modern, blue building to the left of a classical tan building with a mature tree with new buds in between. I work in the modern building, but I LOVE the classical building with its trees. Also, my wife's business card, a phone which hardly ever rings, succulents, and a New York Encounter mug.
My cubicle with Sign of Spring painting by Karen Kaffenberger, Three Trails Art Studio

In my first six months, I learned as much about Power Query as I had learned about DAX at P3. Why? Because my manager saw the opportunity to give employees greater access to all kinds of data locked in disparate systems. Power Query is a great tool for connecting to (almost) anything and for beating that data into shape. We’ve empowered accountants and others on the IT team to use Power Query for their own purposes. And, We’ve automated tedious tasks to free up staff for more interesting work.

Wrangling with the Data Warehouse

We built a data warehouse to shift the burden of reporting out of transactional systems and into Power BI. This was a totally new experience for me. I learned about surrogate keys, slowly changing dimensions, and other data warehouse concepts. I also taught the guy who built the data warehouse a few business-friendly terms, like lookup table and transaction table. I’ve built reports that wrangle this data warehouse data into forms that business users can easily use.

Threading the Needle

What’s it like to implement Power BI? Let me start with an example. A while back, I volunteered with a youth group in a program that included teaching practical skills to teenagers. A fellow volunteer decided to teach the students how to sew a button. He planned, rehearsed, and had an image of what that would look like. Instead, he discovered that most of the session was spent teaching the teens how to thread a needle. This is what Chip and Dan Heath call The Curse of Knowledge : “once we know something […] we find it hard to imagine not knowing it.”

Operational Data and Reports for Excel

A tremendous amount of the initial stage of implementing Power BI has involved getting operational data into the hands of staff, and this includes tables with many columns for exporting into Excel. Don’t get me wrong: there’s LOADS of value in these wins. And, these are the building blocks for answering strategic questions including: correlation, forecasting, predictive analytics. I’ve been working on these solutions along the way, and keeping them in mind while building the base solutions.

What’s Next?

We’ve been hiring people, building out our team. More people are using the reports every day. And more people are learning to use the Microsoft “power tools” – which is my personal metric for success. Along the way, we’ve been developing our agile governance, and we’re in a good position for unlocking insights about our organization. I’m especially excited by the opportunity for staff to connect to a basic model for creating reports with their own visualizations, and I have some people using analyze in Excel. As we continue, I hope to keep blogging about things that I learn along the way.

Microsoft’s platform is the world’s most fluid & powerful data toolset.  Get the most out of it.

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Let us guide your organization through the change required to become a data-oriented culture while squeezing every last drop* of value out of your Microsoft platform investment.

* – we reserve the right to substitute Olympic-sized swimming pools of value in place of “drops” at our discretion.

Fred Kaffenberger

Fred Kaffenberger

A teacher at heart, Fred loves that moment when someone struggling to solve a problem makes a breakthrough. Fred spent six years in client services and sales for an online work order system. After this, he used Excel to help streamline commercial real estate operations for a major telecommunications carrier, where he discovered Power Pivot and Power BI. He was thrilled at how these tools helped him work smarter and more systematically. As an English major, Fred knows that a knack for working with data can surface in surprising places.

This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. “… very sad to know coding and end up working on reports all the time…” – this really resonated with me. It’s still a common attitude among IT people, including me back when I graduated as a coder. But I quickly realised from my first few jobs that:

    a) effective reports are very interesting for executives, decision makers and business owners; effective data entry forms … less so …
    b) a good reporting/analysis tool gives you tremendous leverage – tweak one small setting and many people can see a dramatic change in their results
    c) that negative attitude creates a gap in available skills vs market demand

    Cue good times that have continued for decades …

    1. Thanks, Mike! I discovered that as much as I like a challenging puzzle, I’m truly gratified by enabling folks to do their job without frustrating roadblocks.

  2. “effective reports are very interesting for executives, decision makers and business owners; effective data entry forms … less so …”

    Turning bad data into “good” decisions?

    1. Touche’. But tell me more about this data entry form that prevents bad data. Inevitably, bad data is a human problem and if you don’t believe me, consider the bad data caused by mandatory fields where users type in a space or a period so they can save their work. CRUD (create read update delete) is important to be sure, and I can think of a few places in Power BI where it needs some TLC (tender love and care). The 24 individual dropdowns needed to schedule a report refresh in Power BI service, and the row level security interface in Power BI desktop. If you are a forms ninja, then please help Microsoft fix these two.

    1. Thank you David! Salesforce was so cool, wasn’t it? You could build your own reports without entering a ticket for developers. You could add and remove your own columns from reports, group fields, and even add formulas. A Salesforce guru told me recently that if you set up your Salesforce correctly, you don’t need to take it out into Excel or Power BI. Well, um, unless you want to mash it up with ERP data or other emerging data that’s not in Salesforce. And there’s also limits in how you can combine Salesforce data with itself. There is a model and it accounts for many cases, but it may not account for the one I have in mind.

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