Business Intelligence: Top-Tier Tool in Microsoft Power Suite
In a recent article – Business Intelligence: Can Your Company Benefit? – I discussed the continuing relevance of business intelligence tools, both today and in the future.
I also described how business intelligence tools focus on assessing historical and current data with a critical goal: gain high-level insights that drive better management decisions and improve performance. In this way, business intelligence tools are different from business analytics tools that focus on what can and will happen in the future.
In this article, I’ll look at the types of challenges business intelligence tools address and suggest you consider Microsoft Power Suite as a full-featured and affordable BI tool.
Business Intelligence Tools: Shared Challenges They Address
Business intelligence tools differ in complexity and cost. Tools for large organizations include Cognos, Hyperion and SAS, and small and mid-market businesses can choose from Microsoft Excel, Zoomdata, Tableau, Information Builders, Sisense and Qlik. All address common challenges and call for the best way to do the following:
- Unite silos of data housed in different departments and applications.
- Integrate financial and operational data.
- Access and cross-link data related to key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Improve the ability to correlate and interpret data.
- Present outputs in formats that are easy and quick to understand.
- Improve management decision making and performance.
Considering purpose-built BI tools, executives may overlook Microsoft Excel and point to its limitations. Yes, out-of-the-box Excel generates flat files that don’t support merging of financial and operational data or show relationships between data. But ongoing development and enhancements have now made Excel a recognized BI tool option.
Microsoft Power Suite: A Top-Tier Business Intelligence Tool
Microsoft Power Suite plug-ins include Power Query, Power Pivot and Power BI, and now any business that has Excel 2010 or newer has access to a full-fledged business intelligence tool.
The Gartner Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms has included Microsoft as a leader for 11 years in a row, and in January 2018 PC Magazine recognized Power BI with its Editor’s Choice award along with IBM Watson Analytics and Tableau Desktop.
This suite – and Power Pivot, specifically – enables you to create relationships between operational and financial data sets, the most important key to performing business intelligence effectively. Power Pivot has no restrictions on the number of data sets that can be imported – you can import unlimited rows of data through data modeling.
Power Query supports the extraction, transformation and loading of data from many different sources. In my recent Journal of Accountancy article, How to Boost Excel Efficiency with Power Query, I discuss the value of Power Query for modeling and shaping data, as well as its ability to add updated data to existing models quickly.
Power BI provides high-level dashboards updated in real-time that let executives see at a glance their KPIs and click to drill down to find answers quickly.
Microsoft Power BI in Action
Included in Power BI are standard and customizable dashboards that enable executives to see outliers and problem areas – the exceptions that don’t fall within established targets and ranges. Here are examples of how the interactions between operational and financial data become clear and actionable:
Power BI Example 1: Quickly Find the Cause of Gross Profit Percentage Changes
Using Power BI to track and monitor your gross profit percentage, let’s say your gross profit percentage went down during the last quarter, and you’d like to dig deeper into the data to learn why. You can hover over the gross profit percentage graph in Power BI and right-click your mouse to drill down into the different components of gross profit and see what has changed. It’s much more difficult and complicated to do this using Excel by itself.
Power BI Example 2: Drill Down to See Where to Focus AR Collections Efforts
You can use Excel to create reports showing you the total amount of outstanding receivables in various categories, such as 0-30 days, 30-60 days, 60-90 days and beyond 90 days. But to see which customers fall into each category and how much money each customer owes, you would need to flip to another report.
As illustrated above, you can hover over the various categories of outstanding receivables and right-click your mouse to open a new data field showing you the customers in each category and how much they owe, as well as their contact information. This makes it much easier to focus your collection efforts where they can potentially do the most good and result in improved cash flow for your company.
Top business intelligence tools bring together financial and operational data, so you can see their relationships and interactions. Data is moved from information to actionable knowledge that is easy and fast to find. Microsoft’s Power BI Suite is an affordable and full-featured top-tier BI tool worthy of consideration. Greater Los Angeles executives interested in having more clarity and control over their financial and operational data can benefit from talking with a project CFO or part-time CFO. A CFO services partner brings client-side and services-side expertise in integrating disparate data sources so that information can be cross-linked, interpreted and visually displayed to improve decision making and performance.
Arthur F. Rothberg, Managing Director, CFO Edge, LLC