“New” Power BI

Microsoft Power BI offering is going through another evolution. New tools and services, available only as preview, have introduced significant changes as compared to Microsoft’s current approach to providing self-service BI capabilities.

In this post,  I will briefly talk about new tools/services and see how this will impact Microsoft BI community, both users and developers.

Power BI Dashboard

Power BI Dashboard is a cloud based service to create dashboards. You can create datasets, reports and dashboards using a web interface. It has capability to connect to lot of data sources including on-premise SSAS as well as couple of SAAS based applications like Salesforces.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM etc. This eliminates the need to install any tool on your desktop. All you need is web browser to access Power BI service.


Here is a screen shot of Power BI dashboard. It provides better experience for creating dashboard layout as compared to Excel. However it is not functionally rich at this stage.

New Power BI 01

Power BI Designer

Power BI Designer (PBID) decouples certain capabilities from Excel and offers them in a standalone tool. PBID combines the capabilities of Power Query and Power View along with some additional features for dashboards.  Again, this eliminates the need for Excel as a desktop tool to explore data and create reports. However, currently PBID lacks certain features available in Excel.

Here is screen shot of Query View.

New Power BI 02

Here is screen shot of Power View.

New Power BI 03

Consultant’s Point of View

  • Key point here is to decouple Power BI from Office so that customers who do not have latest version of Office and SharePoint can use Power BI. Of course, it offers some new features for dashboards.
  • Deciding which tool to use in a given context is becoming even more difficult. Historically, Microsoft has been integrating BI capabilities in existing products (Office, SQL Server, SharePoint), however adoption has been challenging due to complexity of end to end technology stack. Now cloud and mobile further add to this complexity.
  • Limited support to connect to on-premise data sources.
  • PBID is being introduced with some of the capabilities available in Excel. Power Pivot data models,  Power maps, some features from Power View are missing in PBID. Again, too many options creates confusion for everyone.
  • Per user cost for Power BI is too much for lot of customers.

Five Best Practices for designing a Portal

In last post, we saw how portals can be useful for retailers. Now, let’s look at the at least five areas you should focus to design a portal which is both effective as well as usable by the user community.


Five Best Pratices for Portal

Audience Analysis

Every Portal has a target user community. Understanding the needs of this community is prerequisite to design phase.  User community should be segmented based on their specific roles and needs. User Persona are a powerful tool to create profile for each type of the user. Based on that you will better understand target users of the portal. e.g. for a Store Portal, Sales associates and field management will be two different user categories having unique needs based on their specific role.  Similarly if a significant numbers of users are traveling, then portal should provide great mobile experience as well. Content contributors is another user category which have very different needs from consumers.

As a designer, you should be very close to your users and empathize with their needs.

Content Analysis

Content is like blood for any portal solution. Each type of content should be categorized according to its business purpose, update frequency, intended audience, owners, security, required metadata, and structure. Once you have profiled your content, you can create information architecture.

Each type of content should be created in the format which is best suited for its purpose. e.g. Some content may be more effective in text format while some other content may be more effective in audio or video format.

UX Design

With adoption of the mobile devices, user experience (UX) has become top priority thing. Smart phones and tablets have raised the bar for UX designers. Now enterprise application users expect consumer level UX in the enterprise systems. Finding content in portal should be super easy. Search should have easy to use filters and content previews so that users can find required information in few clicks.

Since portals are meant to aggregate capabilities/information from multiple systems, portal should use SSO and provide smooth transitions between various modules and hence should provide consistent experiences.

Social Features

Social capabilities are becoming norm in business systems. Personalized, context-sensitive social features help users to collaborate, communicate and engage. Having generic and open-ended groups or communities without a common purpose cannot engage its members. In business systems like portal, you should identify specific opportunities where social capabilities can add value. Portal provides a perfect platform for users where they can find all information they need, perform their specific jobs and engage with people who share  same purpose.

Feedback Mechanism

Portal must be rolled out to test users before releasing it for everybody in the enterprise. There should be built-in mechanism to collect feedback from users. Based on the feedback, portal design should be refined. Typically portal platforms have built-in capabilities to provide basic analytics about what users are looking for. Based on that you can find out what is working and what is not working. Key thing is not to stick with initial design, If needed, you should refine it based on what is working with user community. After all, portal is intended to make life easier for end users.

There must be other areas one must focus depending upon the unique context. Please share your experiences what else can add value in a designing a portal.

How a Store Portal can add value for a Retailer?

Retail industry is facing enormous challenges due to following factors:

  • Online Retailing
  • Evolving role of brick and mortar stores
  • Changing consumer behaviors towards malls, outlets, mega stores

Technology is helping companies to serve customers in many different ways. Role of store is also evolving rapidly in the context of above mentioned forces.  Store Employees need to be equipped with better solutions in order to provide customers superior service and perform store operations in an efficient way.

Store Portal plays a pivotal role for store employees and can serve as a one stop shop for all information needs in the store.  Following are keys objectives you can achieve by employing a portal technology like SharePoint.

Brand Loyalty

For any retailer to succeed, it is important that its customer facing employees love its brand. Without strong brand loyalty, employees won’t be able to engage customers. Store Portal helps to build brand loyalty by providing effective tools which help employees learn key value proposition for its brand. Store Portal, being primary gateway to IT systems, can play very effective role to communicate brand and build loyalty.

Employee engagement

Portal provides an effective platform to engage employees. Click here for detailed discussion of how social and collaboration capabilities in a portal can help to engage employees.

Sales Associates Training

Today’s customer is much more informed and walks into store with enough information about his needs and available options. They expect sales associates to provide them expert opinion to decide which product meets their need. Portal can serve an affective platform to provide required training to new hires, especially during peak demands.  Bite-sized training content (e.g. short videos) can be embedded in daily communication in order to keep sales associates updated about latest product information.

Store Portal Value

Effective Corporate Communication

Corporate communication is primary mechanism to communicate company vision and strategy to the store employees.  All communication to store staff must be aligned with other messaging (like ads, pamphlets etc) that company is sending to its customers and employees. Here, Portal becomes very effective tool to send such daily messaging to stores and other geographically distributed locations.  Portal home page provides primary space where they can see most important information for a given day.

Efficient Store Operations

Time is a scare commodity, especially for Store staff; they have to serve multiple customers as well as perform various operational activities. It becomes very inefficient for a sales person to login multiple business applications while customer is waiting for a quick service. Portal can provide platform to integrate required features from different IT systems. These features can be implemented as “apps” which are readily available in portal.  Store staff can use these apps without leaving portal and use features like SSO to access different IT systems. Such an experience saves time as well as results a better customer service.