Microsoft Power BI visualization tools improve big-data analytics.

Studies show data stores are growing by as much as 65 percent annually, and that isn’t likely to slow anytime soon with the continuing emergence of the Internet of Things. In the age of big data, organizations are scrambling to find the best way to mine these growing volumes for operational insights.

Organizations around the globe are clamoring for powerful analytics tools so they can evaluate large datasets in search of patterns and insights that can be used to guide corporate decisions and policies. In a recent survey of more than 2,100 decision makers across 15 industries, PwC found that executives are eager to increase the speed and sophistication of their data analysis — both to understand what has happened and to predict what will happen.

“Data can be an extremely underutilized tool, and a company’s capability to access the right data, at the right time, and then look at it through the right lens, can make or break a bottom line,” said Dan DiFilippo, PwC’s Global and US Data and Analytics Leader.

Microsoft Power BI is giving organizations that lens.

Picture This

Microsoft Power BI is a cloud-scale analytics service featuring interactive dashboards and data visualization tools that give users the power to create compelling graphical formats. This allows users to quickly and easily analyze a broad range of data types and present that information visually so decision-makers can more easily grasp difficult concepts or identify new patterns.

“The idea of using pictures to better understand data has been around for long time,” said Michael Hritz, Vendor Alliance Manager, ProSys. “Just like maps, it’s all about providing context in a way that words alone can’t accomplish. Being able to see things as they relate to other factors helps us make more sense of it.

“Power BI is a big step forward in data analytics by making it really easy to transform complex data into something that is easy to understand. That leads to improved decision-making, faster action and competitive advantage.”

Organizations that have been using business intelligence and analytics tools for years often remain uncertain how to fully utilize them to improve business decision-making. In an Accenture survey of 600 executives in the U.S. and U.K., only 39 percent said the data they generate through their analytics tools is actually relevant to their business strategies, and only 50 percent said that their data is consistent, accurate, formatted and complete.

“The point of analytics is to become a smarter and more effective organization through data-driven decisions,” said Hritz. “But that doesn’t work if the data doesn’t provide clear insight. If you don’t trust your data, or if you’re unsure about where it is pointing you, you’re not likely to depend on that data to make important decisions.”

Power BI dashboards can be created and customized to suit specific business needs and data analysis requirements. Dashboards provide a consolidated view of all relevant data sets, regardless of where they reside, while metrics are displayed as tiles. Users can update, share, edit, add and remove dashboards as needed.

Real-Time Views

Working in conjunction with Microsoft Azure Stream Analytics, Power BI makes it possible create real-time dashboard tiles in minutes without the need for technical savvy or IT involvement. A DirectQuery function allows very large datasets to be visually represented from a variety of cloud sources — Azure SQL Database, Azure SQL Data Warehouse, Azure HDInsight, Azure Blob Storage and more — without needing to actually move the data into Power BI.

“Dashboard tiles can be as simple or complex as the user desires,” said Hritz. “You can even create different reports for different audiences using the same data connections and even the same query. You just build a new report page and refine your visualizations in a way that makes most sense for a particular audience.”

Power BI is also available for all major mobile platforms. Power BI Mobile Apps enables users to access business analytics on the go.

These capabilities are extremely beneficial for a number of use cases, especially as the IoT continues to expand. For example, warehouses, manufacturing plants, transportation companies and utilities can monitor the health of their equipment in real time and schedule proactive maintenance to avoid downtime. Retailers can monitor and respond to customer behavior in real time to boost sales. Marketing firms can “listen” to and engage with social media followers in real time, share relevant content or promotional offers, and maximize social ROI.

While Power BI is one of many analytics applications available, Microsoft has differentiated cloud service by making it easier to visualize, analyze, stream and gain insights from real-time data on a user-friendly interface. By allowing more widespread use of analytics, Power BI can help organizations turn information into insight so they can make faster and better decisions.