Successful human interaction, and this is particularly true of business interaction, requires an exchange of information. Sure, it may also involve the exchange of currency or services. But before you can get to that, you have to first exchange information—what one party wants to acquire and what the other party wants in return for providing it. This is the basis for any business transaction.
Technological innovation, particularly in the form of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT), has taken the basic exchange of information to a whole new level. In business, it is not enough to know what your customer wants. Enterprises have to know what their customers need. With enterprise systems gathering data at heretofore unknown quantities, the required actionable information may be there, but only if companies can extract it in a digestible form.
This is the quandary Microsoft was seeking to address in the Microsoft Data Insights Summit 2017, held in Seattle, June 12 to 13. Through the keynote address (video) and each breakout session, Microsoft demonstrated how tools like Power BI could be used to extract, dissect, and disseminate enterprise-generated data—turning indecipherable noise into useful information. But something more subtle was also revealed at the conference.
Power BI is Microsoft's primary data visualization tool for business intelligence. With its ability to extract data from sources ranging from global relational databases to simple Excel worksheets, Power BI can access data just about wherever and however it is found. This flexibility means that users at all levels of the company can use the tools found in Power BI to extract data and disseminate information that is important at their level of the organization.
The "democratization" of data can be a very powerful thing for an enterprise. It can open new avenues for information exchange and communication. More important, it can reveal and open new business opportunities that were hidden to the enterprise before such tools were available. But the Microsoft Data Insights Summit 2017 also provided a glimpse into the future of business communication.
New Power BI features are transforming the toolset from your basic data visualization reporting to true application development. With the new features, a Power BI report or dashboard, if properly constructed, can become what is essentially an app that allows users to drill down into the underlying data with just a click of the mouse or tap of the finger. The power to tailor a report to a user's particular needs now rests with the user and not just with an overworked data specialist.
The days of sending a report back to tweak what information is displayed or to add more detail or to reveal less detail are gone. The new Power BI features mean that a single report can contain all those various levels of detail and allow the reader to decide what level to focus on. Not only does the report creator experience the benefits of data democratization, but so too does the reader.
The communication of information gleaned from the data generated by an enterprise is vitally important to the overall success of its business. If your company can't extract and communicate actionable information for decision makers from the massive data pool it generates, it will not thrive and may not even survive. The ability to transform data into information is where enterprises can establish their competitive advantage.
Microsoft's Power BI and the new features introduced at the Data Insights Summit 2017 can help provide your enterprise with communication tools that transform data into actionable information. But perhaps the most important takeaway from the conference is the realization that data visualization has become more than just graphs and charts. In the big data era, data visualization and report-building are the application development platforms your enterprise should be spending resources on.
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Are you extracting useful information from your enterprise data? If not, isn't that a problem? Share your thoughts and opinions with your peers at TechRepublic in the discussion thread below.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.