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Power BI: From Data to Reporting & Insights

  • By Andrew Deichler
  • Published: 2/25/2020


At FinNext 2020 in New Orleans, FP&A professionals will have the opportunity to learn more effective reporting techniques with Power BI. In a special pre-conference workshop, attendees will learn how to build and design a Power BI report, as well as best practices for visualizing financial information.

“Power BI is a powerful tool for any finance department,” explained Greg Gillespie, Principal with the planning and analytics strategy and consulting firm, Collectiv, who is leading the workshop. “It is not just a great visualization and reporting tool, but also a powerful data modeling environment, that any finance person can master with a bit of practice and leaning on their existing expertise with Excel.”  

Gillespie and his organization regularly meet with clients to help them better utilize Power BI to consolidate their financial and operational data, in order to find the most relevant insights and accurately forecast and plan. “We'll sit down with an organization and we'll say, ‘What are your strategic initiatives? How do you measure those? Are those measures tracked against budget? What's your cost? How do you plan for all that?’" Gillespie said.

From there, Collectiv goes through the metrics that the client needs to see, how they want to visualize them, and how they are slicing and dicing the data. “It’s not just about building these reports and bringing your data alive,” Gillespie said. “If you just go into that and say, ‘Hey, I want to build a report,’ without really having a good goal in mind, you're going to probably end up creating a report that's not utilized as well as it could be.”


Oftentimes, FP&A functions might be storing data in a data warehouse; pulling it from SAP, Oracle or other operational systems; or simply keeping it on an Excel spreadsheet. The advantage of Power BI is that it allows the user to pull all of that data into one location. Pretty efficient, right?

The only problem is, when you’re pulling data from multiple sources, it’s never in the right format to answer management questions. To fix that, it needs to be “massaged,” and that’s where Gillespie’s workshop comes in. “After you pull the data in, you’ve basically got to transform it, and you've got to get it into a format where you can turn that into a robust, flexible and extensible data model that your organization can report off of,” he said. “So all of those different aspects—understanding where your data is and pulling it in, transforming it, shaping it to report against it, and only then actually starting to build a report—that's all part of the best practice process we recommend. And then after you build that report, you reconcile the data and make it available with the relevant security.”

Once the report has been created, FP&A can make it available to the rest of the organization instantly, without emailing it and worrying about security. The intuitive and self-service aspect of Power BI empowers others to iterate on their own or provide feedback that can be incorporated and deployed rapidly. “You get that into the hands of the end users and they say, ‘Okay, this is awesome. Can we see total gross profit month-over-month now instead of just year over year?’ And you can definitely do that. What traditionally took weeks can now be done in minutes, with no reliance on IT,” Gillespie said.


Gillespie’s workshop is not only beneficial to financial professionals who have never used Power BI before, but also to those who use it regularly and aren’t aware of its full functionality. “There are all different levels that we see,” he said. “Some people are completely new to it, and some already have it in place at their organizations, but they don't really know how to use it properly and take it to the next level.”

A common problem is that usage of Power BI can become, as Gillespie puts it, “the wild west.” Power BI is very easy to use, but that’s kind of a double-edged sword. When you’re able to so easily connect to all of your data, you can find yourself putting out hundreds of reports and it’s not clear what is correct and what isn’t.

Another key mistake that practitioners tend to make is that they try to use Power BI as a replacement for Excel, but that’s not what it’s meant to do. It's meant to automate certain processes that are continuously done in Excel.

FP&A professionals who attend Gillespie’s pre-conference workshop will be able to overcome these common pitfalls and more. Whether you’re new to Power BI or you’ve been using it for years, this session will make sure you’re getting the most out of this highly versatile and incredibly valuable tool.

Don’t miss From Data to Reporting & Insights Through Power BI at FinNext 2020 in New Orleans. Register for FinNext here.


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