Dashboarding, reporting and analytics with Microsoft Power BI


What should companies look for when building applications and analysis interfaces? How can insights be gained that lead to the right decisions and ultimately contribute to the company's success?

Good analysis - and a good analysis tool - combine all the possibilities we discuss below and more: It brings order to data chaos, helps to explain the causes, detect opportunities and issues, discover relationships and deliver the insights that lead to good fact-based decisions and successful actions.

The difference between dashboards and reports


What is a report?

Reports are an excellent way to summarize results that are needed regularly according to the same rules. Reports can be easily distributed by e-mail or as PDFs and printed, but their most important asset is automatic creation and distribution to recipients.

Reporting today is a component of any business intelligence system or included as a module in analysis tools. However, the reporting capabilities included in enterprise applications such as ERP, CRM or SCM systems usually cannot cover all user requirements. Depending on the complexity of the content to be conveyed, reports can reach such a volume that it is almost impossible to evaluate them.

It is important to weigh what is suitable for a report and when and for whom other solutions may provide better insights.

What is a dashboard?

The tools that are available on the market today focus on distinct capabilities and many companies concentrate on data visualization and dashboarding. Dashboards show you the current state of affairs but not how and why something happened.

In the age of smartphones and tablets, dashboards are the ideal vehicle for preparing data for quick consumption, because tables and report pages can never be fully and legibly displayed on small screens. Cockpits, speedometers, thermometers or sliders are examples of dashboards that set clear universally recognized signals in the traffic light colors red, yellow and green. Executives with tight schedules appreciate the easy overview of the most important KPIs and aggregated results. Dashboard applications are often referred to as "manager-friendly."

 Good dashboards are interactive in that they respond to input from their users who can select other regions, products, or success metrics. Dashboards can also run "what-if" scenarios, allowing users to make rudimentary forecasts.

Data visualization

Visualizations are the answer to endless columns of numbers and multi-page reports. They are perfect for speedy information evaluation. From simple bar and pie charts to bubble and speedo diagrams to complex tree diagrams: Today, the options for visualizations are overwhelming.

 In the diversity of options lies the danger of becoming a victim of the possibilities. It’s easy to choose the wrong chart type for your data selection or get lost in an inflationary use of effects such as 3D, shadows, and gradients. The information value of the visualization then approaches zero and the actual goal, the comprehensible communication of facts, is missed.

Universities are working on studies on how to best convey information visually, and experts such as Stephen Few, Edward Tufte and Dr. Rolf Hichert are attempting to make practical suggestions for the recipient-oriented design of business communication with the International Business Communication Standards (IBCS). Whether this minimalist approach will meet with universal approval and become established remains to be seen.

What makes a good analysis tool?


Which analysis tool is right for your organization depends solely on your requirements. It goes without saying that it should be powerful and easy to use. Any tool that requires more than a brief introduction on how to use is bound to encounter acceptance problems. Any application that has been developed without considering the needs and expectations of its users will have a hard time gaining acceptance in the long run.

In many companies, Microsoft Excel remains the standard. It’s worth choosing a tool that offers an Excel-like interface that allows Excel users to work with their familiar tool without compromising data consistency. Though it makes sense to use Excel at the departmental level, this can create data silos that will eventually reach their limits as the data and requirements become more complex. If you want to break down these data silos, an analysis tool that either embeds the cherished Excel environment, or presents an alternative that convinces everyone to want to try it out - or both - is best explored.

Analysis tools based on a central database can bring together the data required by various internal and external sources in a central location. This creates consistency for decision-making, also known as a "single version of truth".

Whether to choose a software solution with in-memory data analysis or to rely on software that holds data in an OLAP database and/or a data mart, lake or warehouse depends in no small part on the complexity of the existing infrastructure and enterprise applications already in place. In all cases, it is important to conduct a meticulous needs analysis to ensure that all important data is included and no sources are left out.

Excellent support from the provider should also be considered in the selection process. The ability to call on external expert support when needed can prove extremely useful for projects.

Advanced Microsoft Power BI dashboards with analytics


Microsoft Power BI is a very common analytics tool that combines dashboarding and reporting. Company data from disconnected sources can be quickly summarized, evaluated, attractively visualized in dashboards and the results can then be easily shared with others. But guided analysis also has a disadvantage. Anyone who needs more information for their dashboard must contact their administrator.

The benefits of ad-hoc analysis

Ready-made reports, visualizations and dashboards are therefore a mere starting point for an analysis. There are reports for mapping standard values, but the actual analysis must be unrestricted. Since it is impossible for even the best data scientist or Microsoft Power BI administrator to predict where such an analysis journey might go, simple, intuitive "self-service" and ad-hoc evaluations - such as those offered by Serviceware Performance AL - are a must. When integrating Serviceware Performance AL into Microsoft Power BI, a user can access the full metadata and is able to generate their own insights.

Drill-down, up and across

The various "drill" functions are the means by which users "dive" into the data. Drilling down into the database can bring clarity as to which product is responsible for the fact that sales have dropped. Drilling up, on the other hand, can see how the change in one value affects the overall result. Drill-across shows whether a product also sold worse in other regions or months.

Serviceware Performance AL extends these analysis options to all hierarchical levels of reports. Users thus integrate dynamic financial reports with all their unbalanced and deep hierarchies into their Microsoft Power BI dashboard. This enables full data analysis and for P&L analysis can be done across all hierarchy levels. Users do not need to switch between different tools to view different information combined.

Tools such as Serviceware Performance AL can be used to link the analysis of relational data with multidimensional data. This gives users access not only to Microsoft SQL, but also to the three largest analysis engines - Microsoft SSAS, IBM Planning Analytics (TM1), and Oracle Essbase.

Comment functionality

Whether in a report or in a table, whether in a map or a dashboard, some results simply cannot be explained by other figures. A comments section can be used to describe data, explain results or explain connections. Comments are also suitable for discussions in which each user contributes their point of view or ideas on a result so that decisions can be made jointly.

Built-in reports sharing

With Serviceware Performance AL, easy information sharing is built in, making life easier for Microsoft Power BI users. They can use the subscription function to regularly push their own standard reports to themselves or to any e-mail distribution list. This way, they can keep all their colleagues up to date at all times.



Powerful analysis tools are a must. How else do you separate the wheat from the chaff in these times of Big Data. The tools available on the market have different focuses and many companies concentrate on data visualization and dashboards. However, dashboards can only ever show where a company currently stands and not why this is the case. In-depth analysis is needed to explain root causes, uncover opportunities and vulnerabilities, provide context, and deliver the background that leads to successful action. With the combination of Microsoft Power BI and Serviceware Performance AL (Analytics), the potential of corporate data can be fully utilized and analyzed. This creates an up-to-date, fact-based foundation that all users - whether in controlling or on the board of directors – can use for decision-making.

Serviceware Performance AL as an intelligent interface between databases and your Power BI: Find out how to enhance your Microsoft Power BI in our 35 minute webinar.



Written by Serviceware

Sharing expertise on excellent Enterprise Service Management.

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