Data Collaboration: Step 5 to Gaining Valuable Business Insights

April 6, 2023 Rasvan Grigorescu

This is the sixth in a seven-blog series on managing data to gain valuable business insights. In our first blog, we discussed why data management is important, followed by Step 1 in the process—data ingestion; Step 2—data transformation; Step 3—data modeling; and Step 4—data visualization and analysis. In this blog, we examine Step 5—data collaboration.

When creating reports and dashboards that use dataflows and datasets, the outputs are more valuable because they can be easily shared and distributed to teams, departments, or the entire company. Sharing information fosters collaboration and enables individuals to discover the insights they need on how to run operations more effectively.

One way to collaborate is through Microsoft Power BI. You can set up workspaces with centralized repositories where colleagues can create collections of reports and dashboards to be used by multiple individuals and teams. All the reports and dashboards are stored in a single environment accessible by authorized users. Each user can be assigned either administrator, viewing, or editing rights.

Facilitating Collaboration at Multiple Levels

This collaborative approach reduces data silos within your organization where users save reports to their desktops, making them inaccessible to others. Once you store and share datasets in a Power BI workspace, users don't have to recreate datasets and data transformation flows (see the third blog in our series) when setting up new reports. This prevents duplicate reports and dashboards—which causes multiple—and perhaps conflicting—sources of the truth.

Users can also leverage the work someone else has already done to produce new reports that tap into the same data sources and use the same data transformation flows. This approach validates comparisons with other reports using the same artifacts.

If at some point a change is applied to a data source or flow, the change can be applied universally to all reports that hook into those artifacts. All report owners will be notified, and they can validate that the changes are on target. In this sense, Power BI facilitates collaboration among team members in doing their jobs as well as in working together to manage reports and dashboards.

Workspaces Streamline Report Development

Another way to share and distribute insights is through Power BI apps (previously known as content packs). When you create a Power BI app, you essentially package related reports, dashboards, datasets, and dataflows. Instead of sending components piecemeal, you send them as a package and share them all at once with an entire team—all the components are ready to use. As an example, the Western Computer 365WineTrade and 365HomeBuilder apps have pre-built content packs designed for those industries.

From a collaboration perspective, the Power BI workspace serves as a staging area with a workflow similar to the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)—development, testing, and production. You're creating a workspace for these various stages and progressing the work from one stage to the other.

For instance, after report developers collaborate in the workspace, the artifacts are moved to the testing workspace where users and acceptance testers can review the reports and provide feedback. Once the testing phase is done, the artifacts (reports, dashboards, data sets, data flows) move into a production workspace, which is where they are used—the final stage of the deployment pipeline, where the apps live.

Integrations Expand Collaborative Capabilities

The reports created in Power BI can also integrate with other Microsoft applications to greatly expand your collaboration capabilities:

  • PowerPoint—you can create charts within slides that link to reports in Power BI so the charts are live. They are not pictures of Power BI reports, but rather charts embedded into the PowerPoint slide. Presenters can interact with and filter the Power BI charts from within PowerPoint, and the information is updated in real time. If, for example, the sales team closed on five new deals that morning, they will appear in the slide of a presentation the sales manager is giving to executives at a lunchtime meeting.
  • Office—you can go to the menu in Office and launch Power BI to get insights about who has opened a particular chart or report and how often. Knowing who else is using a report helps team members share their insights and collaborate on the data.
  • Outlook—another helpful feature is embedding Power BI charts into email messages you are sending internally, or even to customers and business partners. As you type an email, you can launch the Power BI service to grab real-time views of reports, charts, and dashboards. Just as the integration enables with other Microsoft applications, the information is always current and gets updated as the receiving users open emails.  

Perhaps the most potent collaboration environment is the combination of real-time, interactive Power BI reports and Microsoft Teams. As your internal groups meet in Teams to talk, share documents, and conduct chat sessions, they can also interact with dashboards and workspaces. In addition, they can leverage the same functionality as they can in the Power BI service to create new views and add dashboards, reports, datasets, and dataflows. 

Knowing What’s Going On—Right Now

The ability to embed Power BI reports into other Microsoft applications lets you avoid the confusion that can be caused by snapshot images of data. Depending on the dynamic nature of the insights the static images convey, the information can change by the minute, the hour, the day, the week, or the month. You run the risk of teams attempting to collaborate using data that’s no longer fresh.

But by leveraging the integration with Power BI workspaces, your internal teams can share content through PowerPoint, Office, Outlook, Teams, and other Microsoft applications that’s refreshed in real time. They will always know they can trust the data to depict what’s going on right now.

In our next data insights blog, we present the concepts of data governance. If you need help today in managing your company’s data to generate valuable business insights, Western Computer is here to help. Contact us to learn more about our Microsoft solutions and how they can help you aggregate, analyze and govern your data.

About the Author

Rasvan Grigorescu

As a Western Computer Senior Data Architect, Rasvan Grigorescu has more than 20 years of leadership and technical experience in driving business value and actionable insights from data. His experiences include leading and delivering data analytics, data science, and machine-learning solutions—from defining business requirements to designing data architectures, data engineering, and modeling. Prior to joining Western Computer, Rasvan expanded his data management skills working for Microsoft, Hitachi, TD Bank, Data Centaur, and Finastra. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Bucharest.

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