How a simple BI tool has changed my (work) life

by Julien Deblander - Data Scientist
| minute read

Most people, upon learning that I’m a data scientist, automatically assume that I am working with the most sophisticated, high-level and therefore expensive tools available on the market. And they are not entirely wrong: those instruments are in my toolbox too. They are far from the only instruments I have at my disposal, however. Like most data scientists, my toolbox also contains a simple, cost-effective and low-threshold instrument for data visualisation. In my case that’s Microsoft Power BI. 

I effectively started my career at Sopra Steria as an expert in Power BI. Meanwhile I’ve also acquired some fundamental programming skills every expert data scientist needs to possess in order to transform raw data into actionable insights. But while it is true that data science is essentially about programming, data visualisation is one of the more essential skills as well. And not just because it graphically represents the final results or findings from that whole process of data transformation, but also because it requires you to actually understand the data in order to learn from it.  

Putting the power in data science 

The ‘Power’ in Power BI is there for a reason. To begin with, this business intelligence tool lends you the power to automate a whole number of repetitive tasks, particularly with regard to reporting. We have all occasionally spent and lost significant amounts of time as well as money in wrestling with our data in Excel, in order to build compelling visualisations. But what happens when that time-consuming, money-wasting process needs to be repeated every month, week or even day? Then it clearly helps to have a tool like Power BI at your disposal. When your data is uploaded to that platform for data preparation, analysis, and visualisation, it directly goes through a series of predefined steps that will make it ready for use in reporting. As a result, you gain valuable time in your reporting process and, on a more general level, in your daily work life. 

Apart from automating repetitive reporting tasks, Microsoft’s BI tool also lends you the power to share information more easily, since you no longer have to deal with the data silo problem. Once one BI report is shared with specific people, they will always have access to the new data that is fed into that report. So you do not need to share a new report each month in a separate Excel file, for instance. It goes without saying that this specific feature too is an important time and money saver. 

Putting the power in the hands of the end user 

Like most popular BI tools, Microsoft Power BI also supports natural language queries. This feature enables end users to ask natural language questions and get answers in the form of visuals or reports that are automatically created with the data that best answers their question. Basically, it lets you explore your data in your own words - which is often the fastest way to get an answer from your data.  

I am specifically adding and even highlighting this popular new BI feature, because it is indicative of a major trend in the world of data science, namely the rise of the business user with basic data science knowledge. As expert data scientists such as myself will become increasingly difficult to find in the coming years, software companies like Microsoft are effectively proposing user-friendly features that will be used by these so-called citizen data scientists. You can find out more about this important new trend in a previous blog post.