Microsoft has struck gold with Power BI. Not only has Gartner taken notice, so have many, many organizations. It makes sense, really. Power BI is an incredibly inexpensive option, is a fantastic tool, and Microsoft’s heavy investment into the product have it positioned to remain on top for years to come.
Though this is great for organizations across the globe, the shift to the tool has left a significant knowledge gap.
The Knowledge Gap
Companies like yours that have made or may make the to jump to Power BI, very likely do not have the IT personnel to implement Power BI without jarring bumps all along the way. This is true no matter how much skill and experience your IT department has. Power BI is only five years old and broader adoption is a recent trend. This likely means that not only does your IT department lack experience in the tool, your company likely won’t be able to quickly hire someone to fill that gap. Furthermore, switching data tools is a hefty job—no matter the tools in question.
There’s also the reality that many of the people attempting to learn Power BI right now have no experience with data analysis tools (other than Excel, of course). I’ve talked with plenty of accountants who have been tasked with visualizing their financial data and then essentially pivot to become the new Power BI gurus of their company. This is no small task.
Power BI is a fantastic tool for democratizing data. Many have caught this vision, which is incredible and hugely encouraging. However, sending individuals to implement Power BI without formal training or the guidance of a consultant is akin to sending an eager villager to fight the neighboring hydra. Power BI is massive and complex, and using it without a more comprehensive knowledge may lead to severing some hydra heads but will often lead to more heads appearing (e.g., inexplicable data discrepancies arising, divvying up the work the new guru was previously doing, adding new and different data sources, answering executives’ calls for more complex reports, etc.).
Closing the Gap
Power BI is the culmination and combination of many of the data-related tools Microsoft has been creating for decades. Because of that, Power BI covers a significant breadth of data needs and its depth is quite unplumbable. I work in Power BI every day, and every day I’m reminded just how vast and (almost) incomprehensible the tool is. There is so much to learn about the tool that careers have been made highlighting very specific niches within it.
Because of this, Power BI is a unique tool: it can basically provide the entire data stack (collection, storage, transformation, modeling, visualization) for smaller companies and cover so many of the bases for larger companies with more data. This means Power BI can potentially replace several software packages that companies have been employing for years. And with that comes several learning curves (not just one!), for IT departments or individuals to tackle.
Each layer of the tool brings its own unique challenges that require a different mindset and knowledge base. That’s largely true because each layer of the tool was originally a different tool that was manipulated to fit into Power BI. This is amazing because it puts so much power in the hands of Power BI users, but also frustrating considering each tool was developed as a separate entity and brings with it its own history and user experience.
Just one look at the tool captures this well. Every visual available by default in Power BI provides the user hundreds of customizations found in the Visualizations pane. DAX, the language used to write measures in Power BI, is a literal language—need I say more? Press the Transform Data icon (or Query Editor icon for older versions) and immediately your transported to a different world called Power Query. This creates and takes you to another page of the app—further suggesting the differences between Power Query and the default UI.
Power BI can be dizzying, at first. But, with a little training, users can come to successfully use a huge portion of the data-related technology Microsoft has been developing for an X-Gen lifetime! That’s certainly nothing to sniff at.
As a consultant I’m often hired to implement Power BI. And my clients occasionally ask that I to do it without giving formal training sessions to those who will take it over once I’m done. In these scenarios, I’m never fully comfortable with the final hand-off. I trust my work, no doubt; but I don’t trust that those taking over understand what I did, how I did it, or why—no matter how many times I tried to explain it. Without the larger context of the tool, tactical decisions will never be fully understood. And the larger strategies I employed will eventually be lost in the daily battle to meet deadlines and demands. This could just lead to unorganized workspaces, or it could lead to wrong or broken reports that no body but the builder (me) knows how to fix.
Through this experience and looking back on my own learning path—I’ve concluded that training in Power BI is essential. Admittedly, I teach classes and want to continue teaching them—so I’m undoubtedly bias—but I feel confident anyone deep into Power BI would agree.
I’ve found that the resolution of any short- or long-term Power BI-related issue is resolved most quickly and most soundly when a solution is implemented using a deeper understanding of the tool. Google willingly provides metaphorical band aids and tape to fix just about any problem. But without deeper knowledge, these solutions often eventually fail (or are wrong without being obviously wrong)—and the people who implemented the solutions—have no idea why. And this then triggers another frantic search for the solution they don’t fully understand. It’s a scary cycle.
Alberto Ferrari, a well-respected educator and consultant in the Power BI community, recently explained
Hiring a Consultant
Another important and obvious way to close the knowledge gap is to hire a Power BI consultant. I would suggest hiring a JourneyTEAM consultant, but…okay, I’ll suggest it.
The issue, of course, with relying entirely on training is that it takes time. We teach a ten-week course with one course a week being taught to cover all the bases of Power BI. This means an attendee would need to wait at least 10 weeks to get all the parts covered. This may be too long of a wait for your company. Admittedly, these courses will soon be available online for self-paced learning—but a person can only digest so much at a time—self-paced or not. Furthermore, training with some guided learning using YOUR data makes the training come alive. That’s something that courses just can’t effectively provide.
By hiring a consultant, you can arrange it so a guide is there to ensure successful implementation of what is taught in the training and what is requested internally. That kind of success usually breeds more success and your new Power BI guru(s) or champion(s) will be well on her way.
We Would Love to Help Bridge and Close the Knowledge Gap for You
As mentioned earlier, JourneyTEAM teaches Power BI Masterclass series that will get anyone up-to-speed in Power BI. This sort of course would go a long way in bridging the knowledge gap that most certainly will arise when a company switches to Power BI. The course is spread over 10 weeks. Of course, JourneyTEAM can provide courses on-site or company specific. Choosing between the two options mostly comes down the amount of people your organization needs trained.
Either choice you make, supplementing the training with consultation makes a lot of sense. I see this as hiring a tutor to ensure the class learning sinks in. The classes do contain a lot of hands-on labs, but there’s nothing like working with someone who knows Power BI on your own data.
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And I wish you all the best in your Power BI journey.