Thursday 29 November 2018

What Socrates Taught Us About Data Analysis

The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

If Socrates been a modern businessman, I’m sure he would have been an early adopter of Microsoft Power BI. He lived and died according to his adage: the unexamined life is not worth living. It is thanks to Socrates that we appreciate the huge power behind questions, and the work we do in data analysis is the stronger for it. Despite his famous frugality, I’ve no doubt that Socrates would have adored the visualizations.

Hemlock Pie Chart, anyone?

In today’s digital economy, the unexamined business is worth very little. Data analysis has become crucial in improving the way we work. However, data analysis isn’t a sausage machine: you don’t put data in one end and get strategy from the other. Data analysis, like life, benefits from questioning, Socratic or otherwise:
  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • What data do we have related to this?
  • Where did the data come from?
  • How accurate is the data?
  • What evidence do we have to support this?
  • Why is this happening?
  • What does this mean?
  • What do we already know about this?
  • What are we assuming?
  • How do we know this?
  • What is causing this?
  • What are the possible alternative causes?
Admittedly, not all of those questions might have been asked by Socrates, but the principle is the same - asking the right data analysis questions can be as valuable as the answers. Whilst numbers rarely lie, our interpretation of the numbers always benefits from critical questioning. The most successful companies on the planet use data analytics to test their assumptions, and methodically analyse data to get better answers. Data analysis has been behind the rise of Amazon, Nissan, American Express to name but a high-profile few.

Microsoft Power BI supports a wide range of data sources, analysis techniques, and visualizations, but all are most effective when used in conjunction with questions and hypotheses. And the results it presents are most useful when questioned carefully and critically. Undeniably, Microsoft Power BI is a powerful piece of software that’s getting more powerful every month.

At Anatec Software, we have always believed that our questions are more powerful than our answers, and the longevity of our solutions has proved us right. Every company is different, and every problem unique, so whilst the technologies we use might be the same, that’s where the similarity ends. We never try to fit problems to a one-solution-fits-all approach. Instead, we question thoughtfully, and listen hard to understand the challenges you face and the opportunities you’ve created. Only then can work with you to find the right solution.

We work with Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Power BI and Microsoft Excel to produce business intelligence solutions to suit all situations and budgets. We’ve got a lot of experience in helping businesses make sense of their data, and use their data to make better decisions.

So, if you’ve got more questions than answers, and a pile of data that could yield some insights, get in touch to find out how we can help. There’s no obligation, only thought-provoking questions and friendly advice.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Why Microsoft Power BI is a Big Deal

To understand why Microsoft Power BI is a big deal, you have to got back a bit. 153 years back, to be precise.

You would no doubt agree that businesses fail or flourish depending on how quickly they can adapt to new information. Whether it’s a competitive move, or a change in consumer tastes, ignoring intelligence is at best damaging, and at worst fatal. Over 150 years ago Richard Devens used the term business intelligence to describe profiting from timely decision making based on intelligence, or data. Back in 1865, acting on intelligence before the competition was unusual enough for comment, and is arguably still noteworthy today. But while we still use the term business intelligence, we actually mean something quite different.

Today businesses run on software systems - from banking to sales leads, invoicing to estimating. Business intelligence (BI) is also digital - instead of relying on the relatively haphazard activity of noticing what’s going on, we now methodically and systematically process and transform data. BI systems require a budget and project managers to turn disparate data into consolidated, useful information. While just about all businesses have more data than they can handle (estimates suggest that only 0.5% of data is analysed) not all have a business intelligence system. It seems that some things never change.

The modern term business intelligence, refers to a set of technologies that facilitate the analysis of data generated within the business. Data warehouses take data from the different systems, and bring them together into one useable form. If you’ve ever tried to figure out which system holds the correct version of the data you want, you will know this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Reporting systems then provide access to the data warehouse, giving decision makers good, clean, and timely information.

If the data in our business systems were easy to access and match up, we wouldn’t need BI systems. And if the data were always good quality, up to date, and available when we needed it, we wouldn't need BI systems. The reality is that for many businesses, data is siloed, available only to the department who owns it. Data is neither correct nor up to date, because people are busy and pulled in many different directions. The result is that people make decisions based on incomplete evidence, or carry out instructions in the belief that someone, somewhere has better data than they do.

For large businesses, the expense of implementing a business intelligence system is worthwhile; they hold a lot of data, and there are a lot of people who need access to it. For smaller businesses, there are spreadsheets. So prevalent are spreadsheets, it is often said they are the world’s most popular business intelligence tool. But they do have their limitations, and whilst it’s true that small and medium sized businesses have less data than the multi-nationals, they still have a lot of data, and they still need to be competitive. The playing field is anything but level.

Which brings us up to the present, because a new kid has arrived on the block. A powerful business intelligence system called Microsoft Power BI. Related to the spreadsheet in that it has taken some of the more powerful technologies from Excel, Microsoft has created a true business intelligence system that is capable of handling large volumes of data, producing real insights, and includes visualization capabilities that once belonged only in eye-wateringly expensive BI tools. Power BI is a truly democratizing piece of software, and a big deal for all businesses.

If you'd like to know more about what Microsoft Power BI can do for your business, follow the link to our web site and get in touch.