with Mike Cox, Head of Business Solutions, Intuity Technologies
When we engage with clients to develop bespoke solutions, one of the key topics we always discuss is reporting. I find myself explaining a perspective that can sometimes be new to my audience so I’ve decided to try to lay it out in this article.
Traditional software systems typically have a reporting section. A lot of systems still do. In our work helping organisations upgrade, migrate or replace older systems we sometimes get asked “How will the new system give me ALL my old reports?”
While it’s easy to define a “new report”, it’s always a little bit harder to develop it, but the hardest aspect of a reports’ lifecycle is sometimes the end.
Archive, retire, replace, sunset, delete.
Where do old obsolete reports go to die?
Input – Process – Output
We use the most traditional of computing system models when developing solutions and business applications. For us, applications are centred around structured data. Structured at input, processed to keep it structured, and finally, data is presented in a structured way to the target consumers.
When the data leaves the system we create, it can very quickly become out of date. The challenge can then be the “yards after the tackle”; what transformations take place within a report after it leaves the system.
We can produce PDF files, which are a read-only snapshot in time, but most clients prefer their detail reports in Excel/CSV format. Cleaning, tending, graphing, pivoting, aggregating – and usually done in Excel, the most useful yet misunderstood software tool we’ve ever had. Files saved on file shares, revision control, file sizes growing – It’s easy to see how reporting can become an inaccurate, time consuming, chaotic activity that adds huge overheads to administrative and managerial staff. A familiar story at the beginning of our engagements.
The Microsoft Power Platform goes some way to improving an organisations’ ability to develop and control a reporting system that delivers meaningful, useful, timely insight from the information contained within the system.
Reporting for a reason
The foundation of reporting within a PowerApp is a “View”, which is a filtered list of records, which can bring a little logic to bear early in the process. A “view” looks very much like a spreadsheet and indeed can be exported to one at the touch of a button, but if created well it can be much more than that. It can be a dynamic list of things that need to be done; actions taken; emails sent or statuses updated.
Why take the data out of the system to then have to create a list of actions when they can be created, recorded and completed within the system?
There is also the GDPR consideration in relation to controlling personal data. Much easier to manage within a system than in spreadsheets stored across file shares or god forbid the local drive of a laptop.
The second element of reporting within the Power Platform is the embedded charting function. With any list of records, these can be charted side by side with a touch of a button. Charts can be created which can then be overlaid on different views. This immediately exponentially increases the power of your reporting within the system.
The third level of reporting is the Dashboard, where a number of charts and lists can be brought together on one screen to allow a user to quickly understand large amounts of data.
Dashboards can be set up for specific roles, supervisors, audiences, weekly or monthly meetings or exception reports. This is a place where progress against KPIs can be visualised dynamically. For example, watching the monthly sales amounts grow towards the target, or comparing the service call volumes month on month or year on year.
All the charts and dashboards within the system are interactive and the ability to drill down to the record level detail which makes up the bar or pie slice is a click away. This can allow the reporting of your relational data to move from seeming 2 dimensional to 3 dimensional.
Integrations / Combining Data
It’s highly likely that an organisation will have more than one key information system. Sometimes it can become unclear as to where the primary data store for information relating to customers. A data Integration can be a key method to synchronise data between systems, ensuring accuracy and allowing the data in the systems to be combined and analysed for insights.
Integrations can be as simple as a structure export and import completed as a batch job overnight, or something more complex and real-time which can be achieved by building an API (Application Programming Interface).
If you have multiple systems, it may make sense for data to be synchronised to a Data Warehouse which can allow data from multiple systems to be combined and transformed. A key thing to remember about Data Warehouses is that they are generally read-only and primarily used for reporting and insights.
Just when you think you’ve exhausted the possibilities of the View, Chart and Dashboard functionality within PowerApps, we’ll introduce you to the PowerBI which can be embedded seamlessly into the Power Apps for the next level of reporting – Business Intelligence.
Power BI is an integral part of the Power Platform. It provides business users with a tool that can supercharge existing Excel skills and allow them to surface critical business insights from vast quantities of data.
Data – Information – Knowledge – Insight – Actions
In developing solutions and applications for our customers we find in relation to reporting, there is a progression that organisations generally follow as they build their reporting capabilities.
Power BI can be a key tool in this journey. Let us know if you’d like to discuss any of this and how we might help your organisation.