A couple of months ago I was participating in a very interesting discussion with a prospective customer. The client was seeking to improve the usage statistics and popularity of his Power BI platform.
During preliminary interviews it turned out that in the targeted audience (category managers) nobody was using the reports. All that despite huge effort (in both time & money) from IT department.
At the same time, the tool (a web application using Power BI Embedded) was the apple of the eye of the IT director. He was personally monitoring progress on the developments, even writing bits of code by himself, and adding some personal touch to the reports.
That’s why he refused to retire the app and initially opted for a minor overhaul.
The conversations led me to think that the crucial component of any successful deployment of Power BI, which is adoption, is way too often overlooked by project sponsors. Hence the idea to share the perspective how we build successful data solutions in Power BI through this series of articles.
Why Would You Even Bother About Adoption?
Hopefully the story above shed light on what might happen if you avoid the user adoption topic. Apart low usage of your reports, take a look at the examples of potential consequences of low adoption:
- you will certainly incur additional costs due to retraining of your staff
- your internal customers i.e. reporting users will spend their time unproductively, looking for instructions how to handle the tool; at the end of the day, when they won’t find the answer by themselves, they will keep overwhelming your team with support requests
- shadow IT will surge, as duplicated data processes within different BUs will become live, using the tools that all the users (e.g. Excel) are familiar with.
Conversely, greater Power BI adoption will reduce organizational costs, significantly increase the number and the quality of data-driven decisions in your organization and help you to build wide recognition for your reports.
The Three Pillars
The most important ingredients to a successful rollout of Power BI in your company can be assigned to any of the following three pillars:
- People: ensuring smooth cooperation between a cohesive and skillful IT service and the data-driven BUs and departments
- Process: facilitating standards of development & quality and removing organizational roadblocks
- Technology: Power BI technological & architectural perfection combined with reliable data sources
Since we are discussing the implementation of a specific technology, it may strike you that I listed ‘Technology’ at the bottom. Yet, based on our experience, technological aspects per se are responsible for no more than 10-15% of the final success.
Pillar One: People
What matters most is definitely the People pillar. This can be told without a shadow of doubt.
On one side, it goes without saying your Power BI reporting system must be designed from the very beginning as a user-centric platform. This platform and the adoption program need to ensure the users are provided enough quality training not only on how to use the tool, but also how to consume the implementation.
For most users such training, with the assistance of your internal support, will be sufficient; others will build their own reports within a self-service model and will need to be approached differently.
Support & Materials
Moreover, whenever users encounter any technical difficulties, they need to be able to quickly find the right answers to their questions: be it via a knowledge base, via technological champions or a support team within your Center of Excellence.
The right change management plan is the final key element regarding People and Power BI adoption. During transition to Power BI, your users must feel they are properly taken care of at every step of the journey and that their expectations are managed along the way, in terms of both commitments and delivery.
On top of that, report consumers must be able to observe how their business results improve together with the data-driven decisions they make. This can be also overlooked: I have seen multiple reports where the quality of the decisions performed by the managers and line of business decision-makers could not have been measured and therefore rewarded.
Dynamic between IT and business
Another aspect that matters is the relationship between business and IT. This boils down to how the business know how gets reflected in Power BI and how the relationship between those two departments and teams is getting shaped over time (preferably moving towards partnership).
Relationships within THE Data Team
Finally, relationships between different roles within your Data/Analytics Team need to be managed as well. This could be either relationships between Business Analysts and Power BI Developers, either Developers and Data Engineers etc. Strong team cohesion significantly increases your chances to make a difference with Power BI.
Pillar Two: Process
Power BI Adoption Strategy
Correct planning underpins every major success. Power BI adoption is just another example where this truth applies.
The right Power BI adoption strategy starts from creating a roadmap with all the projects for the next couple of quarters at least. Make sure all potential stakeholders and the most relevant success criteria are included in your concept.
Power BI Governance
Governance is a very broad term. When it comes to Power BI, it needs to address several different aspects at the same time, ranging from delivery standards to platform SLAs, security, and data quality. Power BI governance will allow to exert control over the platform, limiting risks and exposure to data leaks, and building trustworthiness of the data reported.
We will discuss all those elements in the next articles.
In terms of processes, we need to address one last element: organizational support. This will apply to all levels of the hierarchy:
- Executive sponsorship. C-level support of the transition towards a data-driven company
- Center of Excellence. Organizational unit that supports users on the way to full data literacy
- Data culture. The intangible element which applies across the hierarchy and stimulates the adoption at all levels
So far, I have not seen a company succeeding in fully adopting Power BI without proper organizational support. Usually, when this element was lacking, my clients were revolving around the same place on the journey to full adoption until they finally obtained such support.
Pillar Three: Technology
Report perfection can be understood in various ways. To me, it means that the reports are:
- useful: report consumers can take better decisions thanks to them
- trustworthy: users believe in what they read from the reports
- performant: blazing fast on low volumes, fast enough on huge volumes
- eye-catching: design is key
This is achieved not only via data modelling and optimized DAX queries, but also as a result of seamless cooperation with the BUs and quality UX/UI design.
No report can be perfect if it shows wrong data. Yet, no matter how well you master DAX, you will inherit all the errors and misalignments that are present in your data sources, be it a data warehouse, data lake or any other system.
Beside those two technological aspects (report perfection and sources), you need to consider the usage of the right licenses and how they fit into the overall architecture of both Power BI and your whole data ecosystem.
At this moment, you can see that all the three pillars of Power BI adoption are vital to the success of the platform. Also, chances of winning your audience are few and far between if you focus on technology first. A whole array of other dimensions come into play at every stage of your journey with Power BI.
Learn how Astral Forest can advise you on how to address all the listed elements.