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Moving on up to the power in BI

Spreadsheet within Microsoft Power BI

A few weeks ago, my Aunt took delivery of her new car.

By Matthew Fraser, Technical Consultant

Like many of us these days, she enjoys the contract arrangement where a new car appears as if by magic every three years, and the preceding car is towed away – presumably to live out its remaining days on a remote racetrack.

To my untrained eye, it was pretty much the same car that she had last time but in a slightly
different colour (she has had the same model from a certain Korean manufacturer for the last three
cars), but I was quickly informed that it “most certainly was not the same car”.

For one thing, “it doesn’t have tinted rear windows”. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but this has
been a bone of contention for my Aunt since a friend of mine commented that her previous car
looked like a van. It’s also got lots of new bells & whistles, is safer and more efficient but I think the
tinted windows are the most important change.

The arrival of the new car got me thinking: Why are all these contracts over three years? Is it just a
UK thing to save the embarrassment of a car – for which you are still paying a fortune – failing an
MOT? Or is three years a more universal thing in human psychology. As we pass 1,000 days of
possessing something, does it lose its shine? I think it might!

The switch to PowerBI

This thought is somewhat confirmed by my reaction to Socitm Improve’s decision to move on from
Tableau, and embrace PowerBI to deliver our data-driven reports, which are included as part of our
Enhanced and Executive memberships.

It was back in 2016 that we embarked on our Tableau journey, and everything was fresh and
shiny. But in the last year or so, in my heart, it had lost a little of the magic. (You see, we foolishly
carried it over to year four – it must be an innate response!)

So, when it was suggested that we transfer over to Microsoft PowerBI for our reporting, I was
excited to see what it can offer. Although, I was also a little nervous.

You see, while on the face of it our reports within Tableau have remained the same since 2016, in
reality they have been in constant flux. We have always viewed “Improve” as being less of a brand,
and more of a mission statement. So in those four years, we were continually tweaking our reports
as we received feedback and requests from participants.

Every time a consultant at a workshop would start a sentence “It is a shame we cannot …”, we ran
back to our keyboards to find out if we could. More often than not, we were happy to find there
was a solution.

Now the question was, could these things be done in PowerBI?

Well, after months of development, I hope you will agree that the answer has been yes.

Managing change

That is not to say that it has been straightforward. After four years, we’ve become very comfortable
“driving” Tableau, and I’d learned lots of tricks that made the seemingly impossible, possible.

Learning to do these same things in PowerBI has been a varied learning curve. On the one hand,
some elements are simpler than ever, with no clever tricks needed. But there have also been
elements which have required hours of head scratching.

But that is exactly what it is like when you get a new car. For the first couple of days, you play with
all the new toys at your disposal. Then, after a week, you start to miss all the things you liked about
the old car, like where did the CD player go?! (It was bad enough having to get rid of my cassettes
for the last car.)

Then as time moves forward, you just get used to the new car. You understand how to make it go
fast round the corners; you find hidden storage space you didn’t know about; and in the first
snowfall you really appreciate the clever electronics that keep you on the road.

I’m happy to say that it is in this final stage where I now reside with PowerBI. Yes, on occasion I miss
something that I recall being simpler in Tableau, but I am enjoying finding out how the same results
can be achieved, and even enhanced.

But will I still be happy in three years, or will it be time for something new? That is the next


Now, I’m sure this isn’t unique, but in my family whenever anyone gets a new car we always drive it
round to each other’s homes so we can admire it.

We look in the boot and marvel at how large it is, or comment on how dinky it may be. Each of us
take it in turns to compare the relative comfort of the front and back seats. Then finally, after
appreciating all the static elements of the car, we are taken for a short drive so that we can assess
how smooth and quiet a ride it is – we even have a special hill we drive up to see how much oomph it

Alas, under our current restrictions my Aunt was deprived of this pleasure. But due to the virtual
nature of PowerBI, we still get the chance to show it off. So, if you would like to be taken for a spin,
let us know. We are more than keen to show what we can do with our new toy.