Note: The following is a rare guest blog by my husband, Mr. Kevin Underwood, who agreed to try Power BI Desktop. To my dismay, he refers to himself as an “end user” versus a much nicer sounding “business user” or “customer”.

Over the past 15 years, I have asked Kevin to test various business intelligence tools or review my created reports to share his perspectives. I have tried to inspire him to learn Excel Power Pivot, Tableau, TIBCO Spotfire and Access databases by strategically placing books in areas where he might get bored enough to look at them. I also installed a few of these apps on his laptop. Those tactics failed. He would give them one try to appease me and then never use them again. Kevin told me that all of those tools were way too difficult to learn. He did not want data visualizations. He simply wanted to see detail data in Excel tables. Of all my bazillion, totally fascinating analytics related books, Kevin only stole my Excel books. Thus his actions confirmed his feedback.

Beware, Kevin chose a topic that he is fanatic about…Philadelphia sports teams. Although I am proud of him for finally embracing data visualizations to tell his story, I do apologize to the Phillies for his colorful commentary. Mr. Underwood is not happy with your team right now.

A Guest Blog by Mr. Underwood

Hello…I am the Mr. Underwood that Mrs. Jen Underwood has referred to from time to time in various mediums (conferences, SQL Saturday’s, previous blogs, etc). And this week, whether out of exhaustion or pure curiosity (or both), she has handed me the keys to her blog. Which means, that rather than a highly technical look at Power BI, you will hear from me an “end user”.

Before we commence however, a little background on this “end user”. For many years, I worked in the Project Controls space, analyzing copious amounts of data to help determine whether Projects were ahead or behind schedule, and over or under budget. I was less concerned about the presentation than I was about the answer (and the speed with which I could obtain the answer).  However, I have recently transitioned to a Project Manager role, and I am finding that leadership, sponsors and stakeholders who receive hundreds, if not thousands, of e-mails a week need to see information presented in such a way that they are quickly able to grasp where their attention is needed. In reality however, this applies not just to leadership, sponsors and stakeholders…as every single one of us is time crunched, receives too many e-mails, and is constantly trying to quickly gather, process and analyze information. Thus whether you are trying to present cost and budget information in a time constrained meeting, or on the clock for your fantasy football draft, I found Power BI is a valuable tool that can help…but first…

Why Power BI?

Because my wife works for Microsoft and I like sleeping in the bed (although the dogs have a different opinion). Oh…and because in addition to being very powerful, it is also very free. And as an “end-user”, that is important to me.

First I went to the Power BI home page, found the download link and installed Power BI Desktop.

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That’s right…in this cloud obsessed world, Power BI is a desktop application. However, I quickly found out that I can publish to the web, which means I can access my dashboards from various platforms including my Samsung Galaxy S5, or the family iPad.

From there on to the age old question…do I review the tutorial videos (5 videos in all, totaling about 15 minutes) or do I dive right in.  In case you noticed, the opening sentence said Mr. Underwood…which means I am a male…which means…well, paraphrasing a certain movie line, “We don’t need no stinkin’ videos”. So instead of videos, I jump directly to the Get Data icon in the ribbon bar. And here is my first challenge…what data to use.

I could use 13 years of finances that I have saved in Quicken…but I am way too afraid of what that analysis will show (hey…we like Chili’s, what can I say!). Editorial Comment: What Mr. Underwood really means is that Mrs. Underwood would question how much we are spending on cable TV, electric bills since he likes it to be freezing cold in our house, gadgets or other discretionary spending areas. 

Or I could quickly prepare a data set of who gets more attention from Mrs. Underwood…me or the dogs, but in this case…no need to present the obvious. I thought about fantasy football…especially with the draft this week (and I could update periodically during the season), but no one…and I mean no one, wants to hear about anyone’s fantasy football team. So, ultimately I decided to go with a data set on my Philadelphia Phillies. Why? Because I saw a statistic that said they had to win 100 games every season until 2044 to reach .500 and wanted to see if that was true. Fun fact: The Phillies were the first MLB team to reach 10,000 losses!

Misery of Phillies Fans

Getting the Data

So I went to http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/PHI/ and downloaded my data set. I saved it as a .csv file and then used the Get Data button to load that data into Power BI Desktop. With a few simple clicks, I was able to see that the Phillies had played 20,245 games and lost 10,623.  And then a few more clicks I created a chart that really showed the misery of Phillies fans – 1920 to 1950 left a lot to be desired.

Miserable record

I have learned a few things looking at this data with charts. First thing I learned is that using Power BI with a small data set is not nearly as valuable as using it with a large data set. The power in Power BI is seeing relationships and patterns. The larger the data set, the more insights can be revealed, and the hidden drivers (be it to victories, or profits) behind those relationships identified. In the Phillies data set, I did not believe the 1942 Games Back value of 62. I questioned 62 but after I looked at the table view…sure enough 62 was there. Unbelievably, that horrendous result is only 6th worst of all time.

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The lack of Phillies playoff appearances bar chart also perfectly sums up our misery.

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I thought about adding a pie chart of wins and losses but I didn’t want to irritate my wife. She hates pie charts with a level of intensity rivaled only by a burning hot Florida sun in the middle of summer. I may have to share that lesson learned on my next guest blog…

Should you leave your Pie Chart at home: Take this simple 10 question quiz.

Editorial Comment: Good, he does listen to me after all these years. You should avoid pie charts – read it, try it and see the difference. 

I also learned that Power BI is really quite different from Excel. Although I knew going in that Power BI was not Excel, I struggled to transform my table driven Excel brain into a data visualization driven brain. Hence, I found myself defaulting or trying to get to visualizations that mimicked Excel outputs. And even on the visualizations I did create, I found myself right clicking in an attempt to manually change the axis parameters. For example, I really wanted the 1980 to be displayed vertically under the actual 1980 bar. Once I got the hang of Power BI and saw how using a simple line chart visualization made me aware of the 1942 Phillies pitiful record, I appreciated trying a new way to look at data.

Finally, I identified and shared a few areas where I feel Power BI can incorporate changes to be even friendlier for Excel “end users” like me. I do have an inside connection to the Microsoft Power BI product team. Jen, my wife, just happens to “connect the outside world of end users to engineering”.

Power BI has come a long way

I can say, it has been an enjoyable week. When I played with Power BI in December 2014, I gave up after 2.5 hours (and vowed to live in my safe Excel world forever). But, like my Phillies who finally saw the light and become one of the last, if not the last, MLB team to create an analytics department, Power BI has come a long way…and if the last six months are any indication, Power BI will continue to improve quickly. It won’t be long before it is a data analysis tool of choice for other “end-users”.