This is the fourth in a series of five blogs, which attempt to provide airport accounting managers with information on how they can improve their financial management processes. Previously, I wrote about the benefits of using a multi-dimensional accounting system like Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2017, the key to improving productivity and accuracy of data by integrating your accounting system with other airport systems, and how to improve your reports by capturing key statistical data and combining this data with your financial data. In addition, readers are encouraged to read my white paper (Modern Airport, Modern Tools) that covers the same topics in a summarized form. This post continues this series and discusses the benefits of implementing a data visualization product like Power BI.
What is Data Visualization?
Data visualization is a term used to describe products that present your data in a graphical format so you can see patterns and trends that might go undetected in standard financial statements like an income statement. There are many data visualization products in the market, also known as business intelligence (“BI”) products. Typically, these BI products cost a lot of money to implement, but this has changed with the advent of Microsoft Power BI.
Microsoft Power BI
This blog will focus on Microsoft Power BI, a suite of business analytics tools that allow you to analyze data, monitor your business and get answers quickly with rich dashboards available on every device. Power BI was launched in July 2015 and has been rapidly adopted by organizations and now has millions of users worldwide. Power BI can be used on all your devices, including laptops, tablets and smartphones. Just think how amazing it would be to be able to see a dashboard showing your airport’s financial data and key performance metrics on your smartphone while sitting in a coffee shop or hotel lobby.
There are two versions of Power BI:
- Power BI is a free version, which offers basic functionality.
- Power BI PRO offers additional functionality and data capacity and costs $12.20 per user per month (at the time of writing).
Although the basic version is free, you may need some consulting help to connect Power BI to your accounting data and design and develop some dashboards. You could do this yourself, but this would take time to learn the product and it is recommended that you retain a consultant who has this experience since you will get it done much faster. SBS Group can help you with this if needed.
What is a Dashboard?
A dashboard is a graphical representation of your key data. A dashboard is something you create or something a colleague creates and shares with you. It is a single canvas that contains tiles, with each tile displaying a single visualization that was created from a dataset and pinned to the dashboard. You can combine data that is stored on-premises with data on the cloud into the same dashboard, for example, you could combine your accounting data and airport key performance metrics, into a single pane of glass, providing a consolidated view across the organization regardless of where the data lives. Each metric, or insight, is displayed on the dashboard as a tile.
The following simple dashboard has three tiles and shows revenue for a helicopter company in Western Canada (the data is not real). The tile on the left shows a map with circles, which show the helicopter bases. The tile on the top right shows the revenue for each base broken down by individual helicopter, and the tile on the bottom right shows revenue by individual helicopter. If you click on one of the bases on the map, the two tiles on the right will change to display data for that specific base. You can then drill down to the transactions from a bar or slice of the pie chart. As you can see, this is called “data visualization” because it depicts your data in a visual way.
By using an accounting system that has dimensions (please refer to a previous blog for an explanation of dimensions), you can use those dimensions in the dashboard. The above dashboard was created using two dimensions, one for “base” and one for “helicopter”. Microsoft Dynamics NAV has 8 dimensions so you can start to see the power of using dimensions to help create stunning dashboards that will give you a visual view of how your airport is running. With a well-designed dashboard, you can see your whole business on one dashboard. What is more amazing about this new technology is that you can see this dashboard on a laptop, tablet or smartphone from anywhere as long as you have a connection to the internet.
Millions of users are now using Power BI to help them understand their business performance. Download Power BI today from https://powerbi.microsoft.com and start using it. Contact me if you need help with Power BI, or help with any of the other topics covered in this series of blogs.
Paul Fernandez B.Sc., ACMA, CMA
SBS Group Pacific Canada
Paul Fernandez is the general manager of SBS Pacific Canada, which is part of the SBS Group. He has worked as a professional accountant in industry for 25 years in various senior financial positions. He founded his consulting practise 15 years ago and has worked as a consultant implementing accounting systems at many companies, drawing on his own experience to advise clients on the design of their chart of accounts and multi-dimensional reporting structures. Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.