The word “data” can mean different things to different people. As a Performance Consultant, data is my professional lifeblood, where a lot of my time and energy is spent gathering, cleaning, manipulating and visualising reams and reams of data from all sorts of sources. This is an essential function of Pole Star Digital, as data processing and analysis allows our team to find valuable insights to fuel digital marketing strategies for our clients. So, finding a way to simplify, streamline and automate the processing of data is very important. I’m sure any business would advocate working smarter, not harder! Even as a self-confessed “dataphile”, I will admit that the processing of numbers can be quite mundane and even painful (if logically very challenging). So finding ways to get to the juicy insights and creativeness faster and easier is a fundamental passion of mine. Plus, it means we can innovate our internal processes as we go!

To help me in my eternal data innovation quest, I attended a Microsoft’s PowerBi platform training course in London in June 2018, run jointly with Recann and the Data Movements team.

I would describe PowerBI as the ultimate tool for those who just want to tell a persuasive data story. It’s now ranked one of the top analytics tools available in terms of connectivity with Saas, SQL and a host of custom APIs, with a dedicated army of developers and partners both locally and globally. There are updates, or I should say “upgrades”, on a weekly basis along with some amazing integrations with Excel.

I would say that PowerBI one of my favourite platforms when it comes to data manipulation (apart from my long-standing love for Excel!). There are many systems and tools out there to help data geeks, like myself, to gain insights and influence outcomes quicker than ever before. But PowerBI really stands out, IMO, as one of the most powerful, intuitive data modelling platforms to use. Best of all (especially for a small business like ours) it’s also one of the cheapest in the market.

The training course was a full day of immersive practical exercises which taught me so much more than I anticipated. I would thoroughly recommend signing up for Data Movement’s free courses in the future. (I should point out this isn’t a sales pitch – although if they do some kind of “kickbacks”, you know where to find me… 😉 )

I won’t go into all the details of the workshop in this post, but we covered the following aspects of PowerBI:

  • Accessing Data
  • Data Preparation
  • Data Modelling and Exploration
  • Data Visualisation
  • Publishing Reports
  • Building Dashboards
  • Sharing Dashboards

I would describe myself as being proficient with PowerBI already, but there were a lot of additional functionalities and uses of the platform which were new to me. And it’s really valuable stuff like this you often only discover with in-person training.

Aside from leaving the workshop with a whole new level of expertise, it also put into perspective just how powerful PowerBI is. A fact shared during the workshop was that if Alan Turing had access to something this powerful, he would have broken the Enigma code in minutes (or maybe hours).

The British Library in London is actually home of the Alan Turing Institute, which I paid a visit to the day before workshop – my own data pilgrimage if you will!

If you are unaware of Alan Turing, then you may have heard about the World War II codebreakers at Bletchley Park and the Enigma Machine. Many would say that the outcome of the war can be credited (largely) to the work of Alan Turing and his colleagues.

Breaking the Enigma code took unprecedented dedication, resilience and determination. Alan Turing revelled in the satisfaction of his processes and the eventual outcomes he could influence. And by initiating the automation of data processing, he blazed a trail tackling difficult methodologies involved in creating data.

But his work is the epitome of the journey of data: from its initial creation, the process of manipulation, autonomy through to actual tangible insights. Turing also built the first real computer capable of decoding the cyphers, to speed up the process of understanding the data he and his colleagues received. This outcome helped save many thousands of lives.

Alan Turing completed the whole data process and toiled for years breaking codes manually. But, in my mind, his masterpiece was the automation and speeding up of processes to help the war effort.

So, as I sat in Alan Turing Institute the day before the workshop, I put into perspective some of the data challenges I face on a day-to-day basis. Hardly life and death! But I will admit I do find it hard and frustrating at times. But I view those challenges as a catalyst to seek innovation, to make my work more enjoyable, allowing it to become creative problem-solving. And with innovation, I can reduce the heavy lifting and do away with complications of data processing. Sure, there will always be elements of data modelling and processes. But platforms like PowerBi crucially free up more of my time to explore and understand the data that’s in front of me. And it’s from this insight that we can find the stories that matter.

And I realised just what a privileged position that is to be in, with such powerful tools at our disposal.

To quote Turing himself: “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”

Just think how far we can see into the distance now (metaphorically, of course!) with tools like PowerBI. I can’t help but realise that it’s the dedication and passion of incredible historical trailblazers like Turing which have allowed us – in the world of data – to be in the fortunate and exciting position we are today.

 

Lewis Carroll
Performance Consultant
Pole Star Digital