12 Microsoft Power BI success stories

By:  Thor Olavsrud

Self-service BI is on the rise among forward-thinking organizations, enabling business users to obtain up-to-the-minute business information in graphical form on demand — with little to no IT intervention. Since the release of Microsoft Power BI, organizations around the world have been turning to the cloud-based service for self-service business intelligence tools that allow users to analyze, visualize and share data using the familiar Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Here are 12 success stories built on Microsoft Power BI.

Fort Worth Boys & Girls Clubs track program success

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Fort Worth, Texas, needed to track the success of its programs and participants. But legacy and siloed data sources and systems prevented the organization from gaining a comprehensive view of data related to each child. Most of this data sat in monthly PDF reports.

“We needed a more dynamic view, both to help our own decisions as well as to communicate back to our board and donors about how we’re doing,” says Daphne Barlow Stigliano, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Fort Worth.

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“Being able to analyze patterns of participation is extremely important for us to be able to predict how well these kids will do in the future, and whether or not our programs are working,” she adds. “We needed to be able to ask bigger questions from our information and get more nuanced, compelling answers.”

Systems integrator Doyenne360 helped the non-profit build a system using Azure Event Hubs to recognize a new PDF file and convert it into a comma-separated values (CSV) format, which Azure Stream Analytics then feeds into dynamic dashboards built using Power BI. The non-profit can now cross-correlate data and individuals.

“Now we can look at things like academic achievement and academic participation by location, which would have been very difficult for us to do before,” Stigliano says. “That’s what this project is helping us do — layer information to be more predictive about whether we’re making the kind of difference we want to make in the life of a child.”

Dallas Zoo uses data to better care for elephants

Not so long ago, keeping detailed track of the behavior and location of the elephants in the five-acre Giants of the Savanna exhibit at the Dallas Zoo was no easy task. The zoo staff used a combination of video cameras and direct observation.

In 2013, the zoo introduced RFID-powered elephant “ankle bracelets” that provided data on where each elephant was located — down to one meter — and how far and fast each elephant traveled. The new data was useful, but managing it was still tricky. Much of the data was in spreadsheets, and the zoo’s software could handle only 15 days’ worth of data at a time. It was impossible to gain insights from long-term data — such as behavioral changes as elephants aged. Integrating external data, including weather changes and the zoo’s attendance fluctuations, was also difficult.

Then, in 2015, Microsoft solution provider US Medical IT helped the zoo enhance its RFID system with a Microsoft SQL Server 2016-based data warehouse hosted on Microsoft Azure. The data warehouse synchronizes the RFID daily data and links it to five other data sources, all of which in turn is made available to Power BI analysis and reporting services. Now the zoo can collect and analyze data across multiple years, and kiosks at the exhibit can show visitors the exact location of each elephant.

The zoo is now interested in how the technology can be adapted to other species, and other institutions are asking Nancy Scott, coordinator of Elephant Behavioral Science at the Dallas Zoo, how the technology could be adapted to their organizations.

“The RFID and Microsoft solution really has the potential to increase the quality of life and care we can provide to animals worldwide,” Scott says. “It’s also an incredible tool to help us tell the story of elephants in human care today.”

Meijer boosts profitability with data insights

Supermarket chain Meijer, one of the U.S.’s largest private companies, had become dependent on its IT organization to extract insight from its data. To gain agility, it needed to create a more self-sufficient BI environment.

“No matter where I go, the demand for BI is always greater than the supply,” says Marilyn Richards, director of business intelligence and collaboration at Meijer. “And people don’t always have time to wait for IT to build every report. Plus, they were unable to do on-the-fly, ad hoc analysis easily. We have to empower the business customers with relevant and timely reporting to react quickly and appropriately.”

With the help of Microsoft BI partner obviEnce, Meijer connected Power BI to an on-premises SQL Server Analysis Services cube with 20 billion rows of data refreshed in near-real time.

“With Power BI and SQL Server Analysis Services, teams can pull in the data they need and ask their own questions, instead of my having to create a solution that answers every single question,” says Joseph Openshaw, Meijer’s IT manager of business intelligence.

Real Madrid analyzes social media data to customize marketing campaigns

With 450 million global supporters, Real Madrid is the leading sports franchise in the world. The majority of the club’s fans live outside of Spain and can’t make it to the stadium. Real Madrid needed a technology solution that would support digital services and allow it to collect and analyze data on its fans.

“We wanted to connect with all the people who support Real Madrid in the world,” says José Ángel Sánchez, CEO of Real Madrid. “It is critical for us to understand and learn from them, because in the end, the club belongs to them.”

Working with Microsoft Services, Real Madrid built a platform-as-a-service solution based on Microsoft Cloud and Office 365. It includes a fan engagement platform, extended video platform, and consumer app, all of which provide telemetry data surfaced through Power BI.

“We can create a one-to-one relationship with fans around the planet with the Microsoft solution, connecting this huge community of people and making the experience of being a supporter of Real Madrid much better,” Sánchez says.

ABB Italy accelerates custom BI reporting

ABB Italy, a subsidiary of manufacturer ABB, needed a state-of-the-art BI application to provide deeper market analyses and visual reporting for the region’s manufacturing business. At first it built its own solution. Accessing available reports was easy, but generating new reports required going through an IT liaison to the company’s external IT supplier. That process could take up to four weeks.

“Our users are more tech-savvy than they were a few years ago,” says Massimiliano Cimnaghi, IS technology manager at ABB Italy. “They use mobile phones, shop on websites — and expect the tools they use at work, including BI, to be as easy to understand, and as fast and simple to use, as their personal technologies.”

ABB adopted Power BI and freed up IT resources, reduced reliance on outside suppliers, and empowered marketing managers and business users to query internal and external data sets and develop more insightful reporting. ABB Italy can now generate custom reports in just a few hours.

“Before, you really thought twice about ordering a custom report and sometimes you didn’t do it,” says Alessandra Gilberti, BI manager for ABB Italy. “Now, if you have a question, you can use Power BI to find the answer. There’s no barrier between you and the analysis you want to perform.”

Carnegie Mellon slashes energy consumption

Established in 1900, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is a leading research institute with seven globally recognized schools and colleges. CMU sought to manage energy efficiently in large buildings and across multiple sites.

For example, the Robert L. Preger Intelligent Workplace at the CMU School of Architecture’s Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics is a 7,000-square-foot laboratory that includes more than 10 data collection and control systems, and hundreds of sensors and actuators that control functions like heating and cooling, lights, ventilation, plug load, and security. Data was collected separately from each system for analysis, a time-consuming process that produced limited insight into system performance.

CMU partner OSIsoft created a Power BI-based solution called PI System that allowed them to track energy usage over time, by category, by building, and so on. The solution uses Power Query, Q&A and Power Maps to ask questions of the data and get immediate answers and to display energy usage in a map-based format. CMU has provided access to the data to a range of employees throughout the university. By making the data more accessible, the university has been able to identify faulty equipment and cut energy consumption in its own laboratory by one-third.

Condé Nast reduces redundant reporting tasks

Condé Nast, a global media company, needed better insight into the performance of its 20 industry-leading print and digital media brands, but struggled with pulling data together from multiple sources. Additionally, it often fielded redundant requests from the sales and editorial teams.

“Because we have multiple brands, we get a lot of the same requests for data,” says Cara Weiss, senior director of marketing analytics at Condé Nast. “There’s also a lot of back and forth with one request, because there might be four or five iterations before they see the story they want to tell.”

The company implemented a solution based on Power BI, providing cross-platform insights into data from multiple sources and partners. The self-service nature of Power BI has decreased Condé Nast’s “time-to-answer” by decentralizing the dissemination of centrally maintained information and increased the business’s agility. The company cut its redundant reporting tasks by 30 percent.

“Power BI is a solution for the ‘second question’ problem we’re increasingly seeing,” says Justin Glatz, director of business and corporate systems at Condé Nast. “Many other BI solutions work well for answering that first question, but it’s almost impossible to follow up. In contrast, Power BI seems designed from the start to quickly answer the chain of questions that arise after the first inquiry.”

Enlighten Designs helps customers unlock their data

New Zealand-based application developer and systems integrator Enlighten Designs wanted to ensure that all of its customers — including small businesses and schools — could benefit from BI tools.

“Our customers are not just looking at gaining insights from their data, but also want to make organizational decisions from it,” says Damon Kelly, CEO at Enlighten Designs. “Our customers want to unlock information in such a way that business users can ask questions and get answers themselves instead of waiting for IT to generate a report.”

To unlock data and provide customers with data discovery and analysis capabilities they can use with familiar tools, the company is helping customers implement Microsoft Power BI with Microsoft Excel 2013. This provides customers with a cloud-based solution that can be easily used by people at all levels of an organization.

One customer, Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec), is now using the tools to identify which students are struggling and in danger of dropping out. The technology allows it to track trends across the student population, but also drill down to find and support individual students.

Helse Vest collects, visualizes and shares medical data

Norwegian regional health authority Helse Vest operates 50 healthcare facilities (including 10 hospitals). As part of a recent national patient safety program, Helse Vest hospitals were asked to collect, visualize and share medical data to identify quality measures and reporting requirements across all care teams and hospitals. That required each of the 10 hospitals to combine data from all facilities in its region for analysis — a daunting task because none had an easy method of combining and visualizing the data.

By implementing Power BI to combine the data and build analytical reports, Helse Vest reduced the time to build reports from 14 days to less than one day. Employees can now use the solution to view and visualize data from multiple hospitals in the region.

“We can visualize our medical data much more quickly and easily than before. Our reports and more dynamic and more detailed than anything we’ve seen before,” says Anund Rannestad, head of innovation for Stavanger University Hospital, the second-largest hospital in the Helse Vest system.

For instance, Helse Vest can now view combined surgery data, providing the ability to compare operating checklist trends from the different hospitals in the region.

“We now have real-time data, which means we get updated data metrics for the staff at each hospital,” Rannestad says. “This will help us act on those metrics much sooner, while the metrics are still valid for the staff, and we believe this will have a significant positive impact on patient safety measures.”

MediaCom boosts productivity and optimizes ad campaigns

Global advertising agency MediaCom needed to measure the health of ad campaigns it created to optimize performance and spending. It needed to pull together the results into a single, composite score within hours. But it was faced with isolated systems, a variety of third-party data sources and expensive and complicated BI software.

With Microsoft and Power BI, MediaCom created a “health check” that quickly captured the many facets of a multi-platform media campaign, boosting productivity by 10 percent and gain anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars per campaign.

“Power BI will fundamentally change the way we manage campaign performance,” says Lowell Simpson, CIO of MediaCom. “Digital moves much faster than traditional campaigns, so gaining the ability to optimize all channels on a daily basis is a real improvement.”

North Tees uses BI to boost clinical outcomes

For years, the North Tees and Hartlepool National Health Services Foundation Trust used an on-premises Ascribe clinical intelligence system to track the clinical use of drugs, the costs associated and efficacy of treatment. But the system did not allow North Tees to include external data sets or explore the data in real-time.

Then North Tees become a test site for a self-service BI toolset based on Power BI. Developers took an extract of North Tees data and imported it into a Power Pivot model built in a day; previously, it would’ve taken five days. Now North Tees can incorporate external data sets into its analyses, deliver more intuitive and persuasive reports and reduce costs.

“With Microsoft Power BI and Ascribe, we could understand which bacteria are resistant to which antibiotics in various areas at various times,” says Prof. Philip Dean, head of the Department of Pharmacy and Quality Control Laboratory Services at the North Tees and Hartlepool National Health Services Trust. “We could understand how socio-economic status affects the health of, and medicines used by, our population. There’s virtually nothing we can’t understand better with this technology.”

Oslo University analyzes healthcare data in hours rather than months

Oslo University Hospital is Scandinavia’s largest hospital, born from the merger of four smaller hospitals in 2010. The hospitals had separate databases that had to be merged for enterprise-wide analyses. For instance, the two radiology departments used various types of medical imaging at different frequencies, making it difficult to determine things like what type of test was more commonly used at one facility. Analysis often required programming skills that researchers and administrators lacked and reports had to be run by the IT department.

The hospital implemented a solution that used Power Query to collect radiology data from department systems. The data was loaded into a cloud-based database and then prepared and organized in a Power Query workbook in Excel, hosted on a Power BI website that can be used as a collaboration site for sharing queries among researchers. By implementing Power BI, radiology data that would have taken months to collect and analyze could now be analyzed and presented to executives and researchers within hours.

“This is a dream,” says Eli Marie Sager, MD, CEO of The Clinic for Diagnostics and Intervention at Oslo University Hospital. “With Power BI, we can understand what is happening in the departments in a few hours, rather than after months.”