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Introduction Unlock Key Insights with Microsoft Power BI - Experience the British Red Cross Reporting Suite
Microsoft Power BI is a powerful business intelligence tool, allowing for the extraction of key insights and metrics through the use of data visualisation. Our team had the exciting opportunity to use the Power BI tool to produce a reporting suite for the British Red Cross, and we’ve detailed this journey in the article below. This project was completed as part of the Industry Exchange Programme (IXN), in collaboration with our client from the British Red Cross, Russell Craigie, and Microsoft.
We are a team of second-year computer science students at UCL; Sachi Lad, Bryan Cheong and Charis Tseung.
Background and inspiration to the project
We wanted to discover the power of Microsoft Power BI, a robust business intelligence tool that enables data visualization and extraction of crucial metrics. This blog is to share our journey as we develop a comprehensive reporting suite for the British Red Cross, leveraging the capabilities of Power BI. Through the Industry Exchange Programme (IXN), in collaboration with the British Red Cross and Microsoft, our goal is to present an exciting solution that streamlines the complaints, compliments, and comments (CCC) procedure.
Our reporting suite utilizes Power BI to generate tailored reports, offering visualizations on various aspects of the CCC lifecycle, performance metrics, and high-level overviews for senior management and stakeholders. Dive into our solution through detailed presentations and user interaction videos, showcasing the transformative impact of Power BI.
Key Features of Our Solution:
1. Data Flows: Revolutionize your workflow with Power BI Dataflows and Datamarts, consolidating multiple datasets, establishing interconnections, and enabling seamless modifications and dataset updates. Experience increased efficiency and productivity.
2. Themes: Adhere to branding guidelines by creating a personalized report theme that aligns with your organization's visual identity. Easily apply the theme to other reports, fostering consistency and streamlined reporting.
3. Visuals (Graphs): Utilize built-in and custom visuals imported from AppSource to enhance your reports. Leverage intuitive drag-and-drop functionality to implement a variety of visuals, from timelines to Gantt charts and filled maps, providing accurate data representation.
4. Maps: Overcome geographical mapping challenges with our dedicated "United Kingdom" column, ensuring precise drill-down capabilities and eliminating confusion caused by overlapping names.
5. Slicer bar: Empower users to filter reports based on specific dates, services, locations, and feedback categories using the integral slicer bar. Create custom reports on the fly, enhancing user experience and enabling data exploration.
6. Feedback UX: Deliver a responsive and interactive experience within Power BI, employing smart shadow and margin techniques to simulate button clicks. Enhance usability and user engagement on the platform.
7. Apps: Collate and publish your reports as an organized package using Power BI's App feature. Share reports securely with different users, user groups, and the organization as a whole, ensuring scalable distribution.
The British Red Cross previously had an inconsistent approach to translate feedback into learning and service improvements. To improve this process, the British Red Cross created a programme intended to streamline and centralise the complaints, compliments, and comments (CCC) procedure.
As part of this larger programme, our team’s goal was to create a reporting suite using Microsoft Power BI that would display reports on the CCC received at the British Red Cross to support future learning and actions. This suite would produce tailored reports displaying visualisations on different aspects of the CCC lifecycles, metrics related to performance levels and high-level overviews for senior management and stakeholders.
This presentation details our solution, with supporting videos of user interaction with the reporting suite.
Features of Our Solution
1. Data Flows
Initially, we imported data directly from Excel to Power BI workspaces. However, this limited us to one table per dashboard and required manual updates through Power Query for any changes needed.
To overcome these limitations, we explored Power BI Dataflows and Datamarts. This allowed us to consolidate multiple datasets in one dashboard, establish interconnections between data models, and easily modify and refresh datasets for immediate updates in our dashboard. This innovative approach revolutionised our workflow, making it more flexible, dynamic, and user-friendly, resulting in increased efficiency and productivity.
We were given the branding guidelines by the British Red Cross, outlining the preferred colors and fonts to be used in their products and tools. Consequently, we created a personalized report theme that aligns with these guidelines. In order to make the theme easily applicable to other reports, we selected the theme's colors, text font, visual settings, wallpaper, and other elements in accordance with the guidelines. Finally, we saved the current theme as a json file by utilizing the "save current theme" feature, enabling us to download and share it with our team members.
3. Visuals (Graphs)
Most visuals are intuitive to implement simply by dragging and dropping. Apart from the built-in visuals, we also used custom visuals imported from AppSource. For example, the Timeline visual was used for the Date Received slicer in the side bar menu, and the Gantt visual was used for the Open Complaints by Age summary graph. We chose filled maps to implement the UK map visual for their accuracy, despite transparency limitations.
While working with geographical maps in Power BI, we encountered a few challenges that required careful consideration. One particular obstacle was the existence of duplicate city or county names across different countries. This created a problem as it caused Power BI to display incorrect locations on the map. To address this issue, we implemented a solution by incorporating a dedicated "United Kingdom" column and including both the country and county information in the visualisation. This ensured precise drill-down capabilities and eliminated any confusion caused by overlapping names.
5. Slicer bar
The slicer bar is an integral component of every report. It provides the user with the ability to apply filters to the report they are viewing, allowing for the user to focus on specific dates, services, locations and feedback categories. By extension, it facilitates the ability to create custom reports for the user, so that each user is able to see exactly what data they are looking for, without waiting for the creation of a new report type within the suite.
6. Feedback UX
We ensured that users received feedback throughout the dashboard, providing a responsive experience when interacting with elements like buttons in Power BI. Despite the absence of built-in animation features, we employed smart shadow and margin techniques to create the illusion of button clicks. By adjusting the shadow blur and increasing the margin on the top and right side of the button, it visually shifted towards the bottom right, giving users the perception of interaction. This approach delivered an interactive experience, enhancing usability and user engagement within the Power BI platform.
Microsoft Power BI provides an App feature, which allowed us to collate all of our reports into an organised package, and then published to different users, groups of users and the organisation as a whole. Apps also provided the ability to set permission levels for those who access the app, allowing for permission-based security. In the long-term, the apps feature is a scalable solution, allowing for the reporting suite to be shared across the British Red Cross in a secure manner.
Future Development of Project
- Optimize for Performance: Proactively address potential performance issues through data model optimization, incremental refresh, and regular use of Power BI's performance analyzer.
- Colour Calibration: Ensure a consistent experience across different monitors by implementing colour calibration and employing colour-safe palettes.
- Mobile Responsiveness: Design Power BI dashboards with mobile view in mind, catering to the increasing usage of mobile devices.
Optimise for Performance
To address potential performance issues proactively, we can:
Optimise the data model: Use only necessary columns and tables, remove extra calculated columns, and apply measures where suitable.
Implement incremental refresh: Load new or changed data only, reducing refresh times and improving performance.
Use Power BI's performance analyzer: Regularly identify bottlenecks and optimise performance, maintaining a responsive dashboard as the dataset expands.
To ensure a consistent experience, implementing colour calibration and using colour-safe palettes is recommended to minimise visual variations of different monitors.
With the rise of mobile devices, it is important for our Power BI dashboards to be designed with a mobile view, which fortunately is one of the features in Power BI service and Power BI Desktop.
In conclusion, our team had the privilege of utilising Microsoft Power BI to develop a comprehensive reporting suite for the British Red Cross as part of the Industry Exchange Programme (IXN). Through the use of Power BI, we successfully created a reporting suite that provided tailored reports and visualisations on various aspects of the CCC lifecycle, performance metrics, and high-level overviews for senior management and stakeholders.
Throughout the project journey, we encountered and overcome various challenges. We leveraged Power BI Dataflows and Datamarts to enable easy modification and refreshing of data for real-time updates. Additionally, we addressed geographical mapping challenges by including both country and county information to ensure precise locations.
We also focused on the technical details of the project, utilising custom visuals and implementing a personalised report theme in line with the British Red Cross branding guidelines. Furthermore, we employed smart shadow and margin techniques to provide user feedback and interactivity within the dashboard, despite the absence of native animation features in Power BI.
The project yielded positive outcomes, allowing the British Red Cross to translate feedback into learning and service improvements more effectively. The reporting suite provided valuable insights and enhanced decision-making capabilities. Moreover, we learned important lessons about the limitations of the technology and the significance of understanding them when implementing projects.
This project showcased the power of collaboration and teamwork, as we worked closely with our client from the British Red Cross and Microsoft Cloud Advocate to deliver a successful solution. Looking ahead, future development opportunities include optimising performance, implementing colour calibration for consistency, and designing for mobile responsiveness.
Overall, the CCC Reporting Suite using Microsoft Power BI stands as a testament to the capabilities of this business intelligence tool and its potential to drive meaningful change and improvement in organisations.
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