Anyone can create stories through data with Power BI

Written by Natalie Afshar

This blog post is inspired by a workshop on Power BI by Ray Fleming at the Microsoft Learning Partner Summit in January 2018.

It’s 2018, and we live in a world saturated with data. Yet it is not enough to simply crunch numbers, process the data and generate reports. The way we present information has changed. With data visualisation tools like Power BI, we can now tell compelling stories and deliver fascinating insights using the data we have. The key is to focus on the questions we are trying to answer, which leads to a completely different conversation than just generating a report.

One great example is Tacoma Public School District in the US. In 2016, Tacoma Public School transformed their school through harnessing the power of data with Microsoft. In this great video, the superintendent of Tacoma Public School talks about how the graduation rate was 55% when she started working at the school. Through tracking and a relentless use of data, they were able to increase that to 83%. That’s a phenomenal increase. Tackling this included using predictive analytics  – they would identify kids that were starting to fall off track, and do interventions before it was too late. What they found was that the single most important question they had to answer was “what does success mean?”.  They would track a range of measures from attendance, performance, their test scores and state graduation requirements, to which area they live in, which schools they came from and if they are new to the district. On Monday mornings the superintendent would receive a colour coded report, through Power BI, that was able to be accessed on her phone or laptop through the cloud. Students who were coloured red on the report needed her attention most urgently, and it identified which staff members they need to be put in contact with and helped her identify a plan of action.

This is one example of how the right questions, analysed through predictive analytics, can generate truly valuable insights that can transform a school, and student outcomes.

Like Tacoma Public School District, schools around the world are increasingly finding value from the data sets they have. In fact, schools, universities and TAFE’s have tremendous amounts of data – and this data can uncover valuable insights on students, teaching methods and test results. You just need to know how to analyse it.

Many schools need specialists to connect data and setup reports or focus solely on single sources of data such as NAPLAN results. But anyone can take advantage of their data to create meaningful insights with Power BI.  Power BI is a simple to use and powerful service that makes self-service Business Intelligence (BI) dashboards, reports and visualisations easily and quickly available to anyone.

It is Microsoft’s way of letting a user be in control of their data: you can import multiple sources of data from a large range of locations – from an excel spreadsheet to a database or a student management system. Users are presented with a dashboard of information that can be customised and made visually appealing, and that they can dig deeper into. It is cost-effective, flexible and a fast way to do things differently and find answers to critical questions and build a story from data. Here is video summarising Power BI in around a minute.

Power BI is an easy way to make data available to teachers in a school and provide the power of visualisations to the end user. It is available as an app accessible on a phone or tablet, as well as on a laptop. All your data is available in one location, in an easy to access and visually compelling form. The information is available where users need to get to it. Traditional business intelligence (BI) and reporting have always relied on static reports built in VBA or specialised data platforms, requiring a lengthy delay, yet Power BI is simple to set up and gives the end user the power to customise data the way they want.

As an IT manager, you may be wondering how secure your data will be with Power BI? Power BI is built on Azure and comes with all the enhanced security features of Microsoft’s cloud service. You can make your data as secure as you like, giving permissions to the data according to the permissions that people have specific information.  You can read more about the security features of Power BI here and download the Power BI security whitepaper.


Our mission at Microsoft is to equip and empower educators to shape and assure the success of every student. Any teacher can join our effort with free Office 365 Education, find affordable Windows devices and connect with others on the Educator Community for free training and classroom resources. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for our latest updates.