Power BI Centre of Excellence, What and Why – Part 1 of PBI COE Series.

Power BI CoE is an important concept if it is understood that Power BI implementation does not end when the platform is open and available to your organisation.

Implementation starts at this point.

Centre of excellence is one approach to help the business to maximise the benefits realisation, fast track the ROI, provide an all-round greater experience to your business and minimise the risks and downsides of a flexible, business self-service tool as versatile as Power BI.

In this series of posts about Power BI Centres of Excellence, I will develop the concepts that in my opinion are key for success. Most of these concepts have been thought and implemented, with different degrees of success, whilst creating the Power BI CoE that I lead and whilst growing exponentially our Power BI adoption, in one of the largest implementations of Power BI  in the world.

So, what is a Power BI Centre of Excellence?

You can Google your way to formal, comprehensive, and boring definitions of “Centre of Excellence”, there are some good ones.

As a general concept, a Centre of Excellence is all about maximising and accelerating the benefits, minimising, or avoiding risks, and at the same time, reducing the costs, delivering value and providing best in class experience for your organisation.

In other words: Power BI Centre of Excellence should be the organisation that supports the company in leveraging all the benefits (existing and new) coming from Power BI Platform, providing guidelines and best practices for both IT delivery and business self-service, whilst ensuring that authors and users can collaborate in a safe, controlled and governed environment.

CoE would also ensure that architectural patterns for Power BI solutions are developed, updated and communicated, which should also help on one more CoE responsibility: keeping costs to the minimum, for those elements related to Power BI delivery, such as license, Premium and other Azure components.

Some organisations can also benefit from a CoE that delivers best in class analytics solutions on Power BI. Depending on the size of the organisation, it is also considered to include Data Expertise within this CoE, if there isn´t better home within the company.

Why a Power BI Centre of Excellence?

Your organisation has invested resources in bringing Power BI in: money that could have been spent somewhere else, time and effort that could have been dedicated to something else, smart hard working engineers that have implemented it that could have been working implementing some other technology, but Benefits Realisation is not a direct and unavoidable consequence of implementing Power BI platform.

What can be missed by any organisation’s management is that, bringing Power BI to the hands of their employees might not be enough. I say “might” because Power BI is designed to be used by developers and business analysts, and there is a sheer amount of training material and best practices freely available that can help any individual to master the use of the technology without internal direction.

But if you think that just because training and best practices are available, your organisation is going to make a good use of Power BI, you are set for a lot of let-down.

Misuse of the technology does not only come from untrained, unaware and (only) sometimes ill-disciplined business users, it also comes from developers that are paid to deliver professional results. Whilst the former might be more common, the latter is not rare at all, and as per my experience, those architects and developers that deliver suboptimal designs and implementations can cause immense harm, rework and waste of money and credibility loss. Takes time and hard work to earn credibility, and a heartbeat to lose, whereas money and opportunities can be lost forever.

From a different perspective, Power BI has seen a dramatic evolution of its scope in the last 12 months prior to this September 2020. Whilst Power BI, some years ago, was a good Reporting and Analytics platform with some nice lightweight ETL capability, nowadays with Dataflows, Enhanced Compute Engine, XMLA read/write endpoint and Premium Large Models, Power BI has become a comprehensive platform, capable of delivering reliable large scale solutions (either from IT managed or business self service developments) at a fraction of the traditional BI solutions cost, time and effort, compared with architectural patterns designed 1-2 years ago.

This means that platform’s evolution is constantly creating new opportunities for cost reduction and improved value delivered to the business. All those opportunities can be considered as potential benefits and risks at the same time: if harnessed timely and appropriately, there is a form of benefit to realise, however losing those opportunities, might imply certain risks, such as:

  • Missed opportunities to save costs, not using a more cost-effective architecture.
  • Technical debt, in form of implementations that might be based architectural pattern obsolete (or suboptimal) within a year or two after its go live.
  • Architectural chaos, if business and IT are left to take their own decisions based on partial criteria.   

In the last few paragraphs, we have seen (high level) some areas of risks to avoid and benefits to realise, which link to my definition of Power BI Centre of Excellence at the beginning of this article, although there is one question to be answered: do you really need a PBI CoE to oversee those?

Any organisation might have distributed responsibilities for Architecture, Solution Design, Security and Governance, and those could take care of the scenarios mentioned, however, considering the ample scope of Power BI, skills needed to understand architecture, performance, best practices and guidelines and the complexity of some of these areas, would demand a high level of specialisation from all those teams (Architecture, Security,..), which might not be achieved as those teams, due, as mentioned to the wide scope of Power BI Platform.

 A PBI CoE is an efficient construct to address these needs, which sometimes can play a consultancy role or be in the driving seat to implement changes that affect to several areas. There is huge benefit from having a focused Power BI expert team that can address all these needs holistically.

Bottom line: an FTE allocation is required for managing properly Power BI platform, developments, community and evolution, no matter where this FTE is allocated, therefore any organisation will be better off having these resources with the right level of specialisation.

As for what is the level of resourcing required, the answers will vary depending on many factors, and we can see examples ranging from one (very stressed) man army to larger teams (20+). There will be a later article about resourcing a Power BI Centre of Excellence, which is a topic that deserves dedicated development.

One more addition: Business Self-Service.

This topic will be also covered in its own series of articles, but in here, I will just state that Power BI is a truly business self-service BI tool, which means that normal business analysts (non-developers) will get to deliver business insights using this platform with a great degree of freedom, which in one hand is an immense benefit but also, on the other hand, poses multiple risks (again, massive topic to be developed elsewhere).

It is difficult to think about IT Platform teams effectively managing a self-service community. Community which in turn, does require guidance and support. Again, a CoE is the ideal organisation to successfully manage such community.

The wide scope of Power BI Platform, the knowledge and skills required to understand potential benefits and risks (and how to deal with them), in addition to the not-so-usual needs of a self-service community, makes a Power BI Centre of Excellence one great  option to ensure that the value from this platform is delivered fast to the organisation, maximising the benefits realisation and minimising the risks associated with the freedom that this technology brings to the hands of the users and developers.

Power BI Centre of Excellence Series Articles:

References:

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