Maarten Lauwaert (MI&S) on the importance of Power BI training for controllers
In 2017, the TriFinance Management Information & Systems BCB (MI&S), launched training courses in Power BI and Excel. In doing so, they answered a real demand from the controller community for training in the relatively new Power BI technology. In this short interview, Maarten Lauwaert, Expert Practice Leader Data Analytics, explains the training model and approach. (Nederlandstalige versie)
BI functionalities in Excel
A few years ago, MI&S started with Excel trainings, and you continue to do so. Why?
Maarten Lauwaert: 'For controllers, Power BI and Excel are highly accessible technologies that enable individuals to work independently,' he says. 'We teach people technical skills, but our main focus is on empowering business professionals to effectively handle and analyze data on their own.
‘When PowerBI didn't exist yet, we started with Excel training. We still offer those because some organizations don't have Power BI. There are also BI functionalities in Excel. We train those during the courses. In our Excel training the focus is on Power Query and Power Pivot, which are business intelligence features of Excel.’
The first step in Self-Service BI
Maarten Lauwaert: ‘Those same features are also in Power BI. While Excel is the first step in self-service, Power BI is next level. In Excel the data is always in the file itself. That makes it less secure and less performant. In Power BI, the data is in the cloud. You give users certain permissions, which allow them to access or reuse models. There it is easier to group the data. The performance of Power BI is a lot better. You can build bigger models. You can reuse models. In Excel, you're building new excels all the time. In Power BI, you set up a model once and build several dashboards on it.’
While Excel is the first step in self-service, Power BI is next level. In Excel the data is always in the file itself. That makes it less secure and less performant. In Power BI, the data is in the cloud.
Maarten Lauwaert, Expert Practice Leader Data Analytics
"From Zero to Hero"
Courses are offered on three levels, from a Basics module to an Expert training. What is there to learn in each of those modules?
Maarten Lauwaert: ‘Our training courses are aimed at allowing controllers and other business analysts to grow "from zero to hero” so to speak. We start with a Power BI basics module that zooms in on using an existing model where you learn to build your own dashboard.
'Then we have a Power BI advanced training where you connect and translate data from various data sources into a data model, on which you then build those visuals. That training is more technical and more advanced. Finally, there is Power BI expert training. This is for experienced developers who want to reach a higher level. There we zoom in on Power BI premium features and specific tools and techniques that we use in more advanced modeling techniques.'
Dimensional Modeling Techniques
Do you also teach participants how to set up data models?
Maarten Lauwaert: 'Controllers who are interested in setting up data models can follow a functional training course. This is aimed at teaching analysts how to build good data models. We try to answer questions like: 'What is a good data model?' 'What questions should you ask customers and stakeholders to arrive at a good data model?' The dimensional modeling training is purely functional. It's about how to build a data model. The approach is based on the techniques of Ralph Kimball, a guru in the field of data warehousing and business intelligence. He is best known for his work in designing dimensional modeling techniques, which have become the standard for building data warehouses. We zoom in there, e.g., on a star schema design, but in a training course that is aimed primarily at business people understanding the concepts and asking the right questions so they can apply them in Power BI, not IT people.'
Can you briefly explain what dimensional modeling actually is?
Maarten Lauwaert: ’Dimensional modeling is a technique that originated in the data warehousing world. It's the same technique you use in Power BI. This is not a technical, but a functional concept. For example, you have a star schema, which consists of one or more fact tables that reference any number of dimension tables that you have to create and put together. In the past, we used to talk about data cubes. In Power BI, you talk about data models'.
Open Enrollment, In-house, Master Classes plus Coaching
The trainings come in different forms. Can you elaborate on those?
Maarten Lauwaert: ‘All the trainings are based on open enrollment or in-house formulas. So you can sign up through the TriFinance website, or companies can have the trainings take place in-house. In-house, Power BI training often takes the form of a master class where we offer the four customized training courses, supplemented by several days of coaching. The regular training sessions each last a full day. A master class takes six days, including four days of training and two days of coaching. We take the client through the story in such a way that it becomes easy to embed Power BI in the organization, starting with dimensional modeling, followed by basics, advanced and possibly expert levels.
Our trainings always start from a real-life Controlling case. A Sales-Controlling case in which we bring the different data sources together, and also adapt the dashboards. If we organize in-house trainings, we often adapt the case to our own cases at the request of the client.
The trainings are held three times a year, in Q1, Q2 and Q3, in March, June and September, via open enrollment, somewhere in the country at a remote location. Companies can join. We are aiming for 6 to 10 people in those sessions to make the trainings as personal as possible. It is a do-training with enough space to test your personal questions and experiences against the experiences of your colleagues.
The training lays the foundations for getting good at Power BI, but there are always technical challenges, whether in modeling, visualization, automation or connecting to data sources
Maarten Lauwaert, Expert Practice Leader Data Analytics
Training Plus (includes coaching)
What exactly does this coaching entail?
Maarten Lauwaert: ‘Organizations have the option of calling on an expert consultant from the Data Analytics team to help the organization's employees with their growth. Coaching is very popular. Especially with companies where controllers have taken up the gauntlet to get started with Power BI, but find after the training that it is not so easy after all. The training lays the foundations for getting good at Power BI, but there are always technical challenges, whether in modeling, visualization, automation, or connecting to data sources, for which controllers need help. Our five Power BI trainers are the people who will share their experience in the customer's organization as coaches. All of them are Power BI certified, have more than five years of experience as consultants, and have several years of experience in Power BI implementations.