For the last 12 months we have been actively exploring how Microsoft’s Business Intelligence product called PowerBI could be used at St Andrew’s College. I have blogged about our initial experimentations with this here and that post would be a useful piece of pre-reading to provide context to this post.
This week has seen the culmination of a huge amount of work over the last four months, with Tutors being given access to what is being called the Tutor Quadrant Report. Below is a screencast showing some of the features of this (with identifying details blanked out):
Demonstrating The Tutor Quadrant Report
Initial feedback from Tutors has been very positive as they recognise this new report presents a significant step forward in terms of:
- Ease of access – using their existing school username/password to access the report on any device with a browser and anywhere (they are not restricted to being on the College campus).
- The collation of disparate data presented in an easily comprehensible, highly visual format. Previously, to obtain information on attendance, NCEA results, discipline and Fortnightly Notes would have required dozens of clicks, different windows and reports, and even using different platforms (both Synergetic and Sharepoint).
- Speed – the reports load very quickly in the browser.
It is satisfying to hear this type of feedback given the significant level of investment and effort that has been made in developing this platform from where we were 12 months ago.
For some understanding of this journey from Crystal Reporting through to PowerBI, the following video is a quick version of a presentation Mr Dave Neilson and I gave at the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales’ annual ICT Leadership Conference 2016 in Canberra in May. The theme of the conference was Supporting Digital School Improvement and you can download a copy of the slides from this presentation here.
The abbreviated presentation from AIS NSW ICT Leadership Conference 2016
Some of the key points from this presentation include:
- There are multiple ways you can use Microsoft PowerBI, we have explored two methods of deployment:
- Manually generating reports in the free PowerBI Desktop App and publishing and storing content in the Azure blob in the cloud (quick and easy, but limited security options)
- Developing an on-premise data warehouse and using ETL processes to extract data from various sources before loading into a tabular data model and connecting to the cloud via SSAS Gateway Connector. This is also very secure when implemented with row level security.
- PowerBi was preferred at St Andrew’s College for a number of reasons, including:
- It’s scaleable – educational pricing for Pro licenses is affordable (~$4/m per user) and easily managed within the Office365 Licensing Administration area
- It is easy to access – teachers can use their existing school username/password so there is limited barriers to entry and it is accessible via a browser from any device.
- Visualisations of data are excellent. The ability to transform what was previously stored in spreadsheets and rows and columns of data into easily comprehensible displays is critical. There is a range of default visualisations as well as third party generated ones.
With the release of the Tutor Quadrant Report, planning is already underway for the development of further reports for both teaching staff as well as administrative staff. The migration to PowerBI of an existing Tableau report that our Director of Development used has been completed and this enables her to now access data refreshed daily and drill down using the self-service elements of PowerBI. Pleasingly, she has already identified a number of enhancements she would like to see – this is something we anticipated would occur once the end users started getting more meaningful access to the data.
Additionally, rebuilding a very detailed NCEA report similar to what we explored in the original proof of concept will be important for academic staff to monitor progress as the year progresses. Ideally, we should see some accelerated development now that the backend infrastructure is in place.
Lastly, there is rapid development happening on the PowerBI platform all the time. One of the most exciting developments is the ability to embed reports into an existing website or portal and even apps, opening up a huge range of possibilities where we could securely share reports like those above with students and parents. For now, that is in the medium to long term planning, as we focus on rapidly deploying further PowerBI reports for the College staff.