FIT combines traditional BI with self-service BI
Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) draws up reports for Flemish companies, the press and the government. The organisation is being required to produce reports with increasingly complex analyses faster and faster. In order to keep up with this demand, FIT switched to Microsoft Business Intelligence software with support from IT partner, Kohera.
“Microsoft BI is much more budget-friendly and offers more options than our previous BI software,” says Peter Bulckaert, head of the Finance and IT department for FIT. “The self-service options in Power BI enable our end users to create reports themselves quickly. Previously they always had to ask the IT department, and it could sometimes take up to a month before the report was ready if our IT formed a bottleneck, so we regularly had to hire in external specialists to prepare them. End users have much more control now, and the IT department is less burdened so it can concentrate on other matters.”
Experienced BI specialist
This was FIT’s first collaboration with BI specialist Kohera. “We selected them after a public call for tender,” explains Peter Bulckaert. “The correct price coupled with technical experience, a highly-qualified team and internal quality controls proved decisive.”
Kohera first analysed the existing data warehouse environment and made a proposal to improve it. The database migration ran smoothly without any problems, in accordance with the agreements made for timing and budget. FIT started by creating a number of basic reports, based on SQL Server Reporting Services, together with the consultant from Kohera. This concerned the export and import figures originating from the Nationale Bank, amongst other things. This information has to be available to all employees, government institutions and companies, as well as the general public, at all times. It is therefore now available online since Kohera integrated Reporting Services in the FIT website.
Good for the image
“We used the latest technology because it gives us a dynamic and progressive image,” says Peter Bulckaert. “This is important, because our organisation has to promote Flemish enterprise and attract investors worldwide.”
Katrijn Desaeger, BI project manager for Flanders Investment & Trade: “The advantage of Excel is that it’s familiar to users and we can combine all sorts of data quickly.”
Combination of standard BI with self-service and data enrichment
“We now combine our more static standard BI reporting – which answers recurring questions about the current situation – with ad hoc reporting via Excel,” explains Peter Bulckaert. “The advantage of Excel Power BI is that it’s familiar to users and we can combine all sorts of data very quickly, not just from our SQL Server data warehouse, which is managed by IT, but also from other sources,” says Katrijn Desaeger, BI project manager. “These enrichment options mean users can for example compare Flemish export figures with the number of inhabitants or the GNP. We get the figures directly from the most authentic source on the internet. We then link this to the report without first importing the figures in Excel. This means you’re always comparing the latest figures without updating the page manually.”
Power users with no IT background
The self-service reporting via Excel and Power BI is only done by four users, the ‘power users’, in the Brussels head office. Thanks to the training from Kohera, they have mastered options such as Power Pivot, Power View and Power Map.
“Users don’t need an IT background to be able to work with Power BI,” says Peter Bulckaert. “The Microsoft tools actually hide the complex, underlying models. Users can produce analyses faster now too. There are also fewer misunderstandings between the IT department and end users than was sometimes the case before. It’s the latter who know the business world and are most familiar with which figures they want to use and present, so fewer mistakes are made.”
From 250 to 10 standard reports
The self-service BI also means FIT needs to provide much fewer standard reports than previously. Katrijn Desaeger: “There used to be around 250, and some were only used once. This ultimately became very complex. We only have ten now, so they’re much easier to manage and do not burden the environment. The IT department and users are very happy with the new way of working.”
Another important advantage is the switch to Windows 8.1 in parallel with the BI project. With Direct Access, every PC has an automatic internet connection to the FIT IT network, so users have access to all reports. “This is very useful considering FIT employees are often abroad,” says Peter Bulckaert.
Even more accessible via SharePoint Online
There are a number of extras planned in the near future. “We want to transfer the reports from our network to SharePoint Online, part of Office 365, so they’re even more accessible and can be shared more easily,” says Katrijn Desaeger. “Users will also have Power BI touch enabled on their smartphone or tablet. And there will be a link to CRM for reporting on our internal operation too.”
Search engine data and social media
And there are even more plans. “We also want to link information from social media and search queries to our data,” says Peter Bulckaert. “This would make it possible to analyse figures for online search queries for ‘Belgian beer’ from the United States, for example. This means we’ll also be able to provide companies and sectors in our country with reports on expected trends in the market alongside reports with historical data, so that they can adapt faster.”
Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) helps promote Flemish companies’ international enterprise and bring foreign investors to Flanders. Alongside its head office in Brussels, FIT also has a network of local branches in each Flemish province and more than 90 offices worldwide, with around 360 employees in total.