Digital Transformation is a mantra that echoes year after year. It seems that there is recently a true paradigm shift. Analytics and metrics are everywhere, from news broadcasts to the watches on our wrists. Opening the doors to the promise of “digital transformation” demands new skills and mindsets. 

Citizen Developers are professionals for whom the mastery of analytics and metrics is critical, but not the only goal within an organization. While designing, building, and using applications that solve business problems was once the purview of IT Professionals or Statisticians, now anyone can use business intelligence suites like Power BI to make smarter, more effective business decisions. 

The rise of citizen developers

Many reasons can be cited for the emergence of citizen developers:

  1. A shortage of programmers and developers is projected to reach half a million by 2023. This situation could exceed even that due to the acceleration of the global economy’s leap towards digitalization resulting from the pandemic.
  2. The lack of time and budget of IT departments to promptly address the increasing demands of business users.
  3. The specialized knowledge that business users have about their area allows them to adapt workflows and tools to new technological solutions.
  4. Conflicts arising from disparate reporting, analytic, and data platforms (costs, number of licenses, integration difficulties with the organization’s tech or protocols).
  5. Non-code/low-code development platforms enable citizen developers to build apps that provide solutions to business problems and improve workflows.
  6. A balance in developing solutions between IT and the business users allows faster iteration to implement solutions. 

Today, many businesses rely on citizen developers for application development and usage. The Power BI suite is one of these platforms that citizen developers use to provide their companies greater value. Following are some challenges and corresponding recommendations for those starting to tread the citizen developer path.

Challenge 1 – Create trust via data governance, accuracy, and security

Citizen developers must be aware of the organization’s data governance policy and begin by asking themselves:

  • Is there a structured system of permissions for internal data access?
  • At what level is the data to which access is desired, and with whom can it be shared?
  • Will data be shared with audiences outside the company (customers, etc.)?
  • Are there any external or internal regulations and restrictions that prevent you from capturing or using certain data (such as GRPD)?

With the framework in place, define which data sources to use (CRMs, Excel sheets, databases, websites, or SharePoint sites, for example). Metrics can be collected from several sources.

Before thinking of sources and parameters, citizen developers need to be sure they have access to all of the resources they really need. They should care about the data model, the information they need to monitor or show, the relevancy to the resulting solution. Data cleansing is key. Hey need to make sure they

Be extra careful not to leave behind a vital, key point: data security. Under no circumstances should citizen developers expose the data sources to any security risk, like potential loss, corruption, theft, or public dissemination. To this end, it is necessary to follow each organization’s protocols in this matter scrupulously.

Depending on your organization’s requirements, this could entail using only computers belonging to the organization, avoiding external memory devices, password protection, and requiring cybersecurity awareness training.

Challenge 2 – Stay focused on what the business demands

Once all adequate sources are in place, we can start shaping our Power BI project.

We must precisely define what data is going on the dashboard or report according to the business framework and the target audience. Other considerations may be made, such as the periods to cover or how frequently data is updated. To do this, we must ask ourselves: what is the purpose of this dashboard or report? And what is the target audience expecting from it?

Depending on the audience and objectives, we should determine the dashboard’s “must-haves.”

General or detailed data? Short or long-term views? What should be the context level? Does it require data flowing in real-time to help us detect anomalies?

Those are the kind of questions citizen developers must ask themselves before making any move. Otherwise, a dashboard may contain tons of data, but not serve the purpose the audience needs. Make sure that data can be turned into information according to your business needs before data modeling.

Challenge 3 – Create enterprise-grade visuals

The third challenge for starting citizen developers is to make their dashboards look professional. The right data sources and metrics should be already there, but the result must also convey professionalism.

If the data is relevant, but the chart is confusing, the dashboard will not actually provide good business intelligence. Therefore, citizen developers must understand the best practices of the visuals and functionalities offered by Power BI.

Learning just two or three charts may lead to trouble or delays when an analysis demands another approach. Worse, despite data’s quality and relevance, conclusions may be obscured if a dashboard is not up to the task.

While it is unnecessary to master the more than 100 templates and standard documents published by Microsoft, it is still advisable to use visuals appropriate to the analytic goal. Think also of what colors need to be used, how the information flow should be experienced, and the report’s navigation. Creative and coherent use of bookmarking, drill-down, highlighting, and drill-through can guide the user to information.

Look for Power BI best practices guides, and enroll in any free online Power BI workshops sponsored by Microsoft, such as Dashboard in a Day. After attending a Dashboard in a Day, you will have learned to:

  • Connect to, import, and transform data from a variety of sources
  • Define business rules and KPIs
  • Explore data with powerful visualization tools
  • Build stunning reports
  • Share dashboards with their team and business partners, and publish them to the web

Challenge 4 – Learn to tell stories with data

A report or dashboard made with Power BI must be able to tell a story. Data-driven decision-makers need to know:

  • What happened and why
  • What is happening and why
  • How the situation might evolve
  • What we can do to achieve a given objective

In other words, it’s time to stop talking about data and start getting some information. The citizen developer needs to jump into storytelling, choosing the right data and modeling visualizations capable of delivering:

  • Context
  • Analysis
  • Predictions

Why make a dashboard if not to turn it into a decision-making tool? Previously, we had chosen data and visualization formats. Now, we unveil the narrative behind it all to envision answers to our questions and construct knowledge.

Challenge 5 – Stay updated with rapidly evolving capabilities and features

Once the citizen developer has a basic understanding of Power BI, another important factor arises. Power BI receives frequent updates to keep the data secure, improve its functionality and connectivity. The desktop version receives monthly updates, and the cloud-based one is also frequently updated.

A basic skill set may seem a safe bet, but soon enough, failure to update comes with an opportunity cost. Updates may also require revisiting the first challenge, data governance, to ensure new features or platform enhancements do not create conflicts or compromise standards.

Bonus Challenge – Leverage targeted assistance

There are many resources at your disposal. Microsoft documentation, webinars and workshops, and articles and tutorials from specialized media and the community.

But sometimes, this may not be enough, and it is a good idea to turn to mentoring. Many online programs include an expert who may answer doubts and questions. Calling on these professionals can make a difference in tool control, saving precious time, and refining existing skills. At Lucient, we actively recommend targeted assistance… especially when there is an immediate project deadline!

Would you like to attend a free online Power BI Dashboard in a Day, co-sponsored by Microsoft and Lucient? Contact us!