Bailey Scott, Cloud Solution Architect, writes...
It’s all too easy to lambaste the government following the recent issue with the COVID-19 Track and Trace programme, but I’d rather reflect on how we can learn from this to ensure that organisations are making the best decisions about the use of their data and reporting.
If you’re not aware of the story, almost 16,000 positive coronavirus results from England were unreported by Public Health England, due to their use of an old format-type of Excel spreadsheet, and which could not deal with the number of lines required.
At a time of crisis we tend to reach for something familiar, warm and comforting. Excel may not be warm and comforting but it is familiar and, when organisations are faced with an urgent demand for data, analysts have historically reached for Excel – the data application that has been around since the 1980s and is taught as part of the school IT curriculum. It would be impossible to find someone who hasn’t used a spreadsheet recently.
And there certainly continues to be a place for Excel in today’s business world. The crucial point is to recognise that technology has moved on since the 1980s and other solutions for data storage and reporting are available - and that will often be more suitable for meeting today’s data reporting needs. And when fulfilling an urgent demand for data, turning to Excel is a perfectly acceptable solution but, and this is a big but, organisations should immediately revisit the solution after the initial demand has been satisfied.
Other solutions that are scalable, secure, flexible, automated and provides accurate reporting in a suitable time-frame are well within the reach of organisations and their budgets.
The Microsoft Power Platform (Power BI, Power Automate and PowerApps) is now one of the go-to product sets for many organisations wishing to provide such a solution.
With so many inbuilt connectors it is easy to connect and combine data from multiple sources using Power BI. If the data is in a bespoke system then it will likely have an API which can be queried using Power Automate or an Azure Function, meaning that you can pull data into Microsoft’s Power Platform from pretty much anywhere. Using Power BI reduces unnecessary manual processes including data exports, data cleansing and modelling as well as sharing.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but perhaps the government should have revisited the solution as soon as the immediate demand for data has been appeased?
If you'd like to see Power BI in action, why not check out Cobweb's showcase page? Featuring Bailey's own off-grid house and how he monitors its energy usage.
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