The Modern is a specialist provider of contemporary Scandinavian designed furniture and home accessories. The Modern operates both through showrooms across Australia and an online store.
The Modern’s need was clear: centralise data from external partners and service providers to optimise their core business operations. Like many businesses of their size, the end-to-end journey of their customers and their products stretched across multiple (cloud) service providers, involving data sources such as warehousing and logistics management vendors, e-commerce, and physical stores. With all these partners and their unique applications, our client needed a way to consolidate information, providing a complete picture of their end-to-end product delivery cycle and customer journey.
The initial request was to create a SharePoint list to try to consolidate this information for them and enable showroom team members to search for orders, triage customer queries and understand delivery timeframes. We quickly identified this approach inadequate for their needs due to limitations in user experience, as this solution would not provide the speed and ease of use required in such a fast-paced customer service environment. Another limitation was the solution’s lack of flexibility – it could not easily be enhanced as the business evolved, or used to answer more complex or strategic questions.
A logical recommendation at this point might have been to implement a cloud data warehouse where all of the data could be landed, stored and modelled before being presented for reporting. However a business with a small technology footprint such as our clients’, this was impractical. They required a more cost effective solution as well as a platform which would be simple to maintain post implementation. To address these requirements and limitations, we delivered an ideal solution using Data Flows to bring in the data, before modelling and serving the data in PowerBi. This solution offered the optimal balance of cost-effectiveness, usability, and ease of maintenance – perfect for a small to medium business starting their data-driven journey.
“The Intelligent Pathways team’s attentive listening and our open-mindedness fostered a collaborative and iterative process. We had specific outcomes but remained flexible in how (IP) approached the solution. The collaboration between the two teams was positive and embraced an agile approach to achieve our desired outcomes.” Andrew Lillyman – Chief Executive Officer, The Modern
At its simplest, Data Flows are a data preparation tool that enables you to extract data from many different sources including cloud and on-premises data sources and transform them, before making them available for PowerBi reports and dashboards. Data Flows can automatically pull data from various sources, perform necessary transformations, and ensure data is kept up-to-date. This automation eliminates the need for manual data manipulation, or over-the-top database infrastructure and significantly reduces the time, cost and effort required for data preparation.
Data Flows have a comprehensive array of in-built API connectors which save a lot of time when trying to bring in common data sources like HubSpot. They also allow you to fairly easily create custom connectors to bring in bespoke data sources – we used both of these solutions with our client, bringing in data from three very diverse data sources.
Once our Data Flows were set up, we were then able to schedule data refreshes unique to each data source and create email alerts to advise if the refreshes failed. This was an important capability for our client in ensuring they were able to trust the data.
These Data Flows can now be reused with confidence over and over again by our client to create any other PowerBi reporting they need- providing them with access to their data – cleansed and transformed – all without the overheads of a more traditional ETL solution.
After the data flows were created, we connected them into PowerBI and began creating the data model – prioritising standardisation and reuse. By having a thorough understanding of our client’s business processes and applying gold-standard data-modelling techniques, we created a set of well structured data tables that used our client’s own business definitions and naming conventions – ensuring the data model can be easily understood by their team members. Now, with only a little training, team members are able to create more PowerBI reports based on a curated, secure and trusted data source. Team members were also trained in how they can use the Bookmark feature to ensure that their preferred view of the PowerBi reports was enabled as a default for them – further saving them time and enabling a superior level of customisation that would not have been possible using a SharePoint list.
Another advantage of this approach was in leveraging the security features native to PowerBI. Our client had scenarios where they needed to either tailor or restrict access to certain data based on specific criteria including a staff member’s role. This was easily achieved and took minimal set-up. As access provisions were enabled based on roles and security groups rather than specific people, it will also ensure that it is a sustainable solution in an industry where staff turn-over can be high or seasonal.
The implementation presented some challenges in handling complex APIs and aligning the customer journey with available data points. However, by harnessing the combined strength of integration through Data Flows and data modelling within PowerBI, we were able to overcome these hurdles in an efficient and effective manner. We were able to ingest large datasets with ease, and create meaningful data models seamlessly. The key to the success of this project was in the strong relationship with our client and also the initial analysis that we were able to complete in collaboration with our client. This enabled us to approach the external vendors with clear and simple requests for any data changes that were required, or questions we needed answered.
“When I requested tweaks, Intelligent Pathways was greatly responsive. Often, they not only made the requested changes promptly but also exceeded expectations, going beyond what was asked. It felt like they were not just responding but actively thinking about how to enhance the overall quality and provide additional value.” Andrew Lillyman – Chief Executive Officer, The Modern