Modern businesses place a high premium on business intelligence (BI) which is why vendors like Microsoft have built it into its high-end enterprise products and services. But what exactly is BI, and how does Microsoft provide coverage for it in its training and certification program?
Let’s take a closer look at business intelligence, the role it plays in today’s corporate world, and then drill down into one of Microsoft’s popular BI certifications: Power BI Data Analyst Associate.
What is Business Intelligence?
Business operations generate data the way baseball generates statistics: automatically, and on a massive scale. Every internal and external event of any size creates a data point that can serve as a piece of insight if it is captured and analyzed effectively.
This conglomeration of data forms the heart of business intelligence. BI is a system made up of tools and processes that captures relevant data from disparate sources and transforms this data into presentable information which can be used to evaluate business performance and create new strategies to improve results.
Let’s parse the above description into a four-phase process:
In the Collection phase, data from multiple business systems is recorded and captured in some form of centralized archive. This can involve creating middleware solutions that connect different systems that aren’t natively related to each other, a situation commonly found in large enterprises that have evolved over a period of several years.
The Analysis phase is exactly what it sounds like. Collected raw data is analyzed to discover the trends and patterns behind high performance or shortcomings. This phase is synonymous with the terms analytics or data modelling.
The Presentation phase is where the analyzed data is transformed into a format that can be presented to business executives and managers. This is the realm of reports, charts, graphs, and dashboards, features that are typically built into business intelligence platforms.
Finally, in the Action phase, business intelligence is used to make strategic decisions to be executed in short-term and long-term actions. Each action can create a new data timeframe which can be separated from (and compared to) historical performance data to track the effectiveness of the action taken.
Why go to all this trouble?
BI system benefits span across multiple business departments and functions. From finance to human resources, manufacturing to customer relationships, marketing to security and compliance, there isn’t a business space that BI doesn’t set its foot into.
There is also an inherent knowledge management component to an effective BI system. Knowledge management is the internal practice of discovering and capturing business knowledge in a way that makes it available even when employees leave the company and are replaced with new staff.
A BI system can (and should) centralize and retain thorough records of all its activities from all four phases of the BI process. This activity creates what is sometimes referred to as a “single source of truth”.
This capability allows new employees at all levels to view the full spectrum of business performance from the moment the BI system was brought online, ensuring that valuable knowledge isn’t lost when one or more people move on.
Microsoft Power BI certification
Power BI is Microsoft’s flagship business intelligence platform. It was designed to mix seamlessly with the company’s Microsoft 365 and Azure offerings. Power BI offers interfaces for desktops, mobile devices running Android and iOS, and cloud-based components for online access and sharing.
The Microsoft Certified: Power BI Data Analyst Associate certification is an intermediate credential aimed at IT professionals who have some experience with Power BI projects. In fact, the certification’s related info page recommends that candidates should “work on a Power BI analysis and visualization project or shadow an experienced Power BI data analyst” before considering taking the exam.
The relevant exam is PL-300: Microsoft Power BI Data Analyst. The English version of this exam was refreshed on Oct. 27, so candidates should check out the updated study guide if planning to take the exam after this date. There are no prerequisites for taking this exam.
Here are the knowledge domains and top-level descriptions for Exam PL-300, with an estimate of how much exam content is devoted to each domain:
Prepare the data (25-30 percent)
Get data from data sources
Transform and load the data
Clean the data
Model the data (25-30 percent)
Design and implement a data model
Create model calculations by using DAX
Optimize model performance
Visualize and analyze the data (25-30 percent)
Enhance reports for usability and storytelling
Identify patterns and trends
Deploy and maintain assets (15-20 percent)
Create and manage workspaces and assets
Exam PL-300 has a passing score of 700, and like other Microsoft exams can consist of multiple-choice, multiple answer, and simulation-based questions.
Becoming “business intelligent”
Business intelligence has gone from being an exclusive service for massive multinationals to a highly valued tool used by thousands of small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) to better understand their processes, and to make their internal and external operations more efficient and cost-effective.
This greater level of BI platform adoption across multiple industries has increased the demand for data analysts and other related tech professionals, to the point where earning a related certification has become a strategic plus for IT workers.
The Microsoft Certified: Power BI Data Analyst Associate is a well-established credential that could be a good fit for data specialists who want to validate their skills and experience with the Power BI platform. The fact that Microsoft is about to update the related exam is a positive sign that this certification (and its associated software platform) remains highly relevant and an active part of Microsoft’s product strategy.
If this topic has piqued your interest in business intelligence and Microsoft’s Power BI platform, a good place to go to learn more is Microsoft’s What is Power BI? webpage.