Raw Data By P3 Adaptive
The Elevator Pitch for Power BI, w/ Microsoft MVP Belinda AllenListen Now:
On today’s episode, we sit down with 11-time Microsoft MVP Belinda Allen as she shares her accidental data origin story. As the co-author of two books and a prolific Power Platform blogger, Belinda has a unique perspective on business intrigue, data discoveries, and reporting solutions. With her penchant for pivot tables, she is a classic example of a citizen developer, and she generously shares her knowledge with the communities at large through her writing, public speaking, and training. In fact, for several years she was a top contender in the Excel Shootout series, and while underappreciated, her sentiment analysis provided food for thought and innovative inspiration for businesses across the size spectrum and helped convert many people to the Power Platform.
Today, she joins Rob in a fascinating recollection of the birth of the Power Platform. From the genius evolution of Power BI through the first incarnation of Power Pivot through the initial attempt at Power BI in SharePoint, they followed Siren’s call of DAX and Power Query to navigate the ever-changing waters of data analytics. Together they recount the challenges of mastering the self-serve data revolution while sharing their appreciation for Power BI.
Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello friends. Today we welcome Belinda Allen to the show. Now you've probably heard the thing where I point out that the subtitle to our show is, Data With the Human Element, and how our guests almost universally embody that phrase. Usually when we're talking about that we're just talking about that person. And that's certainly true of Belinda, but also Belinda completely understands the importance of the human element. And that really shone through in our conversation. So many times while talking to her I was just nodding emphatically like, yes, that's the important stuff. For example, she's come around to an important conclusion that I have also come to, which is that power apps should be directly integrated into Power BI Reports to facilitate the taking of action that the report suggests. We laughed about how she and I both have gray hair, or graying hair anyway, and when two gray hairs come to the same conclusion independently, well, it must be true.
(00:01:01): I also really love the amount of care she puts into dynamically generating the titles, the headers, for the visuals on her report canvas. And even if that's a trick that you already know, you probably do, it's nothing super technical or anything. It was very clear to me that she takes the time to do it and that speaks volumes. Oh, and surprise, surprise, she's another one of those accidental data professionals, aka the best kind of data professionals, started out managing a hotel, and the day she was handed a 40 page printed report, the dissatisfaction with it, the whole, there's got to be a better way vibe. Well, that launched a career, didn't it? Belinda has been in the game for a long time, the data game in general, but even the power platform thing, she's one of the OG power pivot practitioners. There was very much that kindred spirit theme that I was feeling throughout our conversation, and I'm surprised it took us this long to finally meet. An awesome chat with a fantastic person. I hope you enjoy it. So let's get into it.
Announcer (00:02:04): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?
(00:02:08): This is the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive Podcast, with your host Rob Collie and your co-host Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Raw data by P3 Adaptive is Data with the Human Element.
Rob Collie (00:02:34): Welcome to the show, Belinda Allen. It's been a long time. I've been hearing your name, seeing you around the social medias. It's great to finally meet you.
Belinda Allen (00:02:41): Oh, it's nice to meet you too. I have been around a long time. I have the gray hair to prove it. So...
Rob Collie (00:02:47): Yeah, it's coming in for me. Mercifully, my gray hair is now coming in a bit more evenly. It used to be like skunk patches. Don't like that. But the little sandy look, that's fine. I'm accepting.
Belinda Allen (00:02:59): Yeah, well, fortunately there is a whole new wave of people who are allowing the gray to be gray, so it's been a little bit more fun for me. But I dyed my hair for years, so it was quite a surprise when I grew it out and found out just how white it is underneath. It's just part of my warrior scars from technology, so it's all right.
Rob Collie (00:03:21): Yeah, imagine if we'd worked in some more humane industry, we wouldn't have this much gray, would we?
Belinda Allen (00:03:26): I don't think so. When you're implementing, because I started out with implementing accounting systems, when you're implementing accounting systems, it's a crazy life, so you see a lot more than you should.
Rob Collie (00:03:38): And it's got to be another one of those examples of the job that people only notice when it goes wrong.
Belinda Allen (00:03:44): They all think, they just go, oh, you work with computers. And I'm like, kind of what I do, but I just leave it at that because even still now working exclusively in the power platform, predominantly Power BI, I still have one of those jobs where you only know what I do if you need to hire me or you do it too. And so fortunately some of my cousin's kids are starting to have kids who do what I do, and so they're all excited to talk to me. So it's like, yeah, finally I got people in my family. It's good.
Rob Collie (00:04:13): There you go. Yeah, you wait around long enough. Right?
Belinda Allen (00:04:15): Exactly.
Rob Collie (00:04:16): And the room full of monkeys types the Declaration of Independence even. Right? Every possibility on a long enough timeline.
Belinda Allen (00:04:23): Exactly.
Rob Collie (00:04:24): You started off implementing accounting system. Now that was the one that I specifically was saying, sounds like one of those jobs, Windows set up, installation of software, like one of my prior lives. When you installed the accounting software and it goes smoothly-
Belinda Allen (00:04:37): Nobody notices.
Rob Collie (00:04:38): That's just what you were supposed to do.
Belinda Allen (00:04:40): Exactly.
Rob Collie (00:04:41): You want a medal for doing what you're supposed to do? No, no, no Uh-huh. But when it goes wrong, you get attention then, don't you?
Belinda Allen (00:04:50): You definitely do. It's funny that life is so circular. Everything that I really turned myself into when I was implementing that ended up being with the focus on user adoption, everything. Everything. I had my goals, and they were lofty, oh, I want to save you time, I want to help you save money, I want to help you make money, I want to do all these things. But everything was centered around how do I get these users to utilize this piece of software and utilize this tool? And it has completely come 360 for me with Power BI in the last year. All I seem to focus on now is user adoption. What are users thinking? How do we get them to use it more? And so it's been interesting, but you're right, it's still part of that whole, nobody notices if things are running smoothly. And so yeah, the story of my life.
Rob Collie (00:05:45): In IT, especially lately, BI is one of the places where you can be noticed for doing good. It's a positive thing. I liken it to playing offense. If you're the goalie in soccer, there's chances for you to be the hero, but mostly your best game is one where no one knows you were even there. Nothing ever happened. If you're working in BI, you're actually from, once you've got the ball at your feet, you can actually score goals and people will cheer you. That's a departure from the goalie oriented job of installing accounting software.
Belinda Allen (00:06:14): It is. You just got to get them to run with the ball, right?
Rob Collie (00:06:17): That's right.
Belinda Allen (00:06:17): That's the hard part.
Rob Collie (00:06:19): Or at least pass it to me.
Belinda Allen (00:06:20): Yep.
Rob Collie (00:06:22): Don't just sit on it.
Belinda Allen (00:06:24): Exactly. Yes.
Rob Collie (00:06:26): Let's start back in the day. How did you get into such an exciting gig as installing accounting software?
Belinda Allen (00:06:33): I fell into it completely backwards. Right out of college I was working for a hotel business. I worked for Holiday Corporation, which, at the time, owned Holiday Inns and Hampton Inns. Hampton Inns were new. So right out of college, I was the general manager of a Hampton Inn. And so I felt very stupidly empowered at the age of 24, managing a four million dollar hotel.
Rob Collie (00:06:58): You're like, this is my domain.
Belinda Allen (00:07:01): I know, but every now and then... Well, you know what's funny is, because since I ended up in accounting businesses, the first month that statements came out, I was feeling all cocky. I could tackle the world, I could do anything. And then the first month the financial statements came in. Coming from a big corporation like Holiday Corp, they were about 40 pages long. And I went into my office and I shut the door and I started parsing through it. And I had studied all of this, and I had been part of the budgeting team, but still looking at it, I just wanted to cry. I felt so overwhelmed. And that was where I altered my philosophy on how we look at reports and how we see numbers and how we digest and how we share. But it took me a while to get over that hump and try to figure out my own little space.
(00:07:46): So I was working at this hotel, and I ended up dating another manager of another hotel nearby, and he had a son, so I was headed toward California, so he either had to go with me or I had to leave and move. So I left and moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which is where he was from. While looking for employment, he had always wanted a business, he was implementing Solomon Software, which is now Dynamics SL, which is used very, very little, because he was not only a general manager, he was the controller for a couple of the hotels that they owned. So we just started doing this write up business and I was using SL and he went into a computer store and there was a Dynamics, well at that point it was great playing software. It was back in DOS days. There was no windows at the time.
(00:08:38): He got to talking to the person for the area and the next thing I know we're a qualified installer and we're just doing it. So we literally fell into it completely and utterly backwards and it was a fun journey. But we gravitated toward reporting a lot, even in Power BI. Microsoft's like, Hey, you just need to focus on Power BI, and I'm like, oh yes. But that was how we got into accounting business and it was really, I don't know, it was a pretty powerful journey for us. We stayed in the Myrtle Beach area for a while and sold our business and moved to New York City, which was a dream I didn't know I have. It's funny, now I think of myself as a New Yorker, but my husband had always wanted to live there. My dad was a Marine, so home was wherever I was living.
(00:09:25): And so moving to New York, I lived there longer than anywhere in my life. And so now I feel like this New Yorker, I'm also Southern, I joke, I'm bilingual, I speak Yankee and Redneck. And so had to communicate for my husband a couple times when we were living up in New York, because he's very Southern and had to explain to some people from Long Island exactly what he was saying so they could get him. But it's been a fun journey, and I love making businesses better. It turned into a real passion for both of us.
Rob Collie (00:09:57): I'm trying to think of a hybrid sentence that requires both-
Belinda Allen (00:10:00): Yankee and Southern?
Rob Collie (00:10:02): Yeah, like, yeah did you remember to bring the bagels to the duck blind? Is best I can do on short notice, I'm sure after this episode, after we're done recording, I'll go, oh, I know the sentence.
Belinda Allen (00:10:12): Make sure you buy some grits at the bodega, right? Something like that.
Rob Collie (00:10:16): Exactly, yeah. When you stop by the deli, make sure you get grits. I think I can totally relate to the idea of, so you're in this business of installing these accounting software packages. That's kind of dull. But the light up moment is when people can use the data out of those systems to see something and to learn something. Now not everyone is going to find that alternate angle as appealing as you did. I find that hard to believe, but that's just the truth.
Belinda Allen (00:10:48): It is.
Rob Collie (00:10:49): Not everyone cares. When you think about it, these systems that you were installing, super important. That's what I call the first use of data. The first use of digital systems is line of business. It's to make things go, it's to make the operations go. But as a side effect of using these systems, as opposed to pen and paper or pencil and paper or back of the envelope, record keeping, as a side effect, you can almost like breathing the exhaust of those things. You can start to see everything if you look at it properly. Perfect vision.
Belinda Allen (00:11:21): I always had fun when I can show a customer something they didn't know about their data, that they didn't know about their customers, that they didn't know about their sales, that they didn't know about their expenses. It was always super exciting to me. And usually it afforded them an opportunity to do better.
Rob Collie (00:11:40): And that is, I think, especially when early in your arc dealing with BI, one of the things that is most intoxicating or almost addictive is exactly that. Showing them something that they didn't know. Now, one of the mistakes that I made with that, early on, was that all that mattered to me was that they didn't know it. And so I could tell them things that they didn't know but also didn't matter, didn't make any difference because I was the "expert." What would happen to those situations when I told someone something they didn't know about their business, ta da, and I was waiting for them to be impressed. This is-
Belinda Allen (00:12:19): For the applause, the balloons.
Rob Collie (00:12:21): Yeah, that's right. That's right. Yeah, it's okay. It's okay. Please try to keep it down. Please, please. No applause. In that moment, it was obvious that I thought they should be impressed, but they didn't understand what they would do with it. They just felt not so smart in those moments when really I was the one making the mistake. If it's not actionable in some way to create improvement, then it is just trivia. The really powerful thing is when they didn't know it and now they're like, oh, this changes everything.
Belinda Allen (00:12:49): Yeah. Nobody could do any work at all without making a mistake in learning from it. My mother always said, the only people who don't make mistakes are the ones who aren't doing anything. Totally spot on. You're right, you have to uncover something that's both important and that they could do to move the needle one way or another to improve their business success. And I know it's really hokey, but our mission statement was always and still is, "To improve the lives and business success of our customers and partners." And we stick to that. Actually, we had something very similar. Gray Plains ended up creating that exact mission statement and we said, it's very close to ours, we're just going to steal it. This was 25 years ago and we said, we're going to steal it, this is now our mission statement. They said more power to you.
(00:13:42): And so that was how we got our mission statement is we flat out stole it, but it was worthwhile. But that's it. You want to improve their lives and their business success, and so that's what we try to do. But you're right, a lot of people just don't get, Hey, this is maybe not something that I could do anything with. I don't know what to do with it, or I don't even think it's important. Again, we're back at user adoption, so trying to figure out how to encourage people to adopt. And in this case, they'll usually find their own action they need to take as a result.
Rob Collie (00:14:14): Some of the most satisfying moments in this genre are when you are working on a report with someone and they notice something. You, the technical architect of what's going on, wouldn't know that that particular number was interesting. You wouldn't call that out, but they're like, "Oh my god." I've had so many moments like that working with clients where there's almost a pause in the implementation of what we're doing, and this business conversation breaks out. Rather than feeling ignored, I sit there going, oh, this is the good stuff.
Belinda Allen (00:14:45): That immediately shows values popping in right from the very beginning.
Rob Collie (00:14:50): So what's the path from the accounting software Great Plains type stuff to today, and how different is your business today versus back then?
Belinda Allen (00:15:00): So the leap really was using information more and more. Our company was getting bigger and bigger in New York. We had a team in India. They worked only with us, so I don't know, we went over there, went to their weddings, met their families. So outsource are not irrelevant. We had this amazing team. They kept growing, they kept getting better and better. So I had the opportunity to gravitate toward things that I thought were fun. And what I thought was fun was reporting. And I was doing a lot in Excel at the time, because that was probably one of the better things that was out there. We were doing as a company, a lot of SSRS, because that was the best at the time that of what was out there. And Great Plains, even before Microsoft bought them, they were very forward thinking on a lot of reporting and visual tools.
(00:15:54): So I had a lot of playground to work with. Inside of SSRS there was some business tools that were visually reporting based, that obviously don't exist now, but Power BI would've blown them away if they had still existed now. I had the opportunity to play in that playground. So another benefit of working with your spouse is you say, Hey, I want to play in this, and they're like, go have fun. God bless and make us money. And that was pretty much the extent of it. But I kept moving in that direction. And then when they came out with Power BI iteration one, which was the SharePoint version, I was so obsessed with every single bit of it. I just was beside myself. I was actually at the MVP summit where they showed us a data explorer, which is now Query Editor at the time. Were you at that one?
Rob Collie (00:16:48): I don't know if I was. I think I still had my MVP status then for sure. That was 2013. It might have been 2012. They were giving us a preview of it. I was probably still attending back then.
Belinda Allen (00:16:59): It was in the Excel area that they were showing it to us and my mind was blown. And that was really just the enthusiasm, I felt like I was at... Do you remember the old Amway conferences? I was like, yeah, yeah. And so I was just blown away with what I could do. And all I could think about was what I could do with data. And so I just gravitated toward that. And in fact, we did a little bit of work with an add-on product for a GP for elevator repairs.
(00:17:31): It was an ISV product, and he was at some elevator conference in New York City, and it was up in the Bronx. And he said, would you come and help? And I'm like, sure, yeah, I can help. And so I went up there and I took, do you remember the power maps where you could map things out and put a time element on it and you could see things change? So I went to New York City's 311 data and I got all of the elevator complaints and mapped them out. And on the map you could literally see the buildings where the elevator complaints were, and I was showing it to people. And that was so much fun.
Rob Collie (00:18:07): It had to be a heck of an elevator pitch.
Belinda Allen (00:18:09): Oh yeah. [inaudible 00:18:10]
Rob Collie (00:18:10): Yes.
Belinda Allen (00:18:13): Ended up bad.
Rob Collie (00:18:14): I am a father. Been sitting here for the last thirty seconds going like, oh my God, I can't wait.
Belinda Allen (00:18:24): What was actually a good one. It was a good one. So I would show it, and every single person brought somebody back that saw it. And the response was either that's amazing, or I can't believe that's public information. And it was the same response from every single person. It was pretty hysterical, actually. And in New York, I don't live in New York City anymore, I live outside of Charleston, South Carolina, but some of the elevator repair people, just a small handful, they're a little mobbed up. And so it was really interesting, I felt like I was in a whole variety of mixed movies. It was fun watching the real and honest reaction of people see something that was related so closely to what they do, and see it and not just look at a piece of data or a piece of chart, but to literally see these towers grow because there were more complaints here, and over time, what was happening, and watching their reaction, I was definitely hooked, for sure, at that point forward.
Rob Collie (00:19:32): Were there any detailed interactions with seemingly mob affiliated repair people? Did anyone ever say to you something like, Hey, it's a nice dashboard you got there. Be ashamed if something happened to your upstream data quality?
Belinda Allen (00:19:47): Never had any threats like that, but I have heard conversations about multiple sets of books and that made me turn and run. Other than that, no.
Rob Collie (00:19:57): Which one did we connect this to? Our visible books or the others?
Belinda Allen (00:20:00): Yeah. Which one? The one in the locked office or the one in the front office? Which one? One person, and when we were still in Myrtle Beach that we got a fair amount of work from was a former IRS agent. So he always told us hysterical stories. He took us to one bar. Now Myrtle Beach is not known for... It's a party town, it's a college town, a lot of partying.
Rob Collie (00:20:25): A lot of beer and chicken wing type of operations.
Belinda Allen (00:20:28): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:20:28): You can just imagine it. Yeah.
Belinda Allen (00:20:30): Exactly, exactly. And so he took us into one of his clients, which was a nightclub. First of all, never go in a nightclub in the daytime.
Rob Collie (00:20:39): Depressing?
Belinda Allen (00:20:40): It's just bad. The smells-
Rob Collie (00:20:42): The things that you would tolerate at night.
Belinda Allen (00:20:44): They look magical when the strobe light's going, right? And the music's playing loud. In the light of day it's just not a pretty thing. He was talking to us with the owner, it's like, well, we really want to get a handle on sales. We'd like to have some reports and do things. And we started talking to him about his inventory and he said, look, I told him, and I'm telling you, I could look at my garbage can and I know what my sales were. Now South Carolina had mini bottles, so you had to open it and pour it in front of people at the time. So he would just look at his garbage can at the empty mini bottles. And that was how he knew what his sales were. And all I could think of was, I hope that your employees are stealing from you consistently. Otherwise...
Rob Collie (00:21:24): You might notice someday.
Belinda Allen (00:21:25): Yeah, that was an amazing statement. And we still think about that. Yeah, I just look at my garbage can, I know what my sales were.
Rob Collie (00:21:33): As an 18 year old, I worked a summer job at Universal Studios, Florida, and I was responsible for food and drink carts that you can buy snacks from out in the middle of the park. So I was a stalker schlepping these flatbeds of Cokes and hot dogs and whatever out to these places. But part of my job was to also record how much of stuff I had delivered to each cart to maintain an inventory control. You can't inventory fountain syrup for cola, and you can't inventory the water or the CO2, but you can inventory the cups. When I delivered cups to a cart, the cashier would have to check my count, because if they were short some number of cups at the end of the day, it was possible that they could have sold sodas and pocketed the difference. And it's just this fascinating first introduction to this weirdness of the real world to me. Cups, they're not the thing. They're not the thing, it's the soda. And it took me a while to internalize the reason why we were counting cups.
Belinda Allen (00:22:39): They could sell all kinds of refills. Give me your cup, I'll refill it for-
Rob Collie (00:22:42): That's right. That's right. Yeah. And there was one guy operating this ice cream cart that had been a math teacher before he retired. There was no cash register. And the reason he was operating it is because no one else could handle it without a cash register. But it was just well known that he was just absolutely robbing the place blind every day. It was just inventory control. Very interesting.
Belinda Allen (00:23:07): It is. That is a goldmine for people to look at information and take action on it. There are so many ways in which better inventory controls are going to improve any business.
Rob Collie (00:23:19): What I have found, if you get a little technical for a moment, when you're working with an OLAP system, which is a very old fashioned term now, we've outgrown it. We don't even really need that anymore. But that is what Power BI is at its heart. And fraud anomalies, in general, can't really hide from an OLAP system. It's these varying levels of visibility. Okay. Anomalies can really hide. Then there's, okay, I'm looking at the built in reports that whatever that line of business system came with, still probably not seeing any anomalies. And then there's, you deploy something like SSRS against your data and you gain another level of visibility. The doors really come off.
(00:24:01): There's no place to hide anymore when you deploy something like SSAS against your data. You stumble on them in the first five minutes and you're like, ah, we're dead in the water until we get this corrected upstream. And this is a good thing, right? It's a good thing that you discovered these things so quickly. I've stumbled onto a couple situations where I looked at the people across the table and raised my eyebrows and they raised their eyebrows. And I said, okay, well you should probably look into that. Fun stuff. So you briefly mentioned that when you first saw the first version Power BI V1, had you gotten into Power Pivot before that?
Belinda Allen (00:24:36): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:24:36): Okay.
Belinda Allen (00:24:37): At that point there was Power Pivot, Power View and Power Maps. Those were the power trio, if you will. And Power Pivot was particularly fascinating to me, because of the amount of data that you could put in it. That one was one that I really liked using. It became very easy to make pivot tables so stinking powerful at that point. And to be able to do analysis. As I mentioned, the Great Plains had a lot of analysis products that they started bringing in, and I started abandoning them for the plain old pivot table, because of what you could do to the data behind it, to get it organized into something that was so worthwhile. And so that was a very natural progression for me to be able to do that. And I forgot to finish answering your question. I got sidetracked talking.
Rob Collie (00:25:40): Well, that's what we do here. We zigzag, zigzag. We slowly work our way towards the original goal. I'm going to keep us on this zigzag for a moment because I'm really curious, can you take yourself back to the early days of discovering Power Pivot? How did you hear about it? You might not remember any of this stuff. It is a long time ago. To the extent that you can, capture for me the experience. It's like a superhero origin story. You discover this thing, that's just, what?
Belinda Allen (00:26:08): I think the thing that really was the hook for me, I'll even go back to where I had a serious aha data moment. And this is really aging myself. So Windows is out now. We're working with Great Plains still. Windows is out now. And Great Plains develop their first Windows product, which is now Dynamics GP. And funny, we were too broke to get involved in version one. So we got involved in version two, but it was still technical pioneer days, 25 diskettes to install. CDs weren't even out then. So you were running around. It was just crazy installing it. And it took a good hour and a half on every machine. But anyhow, I digress.
(00:26:49): ODBC became the way to get to data. And I had gone to a technical conference in Fargo, North Dakota, which is where Great Plains home office was. And now Microsoft still has a giant office there. I remember learning ODBC, and I just thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life, being able to use this data. So I was all excited about ODBC. I was doing everything with ODBC, but when I saw Power Pivot and I realized that I could control the columns that I wanted in my tables, that alone was the thing that made me... I could hear the birds chirping when I looked up in the sky. I was so excited about that. Boy, I'm sounding like a big old date nerd.
Rob Collie (00:27:39): Well, that's what we do here. I'm hearing it. I'm hearing the angels sing.
Belinda Allen (00:27:43): Yep. I heard it. And just getting the columns that I wanted and they were all pre-filtered and it was just fabulous. Now I had control over the data. I wasn't having to look at something with 25 columns in it or a hundred columns. I had this really precise control. It was just a serious aha moment. And then if you combine that with being able to do a SQL view on top of that, I felt like I could make anything that somebody wanted to see from their data. I had the tools I needed. So just with Excel, ODBC and with a little bit of T SQL, I could do it all.
Rob Collie (00:28:21): Isn't it funny how mundane the hook is. Looking back now, being able to very easily control which columns come in with the import, this isn't going to get you excited today. That's just table stakes. I was sitting here secretly wondering if you're going to be some ridiculous percentage of them. It's got to be one out of three discovered Power Pivot because of the distinct count function index. How do I get a unique count of something in a pivot table? That Google search leads to Power Pivot. And that was the only reason that they discovered this thing, was so they could write a formula in a pivot table that they couldn't have written before. One formula. That was it.
(00:28:58): And what does that lead to? Oh wow. It leads to damn near infinite data capacity. Because all these things I could never do before, now I just import every single row from our company's entire history and it chews it up. No problem. That's after you discover your hook. And then some point later you're like, oh wait a second, I could do budget versus actuals without all of the manual pain that usually goes into it. I could just leave those two fact tables, multi fact table. This curve of incremental discovery, almost like the Richter scale, each discovery makes the previous discovery look like a 10th the size of what it was.
Belinda Allen (00:29:32): Yeah. No, for me it totally was the volume of data and the ability to mold my data before I got it into Excel proper. And I guess I should say too, because this was back, Microsoft was doing a large customer conference called Convergence at the time. It was predominantly the Dynamics products. And so I don't know why I got this wild idea, but I did. And some of my very dear friends, they jumped on board with me, but I said, you know what, for this event, let's do an Excel shootout. Let's have a contest where we're showing cool stuff in Excel and we let everyone in the audience vote on who showed the coolest stuff.
(00:30:14): And this Excel shootout went on for years. Probably one of the biggest rooms of people, we had standing room only, people couldn't get in. And it was a lot of fun though. We were trying to wow people. I would show Power Pivot. We'd fight to see who could do what. Who's doing the map? And who's doing this? And so this whole Excel shootout fostered our love for data and visualizing data even more because it became a fun game for us.
Rob Collie (00:30:42): Sounds like my kind of game by the way.
Belinda Allen (00:30:46): Yeah. It was a lot of fun.
Rob Collie (00:30:46): The only rule is you got to use Excel to do something cool. But I know that I have a secret weapon. In a bizarre crossover of stories, it turns out that this thing called the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the UFC, this MMA fighting that we still have today was invented by the Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners. And the rules were created in a way that they knew they were going to win. It was just a means of showcasing their supremacy. And of course they won.
Belinda Allen (00:31:17): Well, it was quite challenging. We would get people in and we would dog each other too.
Rob Collie (00:31:22): Well it's called a shootout.
Belinda Allen (00:31:23): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:31:24): It's pretty clear. Was convergence held in Fargo?
Belinda Allen (00:31:27): It was in a lot of different locations. It was an incredibly large conference, close to eight to 10,000 people. It was really big.
Rob Collie (00:31:35): I believe that it was that big. Yeah, for sure.
Belinda Allen (00:31:37): Yeah, we couldn't have it in very many places. So we frequented in Atlanta a lot because the Atlanta Convention Center is large enough to accommodate. We were in New Orleans a couple years, in Dallas. We had so much fun competing against each other. We wouldn't even show each other what we were doing. So we would have one slide that reminded people during the vote. So we would look at each other's slides. We knew that they might be using a map, but we didn't know how they were going to end up using it. And so everybody put all kinds of flare and drama on it. And the two of us that were in it always, we got tired of it and we're like, eh, it's been fun. We're done. We retire it. Somebody wants to take it over, more power to them. And I tried to initiate something similar with Power BI.
(00:32:24): We did a non-traditional use case of it. And then I did a non-traditional use case for the whole Power platform, which is really interesting. I thought that one was really fascinating, because there's a lot of things that you can do with Power BI and the rest of the Power platform that are not a business use case, but could just as easily be used for a business use case. One of them that I showed was a cookbook I had created where I put my recipes in when I would go to my mom's. And if you think about it, it's very, very similar to managing a project. You have a project, you have resources, ingredients, you have tasks, which are your directions. And so where are you in your task and have you used all your resources yet? It's very, very similar in so many ways.
(00:33:17): And there's different categories to monitor these particular projects. And if you want to track nutritional values, then that's more metrics you could track against a project. So there's a lot of things like that, that are just very, very similar. And so I love it when people think outside the box to do something unique and powerful. Reza Dorrani. You know Reza Dorrani? Okay. So Reza Dorrani, at one of these non-traditional youth cases, his wife was pregnant and she had allergies, and she could only take her allergy medicine every so often.
(00:33:51): So what he did is he took a Flic button and taped it to the box of her allergy meds. If she thought she needed it and she couldn't remember, she took it, she pressed the Flic button once and looked at her phone. She got a message saying, the last time you took your medicine was this time. And then she knew, oh I could take it now. So she'd take it and then she'd double click and it would record that she had taken her medicine. Now that's a very non-traditional use case of a data creating action on data, calling on data.
Rob Collie (00:34:22): Anything that intersects the physical world like that where you actually have a button on a box like that, those are super compelling.
Belinda Allen (00:34:29): Oh absolutely. As a matter of fact, Mariano Gomez, I don't know if Mariano Gomez, he's a Power platform MVP. He's got my Flic buttons right now. Because of him, he introduced them to me. And my thought was for accounting software, frequently there are things that you have to do, like close out a month or something where you really want to make sure you have a backup first. And so my thought for people who had a SQL server, you put that Flic button on the desk, anyone can walk in and press the Flic button, a full backup occurs and an email gets sent to it letting them know that a backup had occurred so that it's just not arbitrarily filling up some hard drive with backups. That kind of thing, where you're not having to call IT and wait for them to tell you to do a backup, and you don't have access to do it yourself. Just to be able to walk in and press a button is another phenomenal use case of something outside the box like that.
Rob Collie (00:35:24): I'm having to look this up. I've never heard of Flic buttons.
Belinda Allen (00:35:27): Oh, Flic, f-l-i-c.io, that is their website.
Rob Collie (00:35:30): I see them here on Amazon.
Belinda Allen (00:35:32): Internet of things. Absolutely powerful.
Rob Collie (00:35:35): Is it like a Bluetooth thing?
Belinda Allen (00:35:37): You could either do Bluetooth on your phone or you could get a little hub that connects on your internet. A little wifi type of thing.
Rob Collie (00:35:44): Oh neat. Going to get some of these, I don't know what I'm going to do with them yet, but a little hub that allows it to get completely to the internet. Stand back.
Belinda Allen (00:35:54): No kidding. What you could do with it is quite amazing. I was talking with someone who does training, and so she said, oh, initially she thought I'm going to get one for every student's desk and every time they learn something new and cool, I want them to press the button and then we could be notified. Yep. There's so much you could do with it. And the fact that there is a connector built in too, at least Power Automate is a pretty powerful feature.
Rob Collie (00:36:20): I can't wait. I'm going to install a [inaudible 00:36:24] in my son's bedroom that wakes him up, want to press a button, doesn't even have to be at my house. He could be sleeping over at his mom's house. We'll have it installed over there too.
Belinda Allen (00:36:32): Yep. The mind is your limit, your ideas are the limit. So many of those kinds of things relate back to business use cases. So if we go back to Reza's wife pressing the button, John Lebeck had told us a story one time where someone had put a similar type button at the loading dock. Everyone used to come and sit and wait on a truck around noon because they knew it was coming and they would just sit there and wait for the truck. Well that was quite time consuming. It was a waste of a lot of people's time. So instead they just put something in that when they saw the truck coming, they pressed it, everyone was emailed or text, Hey, truck's coming.
(00:37:10): And then they could show up right then and there. So nobody's standing around with their fingers in their ears waiting for a truck to come. Use cases like that, that might sound really small, but you're making employees happier and you're saving money all at the same time. And what, you implemented a $50 button and if it's even that, and the cost of a flow. It's a no brainer when you start thinking about things in those terms. Just a no brainer.
Rob Collie (00:37:38): Yeah. So how broadly have you gotten into the Power platform? You're mostly Power BI.
Belinda Allen (00:37:44): Mostly Power BI.
Rob Collie (00:37:45): Which is where if I were still one of our frontline practicing consultants, that's really the only thing that I'm competent in. Our company as a whole has become competent in the whole Power platform. Me personally, no. I used to joke that I'm capable of learning one new technology every decade. DAX was one of them. Power BI itself from Power Pivot was like the one that took up the next decade, and I'm waiting for another five years or so to learn something new apparently. Do you find yourself in other corners of the Power platform than just Power BI?
Belinda Allen (00:38:19): I do. So just to step back a little bit. As I continue answering the first question slowly about where we are now, I graduated college with a marketing degree. I love marketing, I just have a passion for it. I find it fascinating. And Seth Godin is probably one of my favorite people. I heard him talk one time and he said, We all need to have a remarkably specific. And I started thinking about that in my career and I'm like, oh, I definitely have that remarkably specific. And for me, my remarkably specific right now is the Power platform, predominantly Power BI, for predominantly the SMB space, predominantly Dynamics GP and Dynamics Business Central. I know that's a lot of predominance, but I do flare outside of those areas, but that is my remarkably specific. And when it comes to the Power platform, usually I'm only working with pieces that are working together with Power BI.
(00:39:17): So I try to keep up on the elements that I feel are important as part of the Power BI story. And part of that is most certainly Power Automate and Canvas apps. Those are pieces that I feel like are an incredible part of the Power BI story, and dataverse too. A dataverse has been something that's been slowly moving more and more into my realm. These are things that I feel like are important to my remarkably specific people. The idea of taking action on our data, there are a lot of pieces that putting in a Canvas app on a Power BI report is not only a good idea, but it is going to change the whole Power BI experience. When taking the action, literally, is a forum on the screen that you could just click on and do something with.
(00:40:14): That's a game changer in my opinion. So those are the areas that I focus on. I think virtual agents are cool, but I don't know where they fit in my world. It's a square peg to me, and I just can't figure that one out. The model driven apps, well portals, whole different ballgame, but model driven apps, those are so CRM specific. I'm trying to get some love for them, but they don't fit into my Power BI space as neatly. I'm intrigued by Power Pages. I'm just don't see that as being in my SMB space as well. So I'm very particular about the power platform that I focus on and it's Canvas apps, it's Power Automate, mostly to enhance my Power BI.
Rob Collie (00:41:05): You keep saying Canvas apps and I'm going to just be honest, is a Canvas app a Power App?
Belinda Allen (00:41:09): Yeah, power app. It's one that you build where it could be run completely... I'm going to say completely independent. You do have to have, if you ran it on your phone, you would have to download Power apps on your phone to be able to run it, but it's an app that is completely freestanding. The difference between a Canvas app and a model driven app, as a model driven app you're going to create some business logic behind it. We're going to create a campaign and then in the campaign we'll create an email, and then you follow through on steps like that as you're doing things and check off the list. A Canvas app is going to be something more along the lines of here's my to-do list for today. And so these are all my to-do items. So I have this freestanding, if you will, app that I could use, or the apps that we build inside of Teams, Microsoft Teams now, those are technically Canvas apps because they're freestanding.
Rob Collie (00:42:06): I really, really, really like that you bring up having an app embedded in the Power BI report surface for taking action. It's like the world's most informative, amazing report, at least traditionally, gets a complete pass on helping you take action on the thing you just learned. It's like, nope, that's your problem user, good luck.
Belinda Allen (00:42:29): Now go to something. Right?
Rob Collie (00:42:31): I remember having a temporary ringside seat for when McKinsey was hired for a tremendous amount of money to advise the Microsoft Bing team on something to do with their data strategy. And it was an amazing filibuster that these four managed to maintain over this conference room that I was sitting in. And then eventually I asked them, so okay, so all this advice and everything, when are you going to get to implementation? And they said, oh no, we don't do implementation. That's your job. And I just looked at them like that's how reports have been allowed to exist. They're a piece of software that just completely gives up and says, yep, no, it's up to you now.
(00:43:06): It's really terrible because the report has all the context. You're looking at this particular, I don't know, warehouse that's going to have a shortfall. It knows the warehouse ID, it knows the product because you're seeing it. It knows the product ID, that you're going to have the shortfall in. It also knows the shortfall date. Seems like it could be a little bit more help than making you contact Switch, log into a different system. Have you had examples of successfully implementing those sorts of things that allow the action to be taken within context?
Belinda Allen (00:43:39): So being able to just review data that requires approval in an accounting system. So while you're looking at it and evaluating it and being able to use all of the fantastic features to explore the data inside of Power BI, being able to, while you have it selected, it's selected in the app right next to it. So being able to just approve it right there in the spot. On importing data, you still have, okay, one to approve it. It still doesn't know about it in Power BI, so there's still some nuances, but the fact that you could do that, and you're in one place and you're not going back and forth and you're not making yourself crazy. Things like that are incredibly valuable. Being able to write some comments in on certain areas is amazing, even if you're adding it into is not the accounting system, but instead some kind of log entry that you created in Dataverse or SharePoint or SQL Server or Azure, I don't care where you put it, but being able to just attract that.
Rob Collie (00:44:38): Even just the action plan. This is what we decided to do. I'm not going to get too super detailed into this, but you mentioned that you're really into marketing, among other things. One of the things that I track very closely at our company, our advertising spend, where we're spending it and how efficiently. And we've gotten very granular. This is one of those problems where the grand total score, the bottom line, is important to know, but to improve it, you cannot improve it at the top level at all. It's a million separate tiny stories, little micro stories that are going on that all roll up to some aggregate figure. But you've got to get in and engage with all the micro stories and improve at that level. And so we are midway through implementing a power app, got multiple different actions we can take, we can turn that off. We can turn it up, turn it down, we can flag it for improvement. It's going to be pretty hot when it's done.
Belinda Allen (00:45:32): That is really clever. I love that idea, because that's exactly the way it should work. When you said this, I was picturing MacGyver in my head. So your Power BI report is saying, all right, you need to diffuse the bomb in the next 10 minutes and here's the passcode to do it. But it doesn't tell you where you key in the passcode. So it's like, okay, what do I do with the passcode? I know I need to use it to diffuse the bomb, but where do you plug it in? Where's the keyboard?
Rob Collie (00:46:00): Think about how modest this is. Even all we're doing is recording the action plan, this app that we're building, even as sophisticated and as awesome as it is, look at it and very quickly realize that you're just talking about the Stone Age. That's how much green field we have.
Belinda Allen (00:46:18): You just reminded me. So going back to that Excel shootout we had, this was one year that I actually lost and I was showing the sentiment analysis inside of Excel. There was literally a gasp in the room when they saw that, the turning a couple million rows of text into a numeric value that I could then evaluate to see how I did in the matter of 20 seconds, an audible gasp in the room. And I didn't win that one. I guess I'm still bitter on that loss. I don't know.
Rob Collie (00:46:52): Maybe people were just terrified of the power.
Belinda Allen (00:46:55): Maybe.
Rob Collie (00:46:55): We have people at the past conference, one of the demos that they're giving is a sentiment analysis of the dialogue spoken by characters in the Star Wars trilogies.
Belinda Allen (00:47:05): Oh, target audience. Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:47:07): Yeah. Although I have found that, I've gone to a lot of conventions like this and given talks, whether it has Star Trek or Star Wars is the theme, and very clear to me that 80% of the audience is like, what is this? And I'm like, whoa, whoa. Wait a second. What's going on here?
Belinda Allen (00:47:21): That would be me. I'm one of those.
Rob Collie (00:47:24): And it turns out the most negative character in the whole Pantheon is "one of the good guys." But her job in the movie is just to talk about how screwed they are, to dial up the tension, right? Every now and then the villains are like, Hey, things are going pretty well. We're absolutely kicking ass.
Belinda Allen (00:47:42): That's funny.
Rob Collie (00:47:43): What was DAX like in the early days for you? It's both familiar. We wanted it to be familiar to the Excel crowd, the V look up and pivot crowd, which is very much where you were. It was targeted at people like you, and actually, frankly, targeted people like me seems to have worked for both of us. Can you way back machine to the early days of DAX?
Belinda Allen (00:48:05): DAX has never been super hard for me to adapt. It probably has to do with the fact that I know enough T SQL to be in trouble. And so working a lot with SQL databases, not a full-fledged SQL person, but I know how to create views. I know how to create stored procedures. I know how to create tables. I know how to deal with getting the columns formatted and handled the way I want so that I can get the data out the way that I want. So as a result, DAX felt very comfortable to me, but it was still a little scary. I am not a programmer by nature, in all honesty. It's just not my cup of tea. But I definitely identify with the citizen developer. So DAX felt pretty comfortable to me, that concept of how you do things, and where you get it, and how it works together, and what you could do with it.
(00:49:02): So I'm a pretty big DAX fan. As a matter of fact, on my old Surface book, which I had to stop using because of battery bulge, I had your DAX the way I like it, uh uh, sticker. I don't know. It's something that I'm comfortable with. I do not get into a lot of the complexities that a lot of other people have. It is interesting, I was just looking at helping somebody who actually took a class of mine. The people who were implementing this report for them took a whole different approach to DAX. They were adding in the bulk of the complexity of the model in the DAX part, heavy on the DAX measures, where me, I think I would've taken a whole different approach into focusing more on getting the data set up in a star schema to begin with, with better dimensions that would've resulted in significantly less DAX.
(00:49:56): That would've been the approach. It's really interesting that you say that. Not that the DAX approach was wrong. In fact, I love 25 days of DAX. Last year I did it. I missed this year. And because, watching it, I realize how different we all come to the table with different DAX methodologies and how they put them all together. I love that it's there. I'm excited to see some of the changes Microsoft has in store to make it better and make it easier. I still feel like you could get a little bit stronger in creating a really good solid data model in a star schema. You can reduce a lot of the complexities of DAX in your report, and I think it's going to be easier for the end users.
Rob Collie (00:50:38): Totally. Totally. There's two different things that I'd like to attempt to tease apart here. One of them is a well designed data model does a lot of lifting for you. I think that even at the highest echelons of DAX skill, everyone agrees on that. Ironically, you mentioned that your SQL background was very helpful for you in DAX. I think the SQL background actually poisons a lot of people with Power BI, because they're so used to producing views, the whole multi table thing. We know that the data is stored and fractured across all these tables underneath the hood. But what we do is we write a lot of complicated SQL to produce one big wide rectangle. That habit does not die overnight when transitioning into Power BI. We've seen some amazing horror stories. I think I told this story at least once on this show before, but it just never gets old.
(00:51:29): We were part of a bigger engagement. One of multiple subcontractors to a monster consulting organization, was doing some huge work for one of the biggest companies in the world, and our corner of it wasn't very large compared to the whole overall project. So there were two SSAS tabular models being built. Over the same data, basically. There was the one we were building, and then there was the one being done by one of the big four firms. They were struggling with theirs. We kept hearing hallway chatter about theirs wasn't working, and ours was working great. We're helpful people. So we raised our hand and said, Hey, can we help? And we were told, in no uncertain terms, no, you're the little consulting firm. Get back in your lane. We've got the big four over there. And they have one of the world's premier Microsoft BI experts on the case.
(00:52:21): And as naive as we were at the time, we believed them. We believed all of that. Okay, all right. Must be something going on over there that we're just not aware of. It's causing you complexity, blah, blah, blah. But we're loading years and years of fact data into our model. Again, we keep hearing, they're struggling to load even a month. They can't even get a month to load. So eventually, finally, someone breaks down after hours and says, Hey, okay, come on. Can you come take a look at this? And we go over there and we look and it is one gigantic wide, 150 column, single table. No dimension tables whatsoever. They're all mashed in together. And we're like, oh my God. They had the nerve to tell everybody that they were bringing in one of the world's premier experts at Microsoft BI and they don't know thing one about SSAS tabular.
(00:53:10): Maybe they were one of the best SQL consultants in the world. Maybe. This is a roundabout way, I always like to work in that story because it just cracks me up every time. It's one of things, within the first five seconds you know, what a fraud. So a lot of times the complicated DAX is the byproduct of bringing the old SQL Frankentable paradigm to the table and then, okay, now we'll just deal with it at the DAX level. Right? It's like they haven't really adjusted to this. However, then there's another thing which I think you were also hinting at, just there's so many different dialects of DAX, even for the same formula in a well-designed model, I will write it one way, Marco and Alberto will write it another way. Mine's going to seem very primitive. Theirs is going to be a lot more technical looking and will outperform mine in extreme circumstances, and sometimes by multiple orders of magnitude. However, most of the time you can't tell the difference between their performance.
Belinda Allen (00:54:08): Well, and that's one of the things that's cool about DAX is if you realize I should have created this in a different method. It's easy to change one little piece that isn't going to affect anything else in there. But yeah, you are right. A lot of people in SQL, they do try to get that one single view in. And I do have to fight that tendency. As a matter of fact, I was fighting that tendency this week on creating a view to get data into Power BI. I was trying to take four pieces of data and the way I modeled them individually in Power BI, I was trying to essentially come up with the same thing inside of SQL, and it dawned on me, why am I doing that? Why don't I just do four separate ones and still put them together? Because it's all coming from SQL anyhow.
(00:54:55): It's still going to fold when I bring it in. But when I think about what I learn about SQL, I think about every DAX function is a little mini SQL view. Just the way I've become accustomed to writing the formulas and thinking about the formulas. Frequently I could think about how would I do it in T SQL and I could find how I need to do it in DAX. I guess that's part of the citizen developer mode in thinking about that single function.
Rob Collie (00:55:23): Yeah. It's just one of those fascinating things for me is that I have run into both kinds in this story, the people whose SQL background really helped them with DAX and people whose SQL background blocked them. And some of the people who ended up the most amazing at DAX came from SQL and were the blocked kind that needed to be unblocked. Once they were unblocked, then they just conquered the world.
Belinda Allen (00:55:48): I'm still working on the DAX thing, and it's funny, I have gotten between Alex Powers and Jay on Team DAX or Team Power Query. I don't know. I still tend to be more Power Query in nature.
Rob Collie (00:55:59): But I wouldn't make it into the World Cup of DAX. I wouldn't even be one of the low seeds. I'm just not that good at it, honestly. But I'm still Team DAX.
Belinda Allen (00:56:08): They're not the same thing.
Rob Collie (00:56:09): They're not the same thing.
Belinda Allen (00:56:11): Yeah. You can't say one versus the other. Oh, the only thing that I could even think of that is you really need to pick one or the other is when you're creating that calendar table, that day table.
Rob Collie (00:56:22): Yeah. And I've bounced back and forth across that fence so many times. I think my most recent model is a DAX calculated table.
Belinda Allen (00:56:29): That's funny because I have just jumped back into the Power Query one. I like the simplicity of just having an inner table of what is the first day you want your calendar to begin, and then boom, everything else is created automatically for you. I dig that.
Rob Collie (00:56:45): It's exactly the same reason why I recently did one in a DAX calculated table, is for that same parameterization. It's just that I struggle with the parameterization in Power Query. I'm really, really, really novice in Power Query, and I think that those sorts of basic scenarios find me the max date of this other table and the min date of this other table or whatever, and use those as the boundaries of my calendar table. There should be buttons for that, man.
Belinda Allen (00:57:10): It's funny you say that because now that is another reason that I have really been talking about DAX more and more, is as I get into this whole user adoption thing that I've been talking about, I had labeled user adoption as my topic of the year for 2022. At the point I'm in, it's obviously going to be 2023 and maybe 2024 as well. And as I get into it, they're not explanatory on the title. So I've started adding in DAX functionality using the smart narrative piece to make the title be so much more explanatory of whatever you're looking at on the report.
(00:57:47): And that provides such a cleaner situation for the end users experience. I feel like it's just a no brainer. You need to be using it, but you have to have the DAX to be able to do that. The date range, that's a given. I think every title should display the date range that's being shown on the report. So if you even select on one day, all of a sudden now the date range is going to be restricted to just that day. That's a no brainer. You select a value, I think it should pop up that you have selected this customer or this campaign or whatever it is that you're looking at.
Rob Collie (00:58:23): Even in our 100% internal reports that are being consumed by a very savvy audience that knows these reports backwards and forwards, I do not rely on the filter pain to tell me important things about what the filtering. But on a lot of our reports, there's just single card. All it displays is a minus 30 or a minus 60, today minus how many days. Doesn't say start date and end date, it's just minus 30, minus 60. It doesn't even have a label on it. You've got to know what you're looking at.
Belinda Allen (00:58:52): Exactly. It has to be explanatory for you to understand what it is you're dealing with. And I realize how important that was. During the course of COVID, I wish this was not a true story. So in South Carolina now, I don't know if it was this year or last year, I can't remember, the COVID years all blur together. But we were going down the road and my husband said, what is the COVID rate in the county now? So I pull out my phone, I go to the state site and I look at the number. I took a screenshot of it, so I use it in a lot of my presentations now.
(00:59:23): It was the 8th of March or something like that. And I said, oh, the number 62. And he goes, is that today or is that this month or year to date or what? I'm like, I don't know. It doesn't say. And it didn't say. I had no idea. I don't know what that number represented. So that made me stop and think, okay. And when I looked at their website, it was definitely that wasn't mobile phone enabled. It was much more explanatory. But I should mention that the South Carolina Department of Health uses Tableau, so it's capable of that. It's like, come on, get your act together, make it easier for us.
Rob Collie (00:59:59): Oh, they're too busy fighting with the SQL on the back end to...
Belinda Allen (01:00:03): You know another important lesson I learned about COVID and watching the numbers, being a data nerd. As they started producing numbers, I started tracking every day the number of new cases, this is number of deaths and everything, and I tracked. And I noticed that historical numbers were changing and I'm like, what is going on here? I don't understand. Called them multiple times. They were probably like, oh God, it's her on the phone again. I called them up and I'm like, I don't understand why these historical numbers are changing, what gives? Apparently they were saying, well, as we investigated, if we learn someone who was tested in South Carolina was not from South Carolina, we would remove them, and if we found out somebody tested positive from in another state, but they're from here, we would add them back in. I'm like, okay, that totally makes sense. But you got to tell people stuff like this, otherwise your numbers just look like you're arbitrarily changing them.
Rob Collie (01:00:56): Two sets of books.
Belinda Allen (01:00:57): Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Their original job was in the elevator services, right?
Rob Collie (01:01:03): That's right. That's right. That's a nice COVID dashboard.
Belinda Allen (01:01:06): Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:01:06): Be a shame if something happened to it.
Belinda Allen (01:01:06): That's right.
Rob Collie (01:01:09): Yeah. I've used a lot of Power BI lately to help my wife with calibrating how much of various medication she should be taking. The only feedback she gets is how she feels. And these things have half lives. These doses have half lives and they accumulate because of the half life. And so you can't just say, well, how much did I take that day versus how I felt? You got to get an approximation of what the blood levels were of that medication. And so to do a damn near infinite series of all these different doses, at different times of day using the Excel app on your phone to enter the data.
Belinda Allen (01:01:44): Not a bad app.
Rob Collie (01:01:46): No, it gets the job done. Even in Excel, Bill [inaudible 01:01:50] and I, he made an Excel version for me that did this first. It's the age old Excel problem. You have to allocate a certain number of rows and columns to the problem. And if you end up with more days than that, well now you got to go back to the drawing board, with a single sum X measure across all the rows, and then a power function, an exponential decay function as the inner calculation in the sum X. It's like one relatively simple formula, and it just gives you this beautiful line chart that zigzags, zigzags, zigzags, but eventually stabilizes at an equilibrium. And it also then plot how she was feeling as a bar chart.
(01:02:25): So it was a combo chart of line and bar. We pretty quickly started to figure out what was the range she needed to be in and what doses she needed to take in order to be there. It was just very nuanced titration type process and Power BI. Very rare that you'd find yourself doing in a business scenario, a sum X of a power function. But there are cases, right? Related to COVID or some sort of virality and marketing or something like that. But fascinating tools that you can deploy in your real life. What have we not talked about?
Belinda Allen (01:02:59): I never brought it back to answer your question all the way through. What does my business look like now? I told you we had sold our business and moved to New York and started over again. Well, we sold that business. I went to work for an ISV predominantly doing Power BI, and my husband quasi retired. I worked for them for a little over three years. Love them, still love them. I'm in this weird state where I'm between the regular job and retirement, and my husband's come back into the fold. Now we mostly do training. We still work with few clients here and there. We need that to keep honest. I do things that interest me and things that are fun for me. So this is where I am now, which leads me squarely in the world of Power platform. And even though I stay right in my Dynamics space, most of the time, not entirely.
(01:03:52): And most of the time it's the small to medium business. I've used that phrase a lot. I mean a complex one person company to everything just shy of a Fortune 1000. It was interesting, when we were selling accounting software, especially in New York, we took more people off of QuickBooks and brought them up. And then the next one was tier one products. We'd take people off Oracle a lot, and that was our next biggest customer, is bringing people down, because they didn't have the complexities that required that kind of system. So they had a lot of complexities, but not anything that required anything beyond an SMB system. We've had a lot of really weird dramatic experiences in all kinds of industries, and so now we're taking advantage of all that knowledge we have and experience and we're doing training.
(01:04:45): And it's funny, when I create content and even when I create sessions, I frequently think back of 30 years of working with clients and I think about, okay, how would John have reacted to this report versus Theresa? Would they have reacted to it in the same way? Which one of them would've probably taken it and run with it? I think about that as I'm trying to guide people onto their own Power BI journey. So to finally answer the question as to what my business looks like, that is finally the answer. That's what we're doing now is in that weird and fun stage of life between still working full time and projects and pieces that really excite us.
Rob Collie (01:05:27): Oh, that's awesome. And still remarkably specific. At the same time, targeting an absolutely massive market.
Belinda Allen (01:05:35): It is massive. Oh my gosh. It is super massive. It doesn't necessarily even sound as specific as it is, but it is. It's incredibly specific. The industries may vary. Later today I have a meeting with a movie company. I will be dealing tomorrow with an entirely different kind of company, a not for profit. So it's all very, very different. But so many of the concepts and the pieces of it are all the same. I mentioned things being circular, and they definitely are. Once you find a use for that DAX function, all of a sudden now everybody needs that exact DAX function. It all seems to work like that.
Rob Collie (01:06:15): So many problems end up just being the same old problems over and over and over again. And our tool set for dealing with those problems has improved tremendously.
Belinda Allen (01:06:25): One of the biggest things that I find is, two different things when I'm working with people in their data. One of them is I either find out that they're not getting their data in the way they want. We have to have a come to Jesus meeting at that point. I can't give them all the information they want if it doesn't exist. Here's the report, it's going to magically turn into this code that will stop the bomb. Or the other side of it is, they say, this is what we have, this is what we want. And all you're doing is giving them the same thing in a different wrapper. And we're not making your business any better by doing that either.
Rob Collie (01:06:59): Yeah. I think once you know enough to see through the buzz and the marketing bullshit, you can tell that the problems really haven't changed in the world so much. The tools might be better for dealing with those problems, but the idea that the tools have made the problems go away is so often the sales pitch. That's not true at all. It's never going to be easy. That's why we need people like you, whatever you want to call it, citizen developer, the person who came from the real world and then discovered these tools as opposed to came up through the computer science ranks or something like that. That's the future of data. I absolutely tell you, you're the real deal.
Belinda Allen (01:07:34): Well, thanks for that.
Rob Collie (01:07:36): And I'm glad we finally got to chat.
Belinda Allen (01:07:38): Yeah. Me too. Me too.
Rob Collie (01:07:40): In marketing, what are the things that... This is just personal curiosity. What are the things that most appeal to you about marketing? Why is that the fun thing?
Belinda Allen (01:07:47): I think a lot of it is the strategy and how you can entice people, how you can hook them. I was sold on marketing in my very first marketing class in college. I'll never forget the exact example. It's like, do you teach ballet to small kids? Who do you market to? I was like, the small kids. Answer's wrong. You market to the parents. The parents are the ones who are going to sign their kids up, they're the ones that are going to pay for them, they're the ones that are going to take them. So you need to market to the parents. And that had such an aha moment to me in business.
Rob Collie (01:08:19): Brain stretching. Yeah.
Belinda Allen (01:08:19): Yes.
Rob Collie (01:08:19): Your brain grows two sizes that day, in that moment even.
Belinda Allen (01:08:22): And that was the example. I answered it wrong, and I still got hooked. And so the whole concept of that and how businesses work. And at the time, this is a litmus test I use for people to see if they're closer to my age. Tom Peters was all the buzz then. He wrote in Search of Excellence, and he was the business guru, and he talked about that. How do you make businesses better? One of the things he talked about a lot is when you're going to fail, you want to fail fast. If you fail slowly, you're going to bleed to death, for sure. So if you want to fail, you want to fail fast. He talked a lot about, early in the late eighties, when I was really growing my chops in the business world, and he talked about the death of distance and some of those things. And this is a great example of it, the fact that three of us are probably not even in, we're in three different states, probably.
Rob Collie (01:09:16): That's right.
Belinda Allen (01:09:18): It doesn't matter, right? We're still communicating and we're communicating to other people who are listening. So these kinds of things, just these ideas of how businesses worked and how they grew just fascinated me to absolutely no end, and I still have this great love affair of certain people, just to listen to them. I love conferences that have really good keynote speakers. When they talk about how businesses work and how businesses are working together, and I think about all that as a term of marketing. So I just find it really fascinating. How do you connect to people? And our business has always grown, in our lifetime, my husband and I, it's always been word of mouth.
(01:09:59): It's funny, we never really hit the nail on the head of marketing. It's always been word of mouth. And every bit of marketing we've ever had and done has been purely organic in nature because of the way we focus. And so I find that fascinating. I find TV commercials, and how they do logos, and when they change logos, and when they change theme songs, and all of those things, I just find... When Kentucky Fried Chicken went to KFC, I thought that was really interesting. And the same with Federal Express to FedEx. I just stop and think about those things. So I am the weird child in the room, always have been.
Rob Collie (01:10:34): In my last 10 years or so I've become obsessed with the same things. I'm more closely associated with marketing at our company than any of the other functions. Obviously I have something to say about all of it. Most of my day to day is something to do with marketing. So I'm in the same boat.
Belinda Allen (01:10:49): It's an essential tool. So my husband gives me grief because he was an accounting major, but I was the marketing major at a party school. So that's what he always tells me. So he's like, I'm not going to ask you. You were a marketing major at a party school. It's like, thanks a lot. I appreciate that. I find it really, really fascinating. In a way, I guess, it's a minor league psychology. Who is drawn to a product and why? I just find it utterly fascinating.
Rob Collie (01:11:13): I do too. Maybe next time we talk, we'll talk nothing but that.
Belinda Allen (01:11:18): Oh, that would be fun. That would be fun.
Rob Collie (01:11:19): I've really enjoyed this. It's really a pleasure meeting you.
Belinda Allen (01:11:20): Yeah, it was lovely meeting you. I had a great time. Thanks.
Speaker 3 (01:11:25): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive Podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Have a data to day.
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