How Microsoft IT India’s Test Organization Enabled Efficient Business Intelligence
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The Microsoft IT India Test Organization business intelligence (BI) solution is a highly interactive, flexible, browser-based data exploration, visualization, and presentation tool, which provides an interactive reporting structure for enterprise data from a diverse set of data sources. This solution provides an easy-to-use and flexible user experience with multiple views that can be used to present data to users exactly as they want to see it.
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| This article examines data and reporting challenges faced
by Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) India Test,
and how they overcame those challenges by using newly developed
BI solutions. |
The small team used a combination of Microsoft technologies, including Windows Server 2012, Internet Information Services, Microsoft SQL Server 2012, Microsoft SharePoint 2013, and Microsoft Office 365, to provide a unified reporting solution.
The new BI solution enables interactive and on-demand generation of quality metrics for all IT India projects. It offers several benefits when compared to the previous solution, including aggregation and automated collection of data across business units, visually rich and interactive report formats, accurate and relevant key performance indicators (KPIs), and a unified user experience.
Microsoft IT India manages all aspects of IT for Microsoft across its locations in India. The Microsoft IT India Test team develops and maintains a large number of business critical projects. Deriving uniform and standard quality metrics is a challenge. These metrics are essential to determine the effectiveness of various business units and Microsoft IT India as a whole.
Reporting Needs at Microsoft IT India Test
Microsoft IT India Test tracks various quality metrics to ensure the effectiveness of teams and business units. These metrics require data based on existing projects within Microsoft IT India. Results for these metrics and reports are compared to pre-determined goals and targets to determine how effective a given project or business unit is. This data needs to be as current and readily available as possible in order to provide an accurate assessment of overall operations within the Microsoft IT India Test organization.
The data environment at Microsoft IT India Test exists across multiple data sources. Microsoft IT India Test uses Visual Studio Team Foundation Server to store all project-related data in several different data warehouses There are also several Excel spreadsheets used that contain important business data.
The data and reports used at Microsoft IT India Test were not consistent across business units. Microsoft IT India Test reports are highly decentralized in nature; every business unit has its own way of collecting, maintaining and reporting the data. The reporting structure needed to be improved and specific shortcomings addressed in order to provide accurate and efficient results.
Challenges in the Previous Reporting Structure
The previous reporting solution for business data had several significant issues:
Data was distributed across various data sources, including Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and Visual Studio Team Foundation Server instances. There was no single source for data aggregation at the business unit level or in the broader scope of Microsoft IT India Test.
Tedious Data Collection
Data collection was difficult due to the distributed nature of the data sources and the manual collection process. Users designing a report had to collect the data manually across over one hundred projects spanning five different business units. This was a time consuming and tedious process.
Reports were generated manually, using whatever solution or tool each business unit had chosen. In some cases, Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services was used, but many reports were also created manually using Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft PowerPoint.
Poor Representation of Usable Business Data
The previous reporting structure did not present direct answers to important business questions. The users of the reports had very specific requirements for data representation. For example: a user might want to know the answer to the following question: How many production application defects were detected for a specific business unit last quarter? A direct answer did not exist in the available reports provided by Team Foundation Server. Users were forced to perform further analysis on reports before receiving the answers to their questions.
Non-Existent Visualization Tools
User visualization was limited by the report delivery method. In many cases, users created reports in PowerPoint by entering data manually to provide visually appealing and presentable data.
No Absolute Definition of Data Across All Business Units
Creating reports that provided an absolute representation of business data was difficult due to the distributed, non-standardized nature of the data, the inconsistencies in data collection, and the relatively complicated reporting process. As a result, two reports attempting to represent the same information could end up with different data. There was no authoritative version of the truth within the data represented in the reports. This lack of consistency made reporting very difficult for projects that were co-managed by different business units. Managers of projects did not have a complete view of the data related to their project.
When the team at Microsoft IT India Test recognized the challenges experienced with the previous reporting solution, they assessed currently available technology and decided that a more functional and usable solution could be implemented.
After assessing the previous solution and its shortcomings, the team determined several design goals for the new solution.
Employee-Focused Navigation and Design
The team wanted the new solution to be easy for users to adopt. Making the report data available in the simplest way possible was an important design goal for the team. The team wanted to create an interface that was familiar to users so they would be comfortable with the supporting solution.
Aggregation of Data Across Business Units
Delivering a definitive version of all data across the enterprise was another important design goal. The team wanted to collect and aggregate data in a way that provided one set of data that all business units would use for reporting. Reports generated by one business unit should use the exact same version and representation of enterprise data as any other business unit.
Unified Reporting Dashboard
Along with aggregated data, the team wanted to make sure that the user experience was uniform across multiple business units. The team wanted to provide a single, user-friendly interface to the reporting infrastructure that any user from any business unit could access. The team wanted the representation of data in the interface to be instantly visible, especially for key metrics and statistics.
Actionable Reporting Formats
The team also recognized the need to ensure that reports generated and provided to users contained exactly the information required, without the need for further refinement. The goal was to have a report that was useful as soon as it was presented.
Efficient Report Publishing
The team wanted to make the report publishing process more efficient. They wanted to remove as many manual tasks from the data collection and reporting process as possible, and replace them with automated, repeatable tasks.
Implementation and Infrastructure
The team reviewed its design goals, and then selected infrastructure components that could work together in a solution that would meet the goals that were established in the design phase.
Data Warehouse Infrastructure
The team leveraged existing data warehouse infrastructure at Microsoft IT India, complemented with Microsoft SQL Server databases to aggregate data from multiple data sources when required for a report. This configuration enabled the team to provide current and accurate data; it also enabled aggregation at the data source level when dealing with complex data aggregation scenarios.
Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel Integration
Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel is used to enable accurate representation of data to the reporting interface. PowerPivot for Excel enables flexible analytics and modeling of data.
Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft SharePoint 2013
The team implemented Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft SharePoint 2013 to provide a unified user interface and a browser-based reporting experience. With Office 365 and SharePoint 2013 2013, all reports can be generated and displayed within a web browser. These technologies allow users to access reports from any browser-enabled computer.
Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services 2012 Power View
The team uses the Power View feature in SQL Server Reporting Services 2012, integrated with both Power Pivot and SharePoint 2013, to provide visually rich reports that require very little manipulation or the creation of a report structure. Most Power View reports require no user input; instead, users can open them by selecting the tiles on the Power View dashboard that represent a KPI or metric for a project or business unit.
Solution architecture diagram
Using the Microsoft technology infrastructure shown in Figure 1, Microsoft IT India Test’s BI solution aggregates data from multiple sources and represents that data to users in meaningful ways.
Figure 1. Architecture of the Microsoft IT India Test Organization’s BI solution
Development and Resource Investment
The BI solution developed by Microsoft India Test was not developed by a large team of developers, as part of a well-funded project. Rather, it was constructed by two Microsoft IT employees, who saw the need for a unified and user-friendly solution for Microsoft IT India Test. The small team assembled a list of needs and requirements, and then leveraged the latest Microsoft technology to produce this solution.
The new BI solution offers very powerful reporting capabilities that are accessible to users and easy to generate and manipulate. Significant reporting capabilities include:
Aggregation of Data Across the Enterprise
The new BI solution enables aggregation of data across all business units at Microsoft IT India Test. Important information, such as KPIs and business-critical metrics, is available in the reporting dashboard. Each tile on the dashboard provides a visual representation of the data and enables the user to link to reports offering more details.
Figure 2. Microsoft IT India Quality Dashboard
Visually Rich Reports
Users can generate reports that not only present the data they require, but present it in an appealing format. By using the Power View feature for Excel 2013 and SharePoint 2013 2013, the team has provided a simple and intuitive interface that can generate professional-looking reports.
Report Usage Example
Consider the following example of how the BI solution is
commonly used at Microsoft IT India:
A general manager at Microsoft IT India Test manages over one hundred projects with multiple releases at a given point of time for five different business process units. One of his responsibilities is to check how his organization is doing in terms of various quality metrics. For him, the IT India Dashboard (Figure 2) will provide all the information he requires. The tiles on the IT India Dashboard home page displays the overall metric summary at Microsoft IT India. In this example, the manager is interested in Defect Detection Efficiency, which displays as 90 percent on the dashboard. He clicks on the tile and is presented with the following report (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Defect Detection Efficiency report for multiple business process units
The report in figure 3 shows the overall defect detection efficiency for the business process units the manager is responsible for. If he wants to view more detail for a specific business process unit, he clicks on the business process unit in the report, and sees a more detailed report, specific the individual business process unit. In this case, he has selected Org 1, as represented by figure 4.
Figure 4. Detailed defect detection efficiency report for CFIT
Interactive and Customizable Data Representation
The new reporting and data visualization components in the BI solution enable users to gain insight into their relevant data interactively. Within the reporting interface, several features empower the user experience:
- Self service. Users can generate reports interactively, based on the information that is important to them. The entire process—from data collection to report generation—is performed by the BI solution. It does not require manual intervention or guidance from database administrators or report creators.
- Drag and drop. Users can drag and drop report components to create the visual representation they require.
- Multiple views. Reports can be generated using multiple views, including multiple types of tiles, charts, and cards.
Automatically Generated KPIs and Metrics
There are several important statistics that measure business performance at Microsoft IT India. These statistics are recorded as KPIs and metrics, and they are available within two separate components of the BI solution.
- Active tiles. The dashboard view contains several tiles that represent statistical information for important KPIs and metrics. These tiles are populated with the latest data, so that the dashboard always provides the user with the most current and relevant view.
- Threshold notifications. Users can configure threshold notifications for KPIs and metrics to provide an alert when a KPI or metric exceeds a threshold. This is useful for notifying managers when potential quality issues are occuring in their business unit.
Export to Interactive Visual Format (PowerPoint)
Users can easily export Power View reports to PowerPoint. Users can use these reports to present data and information in a compelling way without designing PowerPoint slides or manually pasting data into a pre-designed template. The PowerPoint file that is generated connects to the report data source when it is in run mode, ensuring that the data referenced in the PowerPoint file is current.
Microsoft IT India Test has realized several benefits from the new BI solution, specifically in quality management.
Reusable Framework for Reporting
While this BI solution was originally developed for Microsoft IT India Test, it has since been deployed with great success in other divisions within Microsoft IT. The solution is independent of any specific data structures.
Users Are Enabled and More Efficient
Users can generate their own reports from the solution, and the generation process is accessible and fast. Users spend less time creating and generating reports, and more time on their critical business functions.
Intelligent Decision Making Enabled by Access to Relevant Data
Data aggregation across business units enables all report
users to access the same data and same report results. The same reports
generated by different users or business units will result in the same numbers.
Additionally, new data collection procedures enable data combinations that weren’t previously accessible, enabling more detailed views of business-related data.
Maintenance and Development for Reporting Systems Significantly Reduced
Microsoft IT India Test staff no longer need to collect data and create reports manually, or reconcile report results to the reports from other business units. Reports are generated more efficiently, and with greater data accuracy than in the previous solution
Microsoft IT India Test produced an effective, easy-to-use, and reusable BI solution using Microsoft technology that enables a more complete reporting process for its users. This solution has enabled Microsoft IT India and several other Microsoft IT divisions to establish organization-wide standards for business processes.
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