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Microsoft promises real-time, self-service BI

Mary Branscombe | Feb. 17, 2016
Can you watch your business as it works without slowing it down? The right collaboration and reporting tools can give you a real-time picture of what’s happening inside your business, without all the manual reporting.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at a recent Future Decoded conference. Credit: Kevin Coombs / Reuters

Over the last decade, business intelligence has gone from reports you had to ask a business analyst to build, to self-service systems that let executives and managers alike dig into the figures to understand what’s going on. But looking back at the last month’s figures doesn’t tell you what’s happening right now.

As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the recent Future Decoded events, seeing your business in real-time is about looking at “the leading indicators of success, not the lagging indicators of success. How do we get to the leading indicators of success like net promotor scores or usage versus the lagging indicators like profit?”

James Philips, who runs the Power BI and Dynamics teams at Microsoft, has a slightly snappier description for it. “The old approach of taking a historical data set and massaging it? I call that trying to drive a car by looking in your rear view mirror; it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Nadella showed how the Microsoft management team uses Delve Analytics. His personal dashboard – automatically gathered from his Outlook calendar, and from the Microsoft Graph that lets Delve access information not just from Office but from third-party systems like Salesforce – tracks how much time he spends in meetings (16 hours a week, which is better than the 20 hours he’s set as a limit), doing email (9.6 hours, which is a little over his goal of getting through mail in just 9 hours) and working late (eight hours a week rather than his goal of just an hour a night). Out of a 40-hour week, that leaves just two hours that he counts as focused with “time for work.” For many executives, that will be a familiar picture.

Delving beyond a calendar view

Delve Organizational Analytics , which Microsoft plans to launch on Office 365 later this year (in E5 tenants and as an option for E1 and E3 subscriptions) does a lot more than just analyse your calendar – although if you want to check out your own statistics without Delve, there’s a new Calendar Insights template for Excel 2016 that shows how much time you’ve spent in meetings and who with.

Think of Delve Analytics like fitness tracking, but for your work day, with a dashboard that shows you how you and your team are working, and the occasional nudge to get back to work or take a break. This is why Microsoft recently bought VoloMetrix, a start-up focused on behavioural analytics for business productivity; whether that’s measuring how much time sales and support teams spend with customers and how that relates to the number of sales your business makes, getting people to have a quick, face-to-face discussion instead of multiple, back-and-forth emails, or reducing the amount of time people spend in meetings where they’re not getting anything done. (VoloMetrix marks a meeting as having “low engagement” for anyone who sends more than two emails while they’re in the meeting; imagine seeing that score next to the names of people in your next meeting once Microsoft builds the VoloMetrix analytics into Delve).

 

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