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Power BI – My journey to decent reporting

I have spent 30 years in the motor trade and part of that generation responsible for computerization of business process. I spent a lot of time in the 90s and beyond automating process, replacing manual with computer, hooking tech up to 3rd parties etc. Today there are a lot of tools out there in the market place that all pretty much do the same thing. For all good reason the buying process has migrated away from technical staff to commercial leaders and influencers. Tech no longer has the wow factor it had 20 years ago and has been replaced with frustration when it doesn’t function correctly with sometimes a long haul to find something that does.

It can be difficult to justify spend on new tech like Power BI when what you have does the job. In current times tech is more about gaining efficiencies, simplifying process and producing accurate meaningful information to move a business forward. Power BI facilitates this by pulling your data from a whole myriad of sources, your ERP system (or for most businesses multiple systems), the internet, 3rd parties and the list goes on. It then transforms this into a series of visualisations designed for management to quickly get to the root cause of an issue. Old fashioned report writing is fine but really only highlights the issues. Further reports then need to be written/run to get under that issue. And that takes time. All of this is covered in Power BI with a few mouse clicks.

Power BI ticks a lot of boxes in the efficiency gain and cost saving stakes. It is not expensive.

As always in Microsoft world, when they get the bit between the teeth, they tend eventually to develop market leading software. This is true of Excel – does anyone remember Lotus 123 or Quattro?, also true of Word – does anyone remember Word Perfect and Word Star?. In more recent times, partly due to the pandemic this has also been true of Teams, albeit Zoom is an equal contender in my view. I believe this will also become true of Power BI. Microsoft launched the product in 2015 and it is now very solid and going from strength to strength.

Putting this into a real world situation, I had an idea 20 years ago. Something along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be marvellous if all my reporting was all in one place and easily accessible to answer whatever query I might have?” Our core dealer management system was and still is market leading, but is still rooted in 90s tech and too expensive to upgrade to the current version. Yes, it gives you the core stuff and is a fantastic transactional processing tool, but modern it certainly isn’t.

Taking my idea, we stumbled along for years with dealer management system reports that weren’t too far removed from the music line reports of old, making good use of Excel to deal with the shortcomings.

We looked at analysis (or if you’re tech cube) software, but the research always concluded with too expensive, too difficult to set up and maintain, poor UI, too reliant on tech staff. So back to Excel. With the launch of Power BI this all changed. With only a few new technical concepts to master, a good excel user can get something to production in Power BI fairly quickly.

I retired from the motor trade recently leaving the business with a good suite of Power BI tools to answer most financial questions which may arise. All of this was achieved at a fraction of the cost of implementing off the shelf solutions available from the business’s software partners. It was also achieved without too much in house technical support, the solutions being developed from a dialogue between finance and the operational management.

The management team now have a Power BI App which covers off with a few clicks all the following areas:

  • Management Accounts
    • multiple franchises, sites, depts
    • Budget and prior year trends
    • Monthly, Quarterly, Half yearly and Yearly trends
    • Site and dept comparisons
    • Decent chart visuals
  • Vehicle Sales profitability
    • Chassis margin
    • Performance v target
    • Finance penetrations and profit stats
    • Sales Exec leagues
    • Other Addon penetrations and profit stats
    • All of the above sliced by sales exec, franchise, site, model, variant, customer, sales type, manufacturer sales type, age of vehicle etc
    • All drillable to the DMS data
  • Aftersales DOC – daily tracker on all key drivers covering labour sales and parts margins.
  • Aftersales Gross Deepdive
    • Covers all aspects of Service and Bodyshop Gross profit including parts, labour and other
    • Profitability by customer
    • Profitability by job category
  • Debtor control – include vehicle debtors, aftersales debtors and manufacturer bonus claims

I would recommend any business to scope out Power BI. The software is not expensive and has a free licence without time expiry to get you started. Once in play it will give your business one version of the truth and point you to root cause. It will and should also raise other issues which you may not have thought of because they lurked in the depths of your data.

About the Author


I have spent many years as a Finance Director managing all the things FD's do. Close to my heart is the topic of getting accurate, timely and meaningful information (not data) to the management team and then helping them act on it. Many Power BI Apps seem cluttered with data overload. Just because the App can doesn't mean it should.

I have started BiNaviagation to help businesses get started with Power BI. So if you wish to comment on a similar journey or wish for me to get involved and offer some assistance, then leave a post or contact us.

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