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Several years ago I was working at a law firm managing the BI team. It was a law firm that was really trying to push the boundaries of technology and to leverage technology as a differentiator with their competitors.

  • Mobile BI for lawyers

We had established a solid and robust BI solution using Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS 2008r2) and Report Manager and had started down the path of using SharePoint 2010. Our lawyers, and in particular, our Partners spent a lot of time out of the office, travelling to meetings and events. We had an idea of a taxi report, a one pager that could provide them all the information they would need about a client which would include most recent interactions such as meetings and phone calls, current matters and timekeepers who were working on these matters, any outstanding bills for the client, and other relevant information. All this on one page so that they could be prepared when talking to the client.

The success of this taxi report was limited by the need for the Partners to run and print out the report before leaving the office. At the time, there was not much available in the Microsoft BI stack to securely bring this report to their mobile devices.

Since the acquisition of the mobile BI tool, Datazen, by Microsoft in April 2015, I have been playing around to see if this new tool can provide the taxi report that a law firm could truly benefit from.

Datazen provides native apps for all mobile platforms (iOS 7, Android 4.1, Windows 8) and is easily customised to suit a phone, tablet or browser (HTML5).

First and foremost, Datazen is free if you have a SQL Server Enterprise license. This is a big tick for professional services organisations that may have invested in enterprise backend technology but do not want to spend extra on peripheral solutions. And remember, at a law firm, we are talking about the Partner’s hard earned profits.

Secondly, Datazen is secure, which is of utmost importance when storing client data on a mobile device. It is secure through the entire stack, from secure SSL connection between server and device, data encryption at rest on the server, and data encryption on the client device in case of device loss.

What follows is my journey …

I downloaded the Datazen Publisher client for Windows which is required for developing dashboards. I also went about installing Datazen Enterprise on a VM in Azure (more on this another time) to allow Datazen to be consumed by mobile devices and to provide access to enterprise and cloud data sources (SQL Server, SSAS, SharePoint, generic ODBC). Without Datazen Enterprise the Publisher only allows for dashboard design against an Excel spreadsheet.

Without focussing too much on all the wiz-bang functionality within the product suite itself, I developed a simple dashboard that presented the user with a summary of their clients, with a selector to choose the client, and then various gauges and charts to provide an overview of the client and their performance. The clients presented in the selector can be filtered based on the user logged into datazen. I also used the drill- through capability within Datazen to allow the user to open an associated dashboard linked to a KPI on a gauge. And yes, it supports the passing of parameters to the drill-through dashboard.

Datazen requires the data it consumes to be prepared up front. There is no way to model data within Datazen and it is limited to basic aggregation. In most cases I would expect that the data would need to be manipulated in the SQL before consumption by Datazen.

In my example I have created the dashboard off of Excel sheets. The information that I included in the dashboard was designed to provide an overview of client performance. When the partner (user) opens the dashboard, a list of their current clients is shown. Once they select a client, the dashboard updates to display the metrics for the selected client. I included metrics around:

  • Billings and performance against budget for the client
  • Number of interactions with the client (Email, Meetings, Phone) and performance against budget
  • Number of current matters
  • Number of outstanding bills and a comparison to the previous month
  • Client sentiment towards the firm and a comparison to the previous year
  • Chart of the timekeepers working on matters for the client ordered by the most hours billed
  • Pie chart of the breakdown of the client bills for the partner to show how much the client contributes to the partners overall client base.

As mentioned above, the work required here is really in the preparation of the data and providing the datasets for the gauges and charts with the right structure. Once this is done, the dashboard can be published to the Datazen Enterprise server.

Basically once a chart or gauge is created, it can be reused between the master, tablet and phone views meaning the chart or gauge is only created once, but then can be used (or not) in different views, and can be resized etc. This is quite handy when negotiating between displaying important and relevant information on the phone, and displaying more detail on a tablet.

In the phone view Datazen will also automatically hide certain details on charts to save on real estate. Notice the Hours by Timekeeper chart does not have the timekeeper names on the Phone view, but pressing on a column will bring up the details.

I also created a dashboard that presented more detailed information about the interactions the firm was having with the client. This dashboard is viewed by clicking on the Interactions gauge which has a drill- through link passing the client as a parameter.

There are many other features which I have not covered in this blog which include KPIs, collaboration, caching of data, security and filtering on demand and custom maps. I feel that there are many use cases for Datazen particularly with the integration of custom maps (think live alerts to maintenance crew on a gas pipeline or a heat map of patronage at train stations). Hopefully there will be more news from Microsoft as to the future of this product and any potential integration into its existing BI stack.