Power BI–A case study to end homelessness


Keith Anderson, Senior ADM, shares a practical example of how Power BI quickly transformed a project using simple, out-of-the-box features to integrate data and provide visualizations.


I had the opportunity recently to work with the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH) on their yearly Youth Point-in-time (PIT) Count event.  Microsoft worked with them on a pro-bono basis to create a mobile application using Xamarin.  Microsoft Developer Experience engineers in collaboration with Nutmeg Consulting created a survey application that could be loaded onto devices running iOS, Android, or Windows through the magic of Xamarin and taken out into the field by anyone with such a device to survey Connecticut homeless youth.  The data was to be collected and analyzed for use in their admirable goal to end homelessness.

Almost as an afterthought, Power BI was suggested as a way to visualize the data to the coordinator of the youth PIT count streaming in from the survey collectors in real time.  This allowed the coordinator to better organize resources during the event and catch potential problems.  Here is an example of a dashboard that literally took a few minutes to put together, and yet, was extremely useful to the coordinator during the event.

I had no prior Power BI experience before this.  I was amazed at how easy an interactive dashboard could be created using four visualizations.  I had the benefit of targeting a relational data source, so the relationships came in to Power BI already defined.   The Map visualization was extremely powerful.  Using the address fields, the Map was able to geocode and render them appropriately using Bing maps technology.  Each point on the map represented a location where a survey was performed.  The points were interactive in that consumers of the dashboard could select them and the survey details and questions and answers were rendered in the Table and Multi-Row Card visualizations.  Conversely, the Slicer visualization, here rendered as a dropdown list and tied to the survey giver, could be used to show only surveys given by a specific survey giver on the map.

powerbi_map

This functionality came mostly out-of-the-box.  I did minimal data manipulation to get the address in a format that could be geo-coded, but this was nothing that would cause any Excel user to bat an eye.  In fact, using Power BI felt a lot like using other Office products, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc., and I found it to be mostly intuitive.

This barely scratches of the surface of what Power BI can offer.  This was a throw-away ad-hoc dashboard used operationally during a data collection event, and in some ways, more impressive because of it.  Going back to Excel as an analogy, how many times have you created a spreadsheet to manipulate some data and convey it to others?  The power of the spreadsheet is in its simplicity and elegance.  The power of Power BI seems to be along the same vein.

It also doesn’t escape me that the CCEH use was also an IoT scenario.  Microsoft has recently extended Power BI functionality to more easily attach streamed real-time data sources:

https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/using-power-bi-real-time-dashboards-to-display-iot-sensor-data-a-step-by-step-tutorial/.

Power BI also comes with a RESTful API any dashboard can be integrated into just about any modern business application.  I know I will be looking for opportunities to evangelize and use this more going forward.


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