Shine a Light on Your Data | Podcast | Episode 003

Shine a Light on Your Data | Podcast | Episode 003


In this episode, we chat with Simon Divine, Owner of Hopton Analytics. Simon is a business intelligence specialist and has years of experience in the technology space, working with ERP applications, such as SAP and Microsoft dynamics and business intelligence applications, such as QlikView and Microsoft Power BI.


It is Simon's belief that data lies at the core of decisions that drive businesses forwards and is currently pioneering the BI as a service concept, which gives businesses powerful insight into their data without the need to hire skilled resource internally.



Audio Podcast Links

Please find the show notes below.


How did Simon get into doing what he is now?

  • Worked in operations for a Microsoft re-seller for seven, eight years.
  • BI was always something he wanted to try
  • BI in ops was always interesting as you can't escape the data
  • Used to work for QlikView who were the mark leaders at the time
  • They were big on 'BI tools should allow you to ask the last questions first.'
  • Start your conversation with data. If you want to start here, we'll look over there and still get to the answer you're looking for.

BI in projects & operations


Having a tool, which does that number crunching, which gives you that helicopter view that high-level here's the state of play is the first thing you should do because that saves time running reports.

  • Traditional businesses, especially if they want operational reports, will run them once a week, maybe even once a day, which is okay if that's the cadence or the speed with which your business operates.
  • But if it's super-fast moving, you need to know what the situation is now. You need information immediately at your fingertips.
  • I couldn't have done the job that I had done in ops without a BI tool, be it Qlik, which we used to begin with. And then when the time was right, I moved that to Power BI.

How does BI compare to a traditional project management tool?

  • So take project management software, the best ones out there now will give you up to date, accurate information upon resources, so you can make a decision on the fly.
  • The software is almost the thing we use to do the real work.
  • So if you've got the tools that enable you to make those decisions and pick the right resource with the right skills at the right time. Fantastic.
  • If you haven't if you don't have that one way of achieving it you can use BI to deliver similar sorts of results.
  • BI won't replace a dedicated project management app
  • But BI can sit alongside or on top off these sorts of tools
  • Large-scale software projects come with business change and process change
  • For a smaller outlay, you can use a BI tool to achieve similar results without having to change your business

BI Myths


  • "We're not ready for BI yet as we can't get the fundamentals right"
  • "The data's not good enough"
  • What about the data isn't good enough?
  • You can still shine a light on data that isn't complete
  • PowetBI is low-code so you can start yourself
  • Start small
  • You can also use BI to extract data out of old systems
  • It can then be stored and analysed without having to bring it into a new system
  • When people say they should wait, it may be because they've got too many projects on. But BI can be adopted at any point.
  • If the data isn't great, that's not a reason not to do something, it's a reason to do something

BI as a means of finding the gaps

  • BI is accessible, it's only a tenner for the pro version
  • Teams can connect their data to PowerBI to start surfacing information
  • If there are any gaps in the data that stop them from working towards a particular insight, they can backfill
  • Sometimes apps are built to deliberately show what data is missing. Using the example of projects:
  • 15 don't have owners
  • 25 have a start date and not an end date
  • You can proactively seek to improve
  • In these examples we're using the software as an enabler
  • It's not software for the sake of software
  • It's using information to make decisions
  • Do we buy that new machine based on our profitability?
  • Do we need to hire more people in the factory or warehouse based on the number of leads we've got coming in?
  • Being able to take data from multiple sources is advantageous

BI for data migration projects

  • Do you move data that isn't perfect into a shiny new system?
  • Do you keep two systems running in tandem for the initial period?
  • This often has a cost associated with it
  • BI can be used as a middle ground to visualise data outside of a system
  • BI is used as the storage
  • It can then be used to blend data. So you can take historic data from the old system, and link it with the data in the new systems
  • This will satisfy the auditors
  • You then have a tool that allows you to layer multiple versions of history and not lose it

How does BI make storytelling easier?

  • It's the people
  • It's the experience of someone being able to take the data and ask 'What will we do with it?'
  • It's then a case of building just enough to give people the information that they want
  • It's not a case of throwing everything into the mix
  • It's about giving people the right information at the right time

Are we looking at a shift in skillset?

  • As businesses start adopting more BI tools as part of their day to day, and aren't spending their life in spreadsheets, are we moving to a senior wherethe requirement for different skillsets will change?
  • Are we looking at industry knowledge and interpretation skills?
  • Are we moving towards employing analysis rather than operational staff?


  • Many businesses will already have these types of individuals
  • They already have industry knowledge because they understand their job
  • They ask the right questions, but it might take a while to surface information
  • They probably have a good feel for say revenue last year, it just takes time to arrive at the information
  • So what we're talking about it removing the manual drudgery
  • There are many individuals at all levels of an organisation that can interpret data
  • We have AI/ML tools, but in many cases these won't replace people, it'll only enhance
  • 90% of organisations still aren't using the tools that are available
  • A lot are just relying on gut feel, like 'Bill' in sales who has an idea of what we're going to do next year
  • But Bill doesn't scale


Using PowerBI for Quick Insight

  • Relating to AI/ML, if you go into the PowerBI data set, you'll find a light bulb icon
  • It'll automatically trawl through your data to spot trends and spot outliers
  • It doesn't know what the data means, but it will start plotting trends for you
  • So if you've got a reasonable dataset and don't now where to start, you can click the lightbulb and get some inspiration


  • An example using Aged Debtors:
  • Inteads of hours to produce this now happens instantly
  • AI adds to the use, because you can start look at what factors influence a debt to be over a certain amount of time
  • It could be a customer in a region, it could be a credit controller, it could be an account manager


  • This starts lifting the veil, and uncovering stories as to why things are happening


  • An example using Sales:
  • We can use machine learning to crunch the numbers
  • How often do they buy? How much? What do they pay?
  • Frequency, cadence etc
  • After pushing it through an algorithm you can learn what customers might be about to leave you
  • We can tell because historically they've bought loads, but now they're not buying
  • Equally, here's customers that if we sold them this product, there's a 70% chance they'll buy this product, because they complement each other


  • You could do this manually, but it would take you an age


  • Example of a food manufacturer:
  • A big part of what they do is try to get items out of the door before they expire
  • You could combine average sales times against write-offs


Real-world applications of BI


The virtual warehouse

  • The BI dashboard is the wireframe of a warehouse
  • It included shelf locations
  • It was then turned into a heat map with the darker regions showing the faster-moving items
  • The aim was to support an operations director in re-arranging their warehouse so that the higher moving goods were more accessible

The sports field

  • The customer was a massive university
  • Each areas of the site was fitted with energy meters
  • Using a dashboard, we could see there was a massive spike in the evening from the sports ground
  • After identifying the spike, we tracked it back to a groundskeeper that when he was doing his rounds would turn on all of the floodlights
  • When asked why he did this, he explained it's because it's what he'd always done


  • This is what BI is all about
  • Point solutions that allow you to surface relevant data
  • It can be an iterative process
  • We start here, then move onto this, then onto this
  • It doesn't have to be a big bang where you'll only see value after 2 years

The public toilets

  • This was a local council
  • The energy consumption from one of the toilets would go through the roof at a certain time of night
  • It was a homeless person that broken in, and he’d used a broom to jam the the hand dryer on. So he could stay warm overnight.


  • Other examples may be trying to find outliers within departmental expenses e.g sales spending too much money on hotels
  • These are small examples, you don't have to implement a whole suite of business analysis tools to start seeing value

The estate managers

  • Large estate, loads of properties
  • The finance team would like to see where water is being consumed if someone's left a tap on for example


  • These aren't things you'd always think of
  • Other examples might be being able to update customers based on the progress of their goods on a production line

What approach does Hopton Analytics take when implementing BI?


  • Sometimes companies might say, we've got something we know we need something. We don't know what. This is less common
  • More often it's, we know we want to do something. We have the Microsoft stack, we need help.
  • We want solutions that enlighten us on what's happening in the organization.
  • The focus first is on 'proof of value' which used to be referred to as 'proof of concept'
  • It often starts with sales, as sales tends to be the lifeblood of any business
  • If it works there, it'll probably work in other areas of your business
  • It's not about going in and selling 100 days worth of project
  • We work in an agile way that might not be full days
  • That agility helps our customers save money
  • Can we provide value here? Yes, OK, let's move onto the next area
  • This helps build trust as well

Are there any data formats that work better than others?


  • There is no one format that's better than another
  • A recent example is a company wanting to pull data from their call stats. The data is in a simple format, but it's not structured very well
  • More complex data formats, when written well can be easily worked with

What are they trying to see when looking at call stats?


  • How long does it take to answer to get a call answered?
  • How many calls are answered in an hour, in a minute, in a day, in a week
  • We can start see how many are dropped, how many go to voicemail, how many go to voicemail and don't leave voicemails.
  • Who's answering the most calls in a ring group?
  • And actually the reason they pick up the call so often isn't because it rings their phone first, but just because they have a propensity to want to be helpful, right.
  • It's all geared towards trying to find ways to improve.


What does the future of BI look like?


  • Predictive analytics is going to become more and more important
  • There will be less of a divide between applications
  • ERP systems, CRM systems will start building in more and more business intelligence


What app, or piece of software could you not live without?


  • It's called Motion, usemotion.com
  • It’s not cheap, but it is one of the best products
  • It will connect to your calendar or calendars, and then it'll take your tasks, and based on priority will organise them into your diary
  • Some will be firm and won't move, but some the system will automatically schedule for you
  • You end up with slot after slot of focus work
  • The clever bit is the AI element
  • If you add something that has a higher priority to be completed than something else in the dairy, it will automatically re-arrange your schedule so you can meet your priority deadlines
  • It's essentially a virtual assistant
  • It'll also allow you to send a meeting link, and instead of just 'here's my diary book a time' it'll allow you to present your preferred times for a discussion as well

Where can you find out more about Simon and Hopton Analytics?


Linkedin - Simon Devine

Website - www.hoptonanalytics.com


Get in Touch


Wanting some one-to-one guidance on how to leverage technology to support your ambitions, or just want help demystifying the complex world of software and systems?


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1. Send me an e-mail at adam@adamshilton.com

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©2022 by Adam Shilton. Privacy Policy - Terms of Use