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DeNisha Malone harnesses Power BI to tell a story – and create a career

DeNisha MalDeNisha Malone.jpgDeNisha Maloneone’s talk at the Seattle Power BI World Tour was entitled “Telling a Story with Data”: A fitting subject for her, near to her heart. She could even tell the story of her own life with data.


Her first real brush with data was a course at the University of Memphis in databases and SQL queries. She did so well and enjoyed it so much that her professor, Mark Gillenson, asked her to be a tutor for the next session. That was the beginning of her journey transforming data, creating reports to tell a story, and even teaching.


In 2015 DeNisha took an internship with a company that had all its reports in SSRS. They were an Office 365 shop, and Power BI was in beta, so they asked her to figure out how to port their reports to Power BI. She spent some months researching it, teaching herself, and reviewing resources as they came online. She found Power BI easy to use and enjoyed the self-service aspect. After those months of research, she successfully converted their SSRS reports to Power BI.


After college, “Power BI became a hobby,” DeNisha says, finding free data and creating Power BI reports just for fun. That’s how she got her current job at DB Best in Redmond: She showed them her “hobby” reports. They hired her, and their marketing team started to adopt her Power BI implementations right away.


“They wanted to automate Excel reports to create new reports,” she says.


Now she’s a consultant for DB Best.


A FEW Qs & As


Talk about your current position

“What makes me different is that I relate to the business users, plus I'm technical. I do a lot of requirements gathering. I'm a social butterfly, I use my job to leverage my hobby of talking to people. No one else wanted to go into the field and talk to people.


“But I also like the back end, things like M Language, SQL, and DAX that users won't want to do. I'm doing data governance. I'm super happy about dataflows. I architect or consult with their architects or admins around the enterprise. I do the complex development.


“I love workarounds. I hardly ever say no! There's really no need to when there are so many API's and new features. I recently administered the pick-up and move of company reports from one shared tenant to another private one. There were a little over 100 reports with thousands of queries. This was made easy with an API developed with the help of DB Best!”


What do you do to help your customers use reports?

“I create training for the enterprise customers. I group the users together and host training sessions, either in person or over video conference. When they get to use the reports themselves, they feel more comfortable. I've been working mainly to administer and stabilize premium capacities for customers, while also ensuring the groups of free and Pro users know how to access things and do their own analysis.”


What do you do to keep growing?

“I’m still doing my hobby reports, and every month I use the new features in my hobby reports. Many enterprises are about 4 months behind, so I stay up to date with my own reports. Power BI makes it easy to keep interested.”




Tell a story

Reports can’t just be a bunch of numbers, or even beautiful visuals. You need to find the story the data is trying to tell, and then make it clear. Keep it simple. A few clear visualizations are more powerful than a whole bunch of them all over the place.


Find free data

There are lots of free data sources out there! At all the different levels of government – country, state, county, city – lots of agencies publish their data. Many non-profit organizations also make their data available for free, and they’re happy to have you use it.


Gather your customers’ requirements

DeNisha stresses the importance of the story, and the importance of giving report readers what they ask for. Before creating a report, before even collecting the data, she completes a checklist with customers, in which they tell her what they want the report to tell them. She looks for the data that will answer their questions, and then she designs the report. As she adds each element to the report, she goes back to her checklist to make sure she’s answering the questions they had, and checks them off.


Keep track of sources

Another best practice DeNisha demoed: Keep track of where you get all the data you use in a report. Create a resource table with names and links to the data. Then create a page in the report just for the resource table. That way, customers can go back to the source and dig deeper, or verify what they’re seeing.




Denisha’s twitter handle is @ThePowerBIQueen, so you can tell she’s aiming high. Follow her on Twitter to see how her own story develops.