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Enabling a data-driven workforce using Microsoft Fabric

In the late 1980s, Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word were used frequently in companies around the world, but they were sold separately. In October 1990, Microsoft introduced Microsoft Office, a suite of programs that combined these tools into one product, enabling users to have access to all the programs and tools they needed to be more efficient in their roles.

In today’s world, to continue to become more efficient, companies need to be able to collect, process and analyze their data in order to make data-driven decisions. To help organizations do so, Microsoft launched their latest suite of tools, Microsoft Fabric, bringing together Power BI, Data Marts (SQL Server), Synapse Analytics (SQL data warehouse), and Data Science (machine learning and artificial intelligence) into one data platform. These tools can be run by anyone in the organization without advanced technical knowledge and can help users accomplish whatever data related goals they’re trying to achieve.

Who can benefit most from Fabric?

Any company, in any industry, that is struggling with maintaining numerous spreadsheets can benefit from Fabric. Fabric can help bring the data from disparate systems and sources into one place to help an organization start to understand how to move their processes and logic upstream.

What’s different about Fabric?

Power BI and Fabric use the same type of governance and enablement framework that allows for the creation of certified data sets, promoted data sets and ad hoc data sets, which allows users to consume data from various sources and levels of quality.

When it comes to data, Fabric has two ways of looking at tooling:

  • Low code operations back-end: This is a highly scalable, robust GUI driven version of enterprise code bases. It’s easy to interact with (like power query) when analyzing, transforming and storing data in a SQL database or lakehouse SQL data warehouse.
  • Professional developers: Data engineering allows users to build, maintain and share analytical models across the organization. Users can also move into the data science tools, creating Power BI reports or machine learning models.

The targets of where the data is going to be stored still exist, but every company will have their own use cases and needs within Fabric. Some will have a relational database like a data mart (SQL server). Other companies will have a classical Synapse data warehouse and still other companies will have the desire to manage both modeled and unmodeled data in a lakehouse. By allowing for the diversity of solutions, Fabric gives the ability to craft solutions that meet the needs of data engineers, data science and analytics teams. What is so exciting about Fabric is that it can help accomplish your business goals, whatever they may be.

What is OneLake?

OneLake is a single, unified, logical data lake where all your data is stored within Fabric. It’s the most important part of the Fabric environment because it exists across the organization, making it easy to bring in data a single time and analyze data broadly across the company. For a user, it feels as easy as browsing files on OneDrive.

After ingesting your files into OneLake, you can decide who has access to which files by storing them in an actuary folder. Only one copy of a file remains in OneLake, so it only needs to be shared, secured and governed once, cutting down on overhead and development time.

OneLake also provides enhanced visibility into who is using the data and what they’re doing with it. For example, you can see what data is being used in tables, fields within the tables and Power BI reports. OneLake has the ability to show the life cycle of an employee running a query, and that query can be traced through all the downstream steps to show business value and logic. The query can then be added to a managed space to be accessed and used by other employees.

For example, Jill has a lookup spreadsheet that she’s been maintaining for years, she drops it into OneLake, combines that with another spreadsheet and that goes into a Power BI report that someone else can use downstream. OneLake will automatically ingest the spreadsheet and share it with the organization.

What skills are needed to use Fabric?

Thanks to this new user-friendly environment, the barrier of entry to becoming a data user has come down. With Fabric, you can choose the tools to match the skills of your team. For example, Power Query is easy to use for transforming data for business users and non-technical professionals. If the team members knows Python, or prefer to use notebooks, they can utilize a lakehouse, and if they know SQL, that is available through both Synapse Analytics and data marts. The teams can use whichever tools they are most comfortable with.

Fabric brings together tools that data analysts have been using for a long time. Those foundations and principles are not changing. We recommend establishing a community of practice around Fabric in order to help manage the scale and diversity of questions that people will have. Everyone in the organization has access to Fabric, so everyone will have unique questions and challenges when it comes to using the platform. Having a place where they can communicate with one another will help scale up and meet the needs of a broad user base, bringing together everyone’s skills and shared knowledge.

How do you get started using Fabric?

There are two main paths to getting started in Fabric today:

Free trial licenses: Microsoft has made it really easy for anyone in your company to work with Fabric. By default, anyone with a Power BI license will have a 60-day trial of Fabric added to their individual accounts.

Power BI Premium: If you’re using Power BI Premium, you have Fabric today, so there is nothing new that an IT team would need to implement. Power BI has been running on Fabric for several months and is fully supported. The data engineering and data science aspects of the platform are currently in public preview, so organizations have time to explore those and determine how they will use those tools when they become available.

For IT teams, we suggest beginning with setting up organization standards and being able to clearly communicate those to the users. A few questions they should consider:

  • How can I enable my organization to start using Fabric?
  • What would it mean to have certified or promoted content inside the organization?
  • What are our levels of data quality and how do we convey that to our users?
  • For certified data sets, how will we handle code check-in, validation, oversight and support?
  • What about with promoted data sets?

How we can help

Microsoft Fabric propels your organization forward by providing your team with secure, user-friendly tools to collect, process, analyze and visualize data. In collaboration with Microsoft, Baker Tilly's digital team helps organizations build a strategy around how your organization can successfully leverage Microsoft Fabric to make smarter, data-driven decisions and drive positive transformation.

This article is based on the livestream Enabling a data-driven workforce with Microsoft Fabric. The full recording can be watched here.

Dave DuVarney
Chris Wagner
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