Tell Better Stories with Microsoft BI and GeoFlow

Marek Koenig specializes in Business Intelligence, SharePoint and Custom Development.

Marek Koenig

Storytelling seems to be a lost art form; in this fast-paced world people are more interested in getting as many bits of information as they can. But without a story, something to pull all the data together, the target audience will probably gloss over your message. Throwing a few numbers and charts at the reader has become pretty acceptable nowadays. But to make something truly memorable, and hopefully shared with someone else, you need some kind of story. You need something to tie it all together, to give it some meaning. That’s where Microsoft steps in with its latest addition to the Business Intelligence Analytics space with an add-in to Excel called GeoFlow.

GeoFlow allows a power user to take an existing data set and visualize it on a 3D globe. The visualizations can vary from simple points to heat maps and bars that extrude from a map. Using the data, you can build a tour of the insights that were found and replay them. Similar to PowerView, you can embed the captured insights into various communications and share them with your peers.

One great example of how GeoFlow can help build a narrative around data occurred during this year’s SharePoint conference, where we got to explore ticket sales at the Seattle Center. We started off by selecting the data in Excel and had it mapped in a new window. Data is rendered in-memory using xVelocity, which can easily handle a million rows and upward to a billion if you have the hardware for it. This is the same technology that Microsoft has been working on since the release of SQL 2008 R2 within PowerPivot and PowerView.

To make the data appear on the map, the user needs to choose which attribute to geocode; in this particular case zip codes were used. Geocoding happens on the fly using a Bing service and the results are stored locally so that you only need to do this once per data set.

The initial representation of the data doesn’t appear to be valuable. The style is easily changed from plain points to a colorful heat map. From this view, it was obvious that a large amount of the tickets were purchased in the immediate Seattle area.

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You can zoom in and pan the data very easily to get a different look at it; this can help you capture new insights that may have been previously obscured. The data set was changed to a bubble graph with the radius set to the number of tickets sold at each location. Still, this style was a bit cluttered. In the end, the data was displayed as a 3D bar graph.

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It can also help to plot more than one set of data or categories, in this case ticket type (onsite vs. online). This graph shows that a large amount of tickets were purchased onsite at this one specific location, which happened to be the main ticketing office. From this discovery you should be able to drive a marketing campaign to shift onsite purchasers online, thus reducing wait times for everyone and increasing overall satisfaction.

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You can easily annotate any point on the map.

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And have it show up as a 3D label.

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As new insights are discovered, they can be captured into a tour (various scenes) and played back. Once your story is built, you can play it back in one fluid motion. As each “slide” changes, your perspective will zoom and pan to where it was when the scene was captured.

With this new way of looking at data, you can get back into telling stories, not just slinging numbers.

GeoFlow is currently in private beta and is expected to be released Spring 2013. GeoFlow will require Office 2013 Pro+ and will be a web download, similar to the way PowerPivot was obtained.

About marek koenig
Microsoft consultant specializing in BI, SharePoint and custom development.

8 Responses to Tell Better Stories with Microsoft BI and GeoFlow

  1. Pingback: Eleven Game-Changing Advances in Microsoft BI « The Slalom Blog

  2. Wein says:

    Is there any place I can get a download of trail?

  3. marek koenig says:

    @Wein Yes, send an email to GeoFlowBetaRequest@microsoft.com to get the details.

  4. moodjbow says:

    Hi Marek, two questions:
    Are the rumors correct that GeoFlow is Layerscape’s offspring?
    Have you ever tried Tableu Desktop and how would you compare both products?
    Thanks!

  5. marek koenig says:

    Great questions!

    I was told that GeoFlow came from the WorldWideTelescope project, which is related to Layerscape.
    I’ve played with Tableau and I think it’s a pretty good product. I wouldn’t compare the two products directly since they provide a different feature set. I think a more apt comparison would be between Tableau and PowerView. The advantage that the Microsoft stack provides is a much lower cost compared to the likes of Tableau, QlikView, and Spotfire.

    If you have any more questions, we can chat through email.

  6. Pingback: Telling Even Better Stories with Microsoft BI and GeoFlow | The Slalom Blog

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