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Smart Narratives to Help Reporting Process for Finance Professionals

by | May 12, 2020 | Articles, Opinion

Author: Nikolai Pavlov, PMP

Preparing a management report can be a tedious task, which requires time and effort. It often comes down to finding the right balance between showing enough details and telling a story.

Many things have been said about the benefits of using business intelligence (BI) software in management reporting. With its latest update to Power BI, Microsoft brought another layer of convenience to reporting. The Smart narratives feature, demonstrated during this week’s Business Applications Summit in one of the Power BI sessions, will be an exciting new tool that will tremendously help finance professionals involved in management reporting.

When preparing financial and management reports, a lot of time is spent looking through numbers and writing comments about data – this changed here, that changed there, then you realize a mistake has been made and things must be edited, new information added, updated, etc. All of this, undoubtedly, takes up a lot of time and effort.

Well, suffer no more, said Power BI developers. During a presentation last week, Justyna Lucznik, a senior program manager at Microsoft’s Power BI development team, introduced us to the smart narratives feature, which allows report authors to add and tailor dynamic, interactive text narratives to reports. The narratives are automatically generated by Power BI and users can see real-time explanations to their reports as they continue to slice and dice their data.

One can click on a visual and select summarize to get a summary of that visual. The smart narratives instantly comes up with a text that interprets the key facts within a report. You need to add or change something in a report? No worries, just add new data and hit refresh, no more going back looking for all the past information and editing it, like you used to do it Excel.

“When I select smart narratives it automatically scans all my data, it is going to figure out what are the most important things and it’s going to generate me a summary of everything that was going on in my report page,” explained Justyna during her presentation.

A screenshot demonstrating the Smart Narratives visual.
Source: Create amazing data experiences with Power BI ​, presentation by Justyna Lucznik, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft.

The amazing thing about the smart narratives is that they are dynamic and can be cross-filtered – every time a user decides to look into a new product or location, the text will update automatically showing a different summary.

The feature is highly customizable, which means users can change text type, size, and color. Automatically generated summaries look absolutely “natural”, as if written by a human analyst. For now, this feature is only available in English, but I am sure eventually the Power BI development team will come up with options for other languages.

It looks like the management reporting process has gotten a lot easier and faster to complete with the new Power BI visual. There is no more static text, like in Excel, which makes it hard to do bulk changes in reports. No more writing down the process steps when re-evaluating reports, you simply won’t forget where you stopped and which part is yet to be completed, as the text has just become automatic.

Welcome to the new era of management reporting.

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