Data Management and Analytics Platform


Our client – a major non-profit healthcare provider – lacked a central platform for the aggregation and analysis of data necessary to develop essential business strategies.

Their data analysis systems relied on their analysts’ ability to correctly seek out and use disparate tools to retrieve and analyze relevant data. The resulting disparity in both technologies and process often resulted in contradictory data. Consequently, managers and executives were presented with several versions of the “truth” and were unable to make reliable decisions regarding the company’s direction. Additionally, newly hired analysts were required to learn a daunting number of platforms and processes, an added cost and frustration for our client.

Plaster Group was asked to offer expertise in the creation of a knowledge management initiative revolving around the construction and implementation of a new data warehouse. This new system would be responsible for supporting our client’s mission of providing patient-centered care by increasing data quality, reducing costs, and supporting collaboration enterprise wide.


Plaster Group met with leadership to prioritize knowledge management initiatives including the creation of a new data warehouse and the standardization of data analytic tools and processes. Plaster Group’s Data and Analytics Consultants contributed significantly to our client’s overall knowledge management strategy and vision while outlining necessary work streams. They also laid the foundation for a road map of future initiative objectives that would be utilized and modified by full time employees after their hire.

Additionally, Plaster Group consultants served key roles in:

  • Business to Technical Team Mediation – serving as liaisons between business and technical teams to develop and deliver requirements, set expectations, and resolve impediments to the development process
  • Team Building and Mentorship – working with a team of full time employees with limited BI backgrounds, and training them in the production, utilization and maintenance of the new data warehouse
  • Process Development and Documentation – creating and documenting business processes that ensured our client’s ability to continue the knowledge management initiative beyond Plaster Group’s participation
  • Data Warehouse Development – establishing Kanban Agile processes for the development team, creating and managing the release process, and defining the architecture of the new Data Warehouse


Working almost entirely with existing FTE resources for the majority of the project, Plaster Group BI consultants helped to create and deploy the new data warehouse and to define standardized business processes for its application. As limited infrastructure was in place before its construction, and our client’s employees hadn’t previously built a data warehouse, all data modeling and architecture was produced “from the ground up.” Employees were trained in this process as well. Plaster Group consultants believed this process was essential in ensuring our client’s teams were capable of continuing this mission critical work independent of outside aid.

As it was necessary to right-size the solution to our non-profit client’s resources, the system was built with cost efficiency in mind. The data warehouse was built using existing in-house tools: the platform is SQL Server and initial reporting tools are Excel and SQL. Subsequent versions will employ tools such as PowerView, PowerPivot and Spotfire.


The new data warehouse integrates data from three primary external sources and multiple auxiliary internal and external systems. It has been released to analysts and super users and has received extremely positive feedback. Analysts have direct access to actionable data and can spend their time developing insights from this critical information instead of seeking it out. The newly integrated data can be retrieved much faster, and the standardized tools ensure any data retrieved is more comprehensive, comprehensible, and reliable. Consequently, business users are looking forward to the next level of implementation which will put this actionable data directly into their hands and incorporate additional data sources.

Moreover, a technical foundation for future successful knowledge management has been laid and the employees are capable of continuing the process, and leveraging our client’s technology, independent of Plaster Group involvement.

Testimonial: “I know a lot of folks have put varying degrees of time/effort into [our project] as it morphs into another phase. I just want to say thank you. Every time I get to use [our new system] I am thankful. You have done (and continue to do) a tremendous job and the fact that such a huge undertaking has come off so smoothly, and on schedule, is a testament to your thoughtfulness, attention to detail, and hard work.”

SharePoint Consulting: Minimizing SharePoint Upgrade Risk

Regression Testing and User Training Minimizes SharePoint Upgrade Risk for a Local Non-Profit. Comprehensive support provides efficient solutions throughout implementation of a complex platform upgrade from planning, to testing, to training.


A Seattle-based non-profit organization with a large, complex SharePoint 2007 implementation planned to upgrade to SharePoint 2010. Even with careful planning, integrated applications across the entire organization (including custom and third party products) would be affected and potentially impact everyone’s day-to-day productivity. To determine the effects, a large regression testing effort was required.


Plaster Group’s SharePoint Consultants worked with stakeholders to evaluate their SharePoint implementation as part of the planning for the SharePoint 2010 upgrade. They focused on testing and how best to migrate existing sites and content with the least amount of disruption, including:

 – Planning, analysis, and project management with stakeholders and end users.

– Regression testing, content mitigation, and migration preparation:

  • Consulted with various customer teams to review and test content and identify necessary mitigation issues.
  • Tested hardware and software within each of the different environments.
  • Identified custom and third party applications that would be affected.
  • Determined which SharePoint 2010 features would not be implemented in the initial upgrade.
  • Created a separate project where future features could be implemented as part of a redesign and upgrade.


  • Documented key changes and new SharePoint features.
  • Created training materials.
  • Provided team and individual training as new SharePoint sites were deployed.


The customer was able to successfully complete their SharePoint upgrade without significant impact to other web related work in progress. Third party applications identified for replacement during the planning process were phased out reducing cost and complexity.

What is Power BI and How Much Does It Cost?

Last month Microsoft released its newest Business Intelligence (BI) offering called Power BI. With this offering, Microsoft has made some in-roads in the creation of a coherent BI solution for its customers.  While it is great to see Microsoft making progress trying to unify BI offering, Power BI is in reality an evolutionary rebranding of old components (with an umbrella name “Power BI”) rather than a revolutionary new BI solution.

What is Power BI?

Power BI is a collection of the following components:

Client-Side Components (first 4 are Excel add-ins):

  • Power Pivot – data mash-up tool designed to work with large amounts of data (this tool is available since Office 2010)
  • Power Query – data discovery and data retrieval tool. This is a revision of a tool as “Data Explorer” until mid-2013. Power Query overlaps some data querying functionality with Power Pivot
  • Power View – interactive data visualization and reporting tool
  • Power Map – data mapping tool, Power Map overlaps some geographic visualizations with Power View and includes advanced mapping capabilities, such as 3D graphs and multiple geographic layers
  • Client-side Data Management Gateway – tool that connects cloud-based Power BI with on-premises corporate data. You can download this component when you add a gateway on a Power BI server

The version of Excel that supports Power BI requires “ProPlus,” which comes with certain Office 365 subscription plans: Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Midsize Business, Office 365 Enterprise E3/E4, etc. When you install “ProPlus” Office 365 the installation will deploy Power View and Power Pivot add-ins for Excel.

Server-Side Components (Power BI for Office 365) expose some interactive Excel capabilities in a browser and Power BI site management:

  • Power BI Sites – allow users with an internet browser to share, view, and interact with Power View and Excel reports hosted by Microsoft in an Office 365 SharePoint environment
  • Power BI Q&A – allows end-user to type English language query to visualize data
  • Query and Data Management – allows users to share and manage queries and data sources. Allows users to view query usage analytics using a familiar SharePoint interface.
  • Power BI Management – an Office 365 SharePoint integrated experience to manage Power BI
  • Data Management Gateway – a server component that connects cloud-hosted Power BI to on-premises data

Mobile access:

  • Power BI Windows Store App – a mobile application found in the Windows store that is used to share and interact with shared reports  on your Windows powered mobile devices

Power BI Costs

Cost and benefits are major considerations for businesses evaluating potential BI solutions. Cost considerations should include: Power BI software costs, deployment costs, training, and (most likely) consulting fees. “ProPlus” Office 365 already incorporates the cost of client-side software (Excel and its add-ons). Server-side Power BI software has additional costs ranging from $20 (promotional offer for certain type of licenses) to $52 per user per month.

For medium or large businesses, Office 365 Enterprise E3 license is best priced for Power BI (both client and server components). Office 365 E3 license costs $40 (promotional) per user per month and has volume discounts after 250 users.

For small businesses, the standalone version of Excel 2013 is the best option (today) to get client-side Power BI features. Standalone Excel is an interesting oddity of all Office variants that allows client-side Power BI to run in perpetual license. With Microsoft disallowing Power BI updates to be installed on Office 2013 Professional, it is probably only a matter of time before Microsoft closes this “loophole.”




March 11 TDWI Event: Putting the Business Back in BI

Plaster Group is looking forward to sponsoring and attending  another TDWI Northwest event next weekThe Database Warehousing Institute’s Seattle Chapter aims to enable those in BI and DW-related fields to gather together, grow a strong network of peers, and share best practice and technical advice.

Putting the Business Back in Business Intelligence explores the topic of how technology interests often supersede those of business, and suggest steps to refocus the attention to business needs. This event will take place Tuesday, March 11 from 5pm to 9pm at the Alder Hall Commons and Auditorium located at the University of Washington. This is a great opportunity to meet other Seattle BI professionals, share ideas and career advice, and exchange business cards while enjoying a quality presentation by Dave Wells, who will explore the different dimensions of business to illustrate how they create a framework for business-focused BI. Did we mention that there will be food, beverages, and a raffle drawing?

To read more about this event, and to register to attend, click here!