Piercing the fog: how Power BI is helping one of the largest US homebuilders become a more data-driven organization

Case study

With a responsive, iterative approach to dashboarding, Thorogood worked side-by-side with executives from one of the largest homebuilders in the United States to help them understand the optimal way to use Power BI in pursuit of the company’s goal of becoming a smarter, more efficient, more data-driven organization.

Deriving actionable meaning from data, from old world to new

When Thorogood partnered with one of the largest US homebuilders to develop a solution that would help it transform the use of data throughout the organization, the starting point was a stack of printed reports that would land on the desk of its division presidents each month.  The Monthly Reporting package is a document in need of no paperweight, a quarter-inch-thick packet of call sheets and inventory summaries and revenue projections. Each turn of one of its 50+ pages reveals a swarm of numbers, a seemingly endless procession of digits and comma separators bleeding into each other across rows and columns laid out 12-point font.

These types of reports had long served as the primary means through which the homebuilder’s executives could monitor the performance of all communities under their purview.   The scope of the its operation is staggering in both depth and breadth, with homes for sale in 130 communities in 24 markets in 14 states throughout the United States. The business cycle included a succession of stages, each with its own impact on the bottom line: the purchase of land, the design and marketing of a community, the physical construction of the community and its homes, and then the sale of those homes. The homebuilder also featured a financial services arm that offered mortgages to buyers.

Given the length and complexity of the business cycle, each project required vigilant oversight by the division president in charge of that region. The plethora of variables that impacted the bottom line were often dependent upon the volition of third parties: zoning permits, regulatory compliance, purchasing contracts, the deployment of subcontractors, etc. An unforeseen development in any one of these stages had the potential to cause an exponential delay in time to completion and have a negative impact on cash flow, debt servicing, and, ultimately, profit margin. The ability to quickly and accurately compose and interpret a comprehensive picture of the present state of business was paramount.

When the homebuilder approached Thorogood about a partnership, it knew it had the data it needed to make smarter, more efficient decisions. What it needed was help creating the picture.

Piercing the Fog of Data in a competitive, volatile marketplace

You’ve probably heard of the Fog of War. The challenge confronting enterprise organizations in the 21st century might best be described as the Fog of Data. The weekly and monthly financial reports that land on the desks of company executives are emblematic of this fog. The vast amounts of line items contained in these documents required a time-consuming and mentally-taxing process to interpret key performance indicators and identify potential problems within the context of the bottom line. Piercing this fog first required an intimate understanding of the business processes it quantified, a universal reality that serves as the basis for Thorogood’s strategy of iterative dashboard development, i.e., working side-by-side with a client to understand its specific business needs while designing a solution that continuously evolves until it meets the company’s exact needs.

With the homebuilding customer, the vision began with a company-wide desire to become a more data-driven organization. Executives were aware of Power BI’s capabilities. In Thorogood, they sought a partner who could help them understand how those technological capabilities could apply to their specific data sets and unique business needs. It needed a partner that had the ability to understand both the technology itself and the nature of the homebuilding business.

The way forward: painting in tandem with Power BI as a canvas

The production and implementation of any technological solution is a lot like two different people attempting to paint one picture with a single brush. The business people need to understand the technology, and the technology people need to understand the business.  There is a level of symbiosis required that can only be achieved through a deliberative, communicative process. In essence, that is the philosophy underlying Thorogood’s process of iterative dashboard development.

In the homebuilder’s case, the hope was that the new solution would serve as a model for how the company could utilize data visualization in all of its work. After the initial introductory phone calls and meetings, the two partners engaged in an intensive inspiration session in which they began to put ideas down on paper while developing the framework of a solution. The business people talked Thorogood through their exact needs. Thorogood talked the business people through the various ways Power BI could address those needs.

This process continued through the development stage, with a series of bi-weekly iteration sessions in which a new version of the solution was reviewed and fine-tuned. The end result was a finished product that transformed those quarter-inch packets of reports from a blur of black-and-white numbers into a dynamic, vibrant dashboard with calculations and visualizations that enabled users to process and contextualize key performance indicators at a glance. Crucial metrics like contract starts and delivery schedules and pending sales and operating margins could now be visualized in a way that made it easy to monitor trends and comparisons to plan. Each dashboard highlighted the information most relevant to the specific user, limiting the time spent wading through unnecessary figures.  The dashboards were developed in Power BI’s desktop tool and published to its cloud-based service, where they could be accessed by the division presidents by an easily accessible web based browser or on-the-go via their mobile devices.

The ability to quickly evaluate timetables and financial figures against a variety of baselines enabled executives to easily process and understand the performance of their communities.  The intuitive and visual nature of the reports not only enhances the ability to understand key performance indicators and the messages they are sending, but also frees up time to address any problem areas. With less time spent on pinpointing inefficiencies or potential trouble spots, executives now have more time to dig deeper into their exact nature, identifying root causes and implementing changes that can keep the whole operation running smoothly.

The result: A more data-driven future

The partnership between the homebuilder and Thorogood exemplifies the value a company can realize when it combines a vision of where it wants to go with the knowledge of the best way to get there. With Power BI and data visualization now making an impact throughout the organization, company leaders have been buoyed in their continued pursuit of life as a business driven by data and the intelligent application of a technology like Power BI.

Find out more

Contact Amanda Teschko. Amanda is a BI & Analytics Consultant, and US Chairperson at Thorogood