Lukáš Jac (ŠKODA AUTO): All employees can see real-time reports and how the production meets KPIs.

Data visualization in Power BI is used by all employees, from top management to line workers and managers who work with reports. "Production status indicators are displayed on whiteboards right at the production lines. In addition, reports with other important KPIs can be seen in the meeting and shopfloor rooms," says Lukáš Jac, a data analyst from the component production department at ŠKODA AUTO, in the Adastra podcast.

  • What is the purpose of data visualization in component manufacturing?
  • How does working on reports in Excel differ from Power BI?
  • Why is it essential to define the correct terms of reference for the final report?
  • What are the benefits of close collaboration between people from the manufacturing company and external IT consultants?

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Read the podcast as an interview

Ivana Karhanová: From charts in Excel to data visualization in Power BI, from manual checking of patterns in cells to data quality on a data platform. This is the path that Lukáš Jac, a data analyst from the component manufacturing department, took at ŠKODA AUTO. Hello, welcome to the studio.

Lukáš Jac: Hello.

Ivana Karhanová: If we think about car manufacturing, where is data visualization applied everywhere?

Lukáš Jac: Visualization? Well, you can find it everywhere, from car manufacturing to the departments that take care of the data. Visualization is everywhere.

Ivana Karhanová: And what do you visualize?

Lukáš Jac: If we talk about components, there are mostly production indicators and production KPIs. The most important thing is to show the status of production, personnel, and whether the most important indicators for the operation of that company or that business in terms of components are being met.

Ivana Karhanová: Who works with these reports, then?

Lukáš Jac: Within ŠKODA AUTO, more or less everyone from the top management to the line managers and foremen.

Ivana Karhanová: Do ordinary employees in production also have access to this data or to the final result of how the KPIs are being met?

Lukáš Jac: Yes, of course. This data is visualized on visual boards that you can find on the lines.

Ivana Karhanová: So should I imagine that I am in ŠKODA AUTO in production, assembling something, and at the same time, I can see above me how the production is going in real-time?

Lukáš Jac: Yes. In addition to the boards that show the production or production status indicators, in the meeting or shopfloor rooms, you can also see our reports or reports that show KPI indicators regarding production status, staffing, and other important KPIs, as I said.

Ivana Karhanová: You are a gearbox designer by background. How did you get from gearboxes to data visualization?

Lukáš Jac: You could say by accident. It started with an assignment from the manager, where we were just given the task to prepare some kind of production status indicator – as I said, you can see them in production. So one of the tasks was to prepare a short overview or visual showing the different indicators. So that’s how it started.

Ivana Karhanová: And his assignment was what? Were you supposed to prepare it in anything, or in Excel, or what was the original assignment of your supervisor?

Lukáš Jac: The assignment was: ‘Lukáš, we need to prepare some kind of excel report where we can see the state of production, individual indicators. And ideally, it should be in Excel, so it is easy to process or operate.

Ivana Karhanová: And why didn’t you do it in Excel?

Lukáš Jac: That was a bit of a coincidence because I got a yellow Power BI icon on my desktop a few days ago. And I just clicked on it, and that’s when this started.

Ivana Karhanová: And if you just open Power BI on your desktop, how do you know what to do in it?

Lukáš Jac: Exactly, he didn’t know. I just opened it, and I found it interesting. So I opened up a web browser and started doing a little bit of research on Power BI.

Then the information started coming to me within Skoda Auto because Power BI was getting a lot of use, and I just couldn’t get enough of it. I suggested to my manager that we try and produce it in Power BI instead of Excel.

Ivana Karhanová: What did your manager say?

Lukáš Jac: He supported it. That’s what was great about it. My manager was very supportive of these things. For me, it was something new and innovative. Why Excel when we can try something new? So we tried Power BI, which took off within the components, and now we have it everywhere.

Ivana Karhanová: You told me you did your first report in Power BI by following the tutorial on YouTube.

Lukáš Jac: Yes, it was by following tutorials. That was the assignment that I was given. So when I opened Power BI, I just started drawing an idea of what it should contain on paper.

And then I opened up the YouTube tutorials on one screen, followed it by trial and error, and something came out.

Ivana Karhanová: How long did you make do with YouTube as a source of tutorials on how to work with Power BI? Because Power BI is said to be “simple but not easy.”

Lukáš Jac: Maybe half a year, and that’s where the covid era came in. We were working from home, so in the evenings, I was just going through tutorials on the internet and doing trial and error. Then the turning point came, and I got to work with Karol Mlynarcik.

Ivana Karhanová: Karol Mlynárčik is from Adastra.

Lukáš Jac: Yes. I got the opportunity or the suggestion from my colleagues at Adastra that I could use this service and the help of Karol Mlynárčik as a consultant. Just then, my view of the whole Power BI completely changed.

As you said, it’s easy when you do something simple, like on one or two sheets in Excel. But when you have to do something more complicated and start using data, Power BI is not quite simple anymore, and the tutorials are not really up to it.

Ivana Karhanová: Your view of data has changed a little after you started getting more and more into Power BI.

Lukáš Jac: Well, you can say that completely.

Ivana Karhanová: In what specific ways?

Lukas Jac: I’m a mechanical engineer. I worked with gearboxes. I didn’t know anything about IT. It was something new for me. And when I started doing Power BI, I thought: I was becoming a bit of an IT guy. When I started working with Karol, I discovered I’m not an IT guy.

It changed the way I looked at data. Karol just opened up new possibilities for me, looking at the data, how to prepare the data, the accuracy of the data, the structure of the data, how to use it, and how to work with it in the future. My perspective has been changed by working together for over two and a half years, especially by Karol’s skills and abilities.

Ivana Karhanová: So you’ve been working together on how good is the data quality on the input, who’s inputting what, classic IT problems?

Lukáš Jac: Now it’s mostly about getting the data and the data model right. When we get a task, we don’t solve Power BI initially; we solve the data, then we solve Power BI at the end, so the user sees the nice things.

Ivana Karhanová: And then what other reports did you start creating?

Lukáš Jac: I started one project, dCockpit, which was originally called Combibloc. Then it kind of changed, expanded to that dCockpit.

In the beginning, I was alone, and only gradually I started to cooperate with other colleagues and other departments within ŠKODA AUTO, and then, of course, with Karol, a consultant from your company, and the project started to expand so that now it is used daily within the components.

And in terms of the number of reports, almost forty reports are linked in dCockpit.

Ivana Karhanová: Let’s describe this dCockpit a bit more when you start talking about it so that the listeners know what it is. Is it a set of reports?

Lukáš Jac: As you asked at the beginning, where we can see reports everywhere in ŠKODA AUTO, within the components, it is dCockpit, which is comprehensive and contains many reports where you can mainly see important production indicators such as the number of parts produced, staff status, sickness, line efficiency – just important indicators.

As I said, those reports are used by top management to foremen or line workers, so the dCockpit or those reports differ in indicators. There are some relevant or important indicators at the top level. Then when we go down to the lower and lower hierarchy, the different indicators are augmented with other important information relevant to the people on the line.

Let’s say you want to see what state the line is in, whether it’s producing or not producing, or whether it’s having breakdowns, then those reports or dCockpit are extended with those other indicators.

Ivana Karhanová: Before you started using Power BI, how did you transport those reports?

Lukáš Jac: Initially, it was mostly in Excel, then in access, but primarily in Excel.

Ivana Karhanová: And now that you’re doing it in Power BI, do you feel like people are working with it more when it’s in a more user-friendly and visually friendly form than in Excel?

Lukáš Jac: I do. When I got my first assignment in the visualization or as I started working with the data, you could see from the reports the morning meetings on the lines became more efficient because they just showed the most important metrics. You could see at a glance that the green was good and something was wrong with the red.

Ivana Karhanová: You started working on Power BI with Karol Mlynarcik. Why do you need an external consultant?

Lukáš Jac: That’s a good question. At first, when we were solving the problems or when we started to expand the reports, and as I started to work with other colleagues within Skoda Auto, the reports that we had created started to pile up.  So everybody wanted to add some Excel, some indicators, and so on and then the functionality of the report was no longer correct.

And by the way, Karol came in. He added the IT’s view. He just showed me how to look at it properly and direct the development of that work.

Ivana Karhanová: So you’re there for the business part, and Karol is there for the pure IT expertise, and together you’re able to connect the dots?

Lukáš Jac: Exactly. In the beginning, it was mainly that I knew the business side, and Karol knew the IT side, which helped me personally because we had the opportunity to work together daily. It’s just that when we solve something, we solve it together. It’s not about giving a task and Karol solving it somehow.

I have support from my supervisors, so I can be involved in most things and have dedicated time. So Karol and I are working on a task for eight hours.

Karol was mainly doing IT in the beginning, but now it’s almost about just advising on how to look at the data.

Ivana Karhanová: Does that mean he teaches you how to do it right?

Lukáš Jac: Exactly. I hope you don’t mind if I use Karol’s words that he said to me so nicely.

One can look at a consultant or a collaborative opportunity in two ways. The first one is that if you go to a shop and want to buy a fish, the shopkeeper will sell you the fish. But you also have the other option: go to the shop or the fisherman saying you want that fish, and the fisherman tells you: OK, I’ll teach you, and you catch the fish yourself. And that’s what I do – I just try to learn what Karol shows me.

So now it’s no longer about Karol doing the IT stuff, it’s primarily me doing it, and he figures and acts as a consultant and makes sure it’s done right.

Ivana Karhanová: And where do you see further potential for data visualization at Skoda Auto?

Lukáš Jac: At the components where I work, Power BI is widespread, and you can use it everywhere as far as production is concerned, maybe even as far as accounting and other development departments are concerned.

Power BI is more or less a universal tool to visualize what you want – your relevant data or what you want to show and present.

Ivana Karhanová: And for such data work to even get off the ground the way it works for you at Skoda Auto, what do you think are the conditions that need to be met – either on your side or on the side of that particular consultant?

Lukáš Jac: The most important thing is to define the brief correctly, simply what we want and what the benefit is. And then just start to solve the assignment.

Ivana Karhanová: Was the brief for you just to show KPIs from production?

Lukáš Jac: At the beginning, it was like that. The initial assignment was. But it wasn’t clearly defined as some kind of prescription that this is what it should look like.

Plus, the brief kept expanding, there was always something added, and then the data model in Power BI started to get bigger, so our report wasn’t quite right then. So that’s why it’s always important to have a clearly defined brief.

Ivana Karhanová: You also mentioned the need for a good boss and management support.

Lukáš Jac: Yes. Our managers are pro-digital and support these things a lot, so we have a lot of support and free hands because they trust us.

Ivana Karhanová: Now that you’ve moved from gear design to being a data analyst, where do you ideally see yourself next?

Lukáš Jac: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’ve recently started thinking about whether I will go in the direction of a mechanical engineer or IT. 

I think I’m going to go in the IT direction and keep doing what I’m doing now and try to improve, and hopefully, one day, I’ll get at least to the level of Karol because he’s my role model as IT is concerned. He’s a great person and consultant; his skills and abilities fascinate me.

Ivana Karhanová: Says Lukas Jac, a data analyst from the component manufacturing department at ŠKODA AUTO. Thank you for coming to the studio. We’ll talk about Power BI and sometimes within earshot.

Lukáš Jac: Thank you for having me. Have a nice day.