According to Microsoft, “Power BI is a business analytics solution that lets you visualise your data and share insights across your organisation, or embed them in your app or website.” It’s a suite of business intelligence (BI), reporting, and data visualisation products and services for individuals and teams.
Power BI also stands out with streamlined publication and distribution capabilities, as well as integration with other Microsoft products and services. But is it a good choice for your organisation?
Let’s take a look at what Power BI has to offer.
Components in Power BI
The Power BI product is made up of a number of apps, each with their own features and uses. These include:
- Power Query: a data connection tool that lets you transform, combine, and enhance data from several sources
- Power Pivot: a data modelling tool for creating data models
- Power View: a data visualisation tool that generates interactive charts, graphs, maps, and other visuals
- Power Map: another visualisation tool for creating immersive 3D visuals
- Power Q&A: a question and answer engine that lets you ask questions about your data in plain language
Power BI Desktop
Power BI Desktop is a free, self-service data analysis and report authoring tool that you install on a Windows computer. It can connect to more than 70 on-premises and cloud data sources to turn information into interactive visuals.
In Power BI Desktop, users can:
- Connect to data
- Transform and model the data
- Create charts and graphs
- Create reports and dashboards that are collections of visuals
- Share reports with others using the Power BI service
Power BI Service
Power BI service is a secure Microsoft hosted cloud service that lets users view dashboards, reports and Power BI apps (a type of content that combines related dashboards and reports using a web browser or via mobile apps for Windows, iOS, and Android).
Power BI Pro
Power BI Pro is a cloud-based software that comes with a monthly fee per user. The biggest difference between Power BI Desktop and Power BI Pro is the ability to collaborate with other Power BI users and distribute reports and visualisations to other Power BI subscribers across the organisation.
With Power BI Pro, users can:
- Embed Power BI visuals into Power BI apps
- Integrate with other Microsoft solutions, such as Azure data services
- Share data, dashboards, and reports with other Power BI users
- Create workspaces (places to collaborate with colleagues to create collections of dashboards and reports)
- Enable peer-to-peer sharing (a way to share published dashboards or reports with people outside the organisation who have a Power BI Pro license)
Power BI Premium
Unlike Power BI Desktop and Pro, Power BI Premium is not an application. Premium gives an organisation space and capacity in a Microsoft-hosted cloud to share reports. An organisation can choose how to apply its dedicated capacity by allocating it based on the number of users, workload needs, or other factors and scale up or down as needed.
With Power BI Premium users have:
- Flexibility to publish reports across an enterprise, without requiring recipients to be licensed individually per user
- Greater scale and performance than shared capacity in the Power BI service
- The ability to maintain BI assets on-premises with Power BI Report Server
- One API surface, a consistent set of capabilities, and access to the latest features for embedded analytics
Power BI Mobile
Power BI has mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 mobile devices that let users connect to and interact with data.
Power BI Embedded
Power BI Embedded allows developers to embed Power BI dashboards and reports into other applications, either within their own organisation, which requires users to sign in to a Power BI account or in an application for a client or customers who don’t have a Power BI account.
Power BI Report Server
Report Server is an on-premises report server. You can create reports in Power BI Desktop or Pro, and viewers can use Report Server to access those reports on a web browser or mobile device, or they can receive them as an email. Report Server would be useful for a company that has restrictions on cloud usage.
Who Uses Power BI
Though Power BI is a self-service BI tool that brings data analytics to employees, it’s mostly used by data analysts and business intelligence professionals who create the data models before disseminating reports throughout the organisation. However, those without an analytical background can still navigate Power BI and create reports.
Microsoft Power BI is used by both department reps and management, with reports and forecasts created to aid sales and marketing reps, while also providing data for management on how the department or individual employees are progressing toward their goals. In addition, Power BI offers an admin portal for administrators to help configure the implementation of Power BI, as well as usage monitoring and licenses.
10 Reasons You Should Use Power BI
Let’s explore the top 10 reasons why organisations around the world choose Power BI to meet their self-service and enterprise business intelligence needs.
1) Power BI is an industry leader
Gartner recognises Microsoft as a Leader for the thirteenth consecutive year in the Gartner 2020 Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms.
2) Easy to connect your data
Power BI makes it incredibly easy to bring your data together into one place, for greater accessibility, organisation and visibility in your reporting efforts. The tool currently supports up to 70+ connectors out-of-the-box, letting businesses load data from a wide range of highly used cloud-based sources such as Azure (Azure Data Warehouse), DropBox, Google Analytics, OneDrive and SalesForce, in addition to Excel spreadsheets, CSV files and data located on-premises, such as SQL Database.
With these in-built connectors, you can load pre-built Power BI dashboards in seconds and perform powerful data analysis within minutes. You can always customise elements further to your liking, or have your data experts start from scratch by importing your datasets and developing your own dashboard and reports.
Power BI’s drag-and-drop interface also means you don’t have to code or copy and paste anything to get started, and Power BI can combine multiple files (such as Excel spreadsheets) and let you analyse the merged data in one report.
3) Powerful and performant
Power BI’s Power Pivot data modelling engine (which is shared with Excel) is a highly performant columnar database, using modern tabular database technologies to compress databases and ensure they load fully into memory for the best possible performance.
It’s not uncommon for your Power BI Workbook (.PBIX file) to be significantly smaller than your original data sets – in fact, 1GB databases are usually compressed down to around 50 – 200MB in size.
While in comparison, Excel starts to slow down when dealing with large models, Power BI is optimised to deal with tables in excess of 100 million records without breaking a sweat. Power BI also implements automated, incremental refreshes, ensuring data is always up-to-date, an invaluable advantage that further streamlines visual reporting for end-users. In short, Power BI efficiently condenses and loads millions of records into memory, enabling a quicker and snappier data analysis experience for end-users.
4) Custom and open-sources visuals
Power BI comes with a ton of pre-packed standard data visuals to leverage in your interactive reports, such as bar, column, line, map, matrix, pie charts, scatter, table and waterfall – each with their own variety of customisation options for enhanced presentation and functionality.
However, for that extra touch, you can also utilise free custom visuals created by developers (or in-house) and shared with the Power BI community to represent your data in a way that tells your data story the best.
With custom visual files available from both Microsoft and the community over at the AppSource Marketplace, there’s an impressive range of rich and complex visuals to take advantage of, including bullet graphs, correlation plots, decision-trees, heatmaps, sparklines and more.
If you want to present your data in a very specific way, Power BI makes it very easy to create your own visuals rather than being stuck with the usual. It’s also incredibly useful to see and use what the broader Power BI community is using to advance your own design techniques.
5) Familiar Excel features
Advanced Excel users knowledgeable in Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) formula language can dig deeper into their data and find patterns easier with Power BI with its familiar Power Pivot features like clustering, forecasting, grouping and quick measures.
The embedded self-service Power Query tool will also be familiar to Excel users, making it easy to ingest, transform, integrate and enrich business data in Power BI from the get-go. One other understated advantage is Power BI seamlessly integrates with Excel, negating the need to export files.
6) Governance & security
Power BI lets you manage security and user access and security within the same interface, removing the need to use other tools to ensure you meet stringent compliance and regulatory standards. The service also has Azure Active Directory (AAD) built-in for user authentication, allowing you to leverage Single Sign-On (SSO), along with your regular Power BI login credentials to access your data.
7) Real-time information
Dashboards update in real-time, as data is pushed or streamed in, which gives viewers the ability to solve problems and identify opportunities quickly. Any report or dashboard can display and update real-time data and visuals. Sources of streaming data can be factory sensors, social media sources, or anything from which time-sensitive data can be collected or transmitted.
8) Simple & accessible insights
You don’t have to be a data scientist to start using Power BI for data analysis or understand how it presents information. The tool makes reading and presenting visual reports as simple or as detailed as you want it.
Beginners and experts can use Power BI desktop for quick explanations of increases or decreases in your data charts with a click of a button which delivers automated smart analysis on your selected data using machine learning algorithms.
The results are displayed in a window with a simplified visualisation (ribbon chart, scatter chart, stacked column chart, waterfall chart) and an insightful description outlining which categories influenced the increase or decrease in your data.
9) Data modelling
Advanced data modelling has made it possible to forecast trends and predict future outcomes relatively accurately with modern-day software, and Power BI is one such tool that provides great predictive analytics and forecasting features to explore reliable future outcomes.
Using the analytics and forecasting tools in Power BI desktop, you can run and compare different ‘What If’ scenarios on your information such as financial forecasts or industry-specific growth markets by adding a forecast to your line chart – all without any explicit coding involved.
It uses built-in predictive forecasting models to automatically detect seasonality and next reporting period (week, month, year) and provide forecasting results. These models learn from historical data using statistical algorithms (often of the data mining or machine learning kind) to derive probable results and project them in a helpful manner with a graphical visualisation.
10) Unifies large datasets into one dashboard
Everyone has different levels of business intelligence aptitude. A data analyst might be tracking sales performance and numbers across 20 different countries and keeping tabs on multiple other metrics, but this level of information probably isn’t suitable for everyone in the business.
The same applies to advanced Power BI users. Detailed visualisations are great to use and easy to track with this versatile digital tool, but executives or employees from different departments will most likely want a consolidated view of the business for the convenience.
Thankfully, Power BI can quickly create simplified visualisations of your most business-critical data that anyone can read and understand at a glance using official free add-ons. These apps provide highly customisable graphics that can be used to present your data as simply or creatively as you desire.
- Infographic Designer lets you build custom pictograms with simplified bar charts, column charts and lists, with colourful uncomplicated graphics and neat features like being able to alter the size and fill percentage of icons. It can turn complex data into digestible information with minimal training
- Power KPI presents key performance indicators and supporting information in a simplified dashboard format, with a high level of user control over both the look of the visuals and the business logic that drives the indicators.
Business intelligence applications like Power BI empower you to analyse your data and keep your company efficient, and provides you with the tools necessary for better strategic analysis of how you can consolidate your data streams, improve accessibility and gain smarter insights.
It’s not hard to understand why Power BI is growing in popularity among businesses seeking better insights, interactive dashboards and rich reporting. Now is the time to leverage the many tools and services available that can help you prepare for a successful Power BI adoption and improve your data insights across the organisation.
Learn more about how you can get started on leveraging Power BI for your organisation with our 1-day hands-on course titled – Data Visualisation Using Microsoft Power BI For Beginners.