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Microsoft Power BI

Microsoft Power BI

Over the years, Microsoft released a couple of very powerful Excel add-ins in order to facilitate self-service BI in Excel:

  • Power Pivot, an in-memory column based data modelling tool (which served as the starting point for Analysis Services Tabular and column-store indexes)
  • Power Query, an easy-to-use and very powerful self-service data wrangling tool
  • Power View, an intuitive and interactive dashboard tool
  • Power Map, a tool to map data onto a 3D globe. At a later point custom maps were introduced as well.

They all started out as Excel add-ins, but over the years they have become integral part of Excel itself. In order to share your results, Microsoft introduced in 2014 Power BI for Office 365. Excel was considering the starting point of your self-service analysis, using the mentioned add-ins. Then you upload your workbook to Office 365, so that your colleagues can view your dashboards and reports in their browser.

However, Microsoft quickly changed strategy and replaced the Power BI for Office 365 environment with a separate cloud environment: the Power BI service. Furthermore, Microsoft also introduced Power BI Desktop: a free stand-alone development environment where you can develop your queries, data model and interactive reports. Power BI Desktop is basically the combination of Power Query, Power Pivot and an updated version of Power View. There are however some capabilities that set Power BI Desktop apart from its Excel siblings:

  • Custom visualizations. There’s a whole gallery of open-source visualizations for you to download and use in Power BI Desktop
  • R integration. R is a powerful statistical language, popular by academics and data scientists. You can use it in your queries to mash-up data (or do even profiling, cleaning or predictions) or use it to create advanced data visualizations.

When the analysis is done in either Power BI Desktop or Excel, you can upload it to the Power BI service. There you can create interactive dashboards on top of your reports. You can share these with other people – even outside your organization – and build row-level security on top of it. The Power BI service also supports alerts – where you get notified if the data goes over a threshold – and it can also display parts of SSRS reports.

Figure 1 - Example Power BI dashboard (left) and Power BI Report builder (right)
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Everything published to the service is also available on the native Power BI app, which is available for Windows Phone, iOS and Android. This app can also display SSRS mobile reports as well.

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The Power BI service offers the capability to connect directly to on premise data through a gateway. With this gateway it’s also possible to refresh the data uploaded to the cloud with either Excel or Power BI Desktop.

Another great feature are the content packs: pre-defined queries, data models and dashboards on top of several cloud providers. It’s for example possible to create a fully functional dashboard on top of your Google Analytics data in just a few clicks.

What makes Power BI so powerful is that it comes at a really low cost, but also that it is updated very frequently: new features and capabilities are added each month.

Contact us for more information on Power BI.