Microsoft Power BI is a business intelligence platform that provides non-technical business users with tools for aggregate, analyze, visualize, and share data. Power BI’s user interface is fairly intuitive for users familiar with Excel, and its deep integration with other Microsoft products makes it a very versatile self-service tool that requires little pre-training.
A free version of Power BI is intended for owners of small to medium-sized businesses; a professional version called Power BI Plus is available for a monthly subscription fee. Users can download an application for Windows 10, called Power BI Desktop, and native mobile apps for Windows, Android, and iOS devices. There is also Power BI Report Server for businesses that need to maintain their data and reports on-premises. That version of Power BI requires a special version of the desktop app – aptly called Power BI Desktop for Power BI Report Server.
Common use of Power BI
Microsoft Power BI is used to find insights into an organization’s data. Power BI can help connect disparate datasets, transform and clean up the data in a data model, and create charts or graphs to provide visualizations of the data. All this can be shared with other Power BI users within the organization.
The data models created with Power BI can be used for organizations in a variety of ways, including telling stories through charts and data visualizations, and examining “what if” scenarios within the data. Power BI reports can also answer questions in real time and help with forecasts to ensure departments meet business metrics.
Power BI can also provide management dashboards for administrators or managers, giving management more insight into how departments are doing.
Who uses Power BI
While Power BI is a self-service BI tool that brings data analytics to employees, it’s mainly used by data analysts and business intelligence professionals who create the data models before spreading reports across the organization. However, people with no analytical background can still navigate Power BI and create reports.
Microsoft Power BI is used by both department representatives and management, with reports and forecasts created to help sales and marketing representatives, while also providing management data on how the department or individual employees are making progress toward their goals.
In addition, Power BI provides an administrator portal to help configure the deployment of Power BI, as well as usage monitoring and licensing.
Key features of Power BI
Microsoft has added and continues to add a number of data analytics features to Power BI since its inception. Some of the main features are:
Artificial Intelligence — Users can access image recognition and text analysis in Power BI, create machine learning models using automated machine learning capabilities, and integrate with Azure Machine Learning.
Hybrid deployment support — This feature provides built-in connectors that allow Power BI tools to connect to a number of different data sources from Microsoft, Salesforce, and other vendors.
Quick Insights — This feature allows users to create subsets of data and automatically apply analytics to that information.
Support common data models — Power BI’s support for the common data model enables the use of a standardized and expandable collection of data schemas (entities, attributes, and relationships).
Cortana integration — This feature, which is especially popular on mobile devices, allows users to verbally retrieve data in natural language and access results, using Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant.
Customization — This feature allows developers to change the appearance of standard visualization and reporting tools and import new tools into the platform.
Integration APIs — This feature provides developers with sample code and application performance interfaces (APIs) for embedding the Power BI dashboard into other software products.
Self-service data preparation — Power Query allows business analysts to incorporate, transform, integrate, and enrich big data into the Power BI web service. Recorded data can be shared with multiple Power BI models, reports, and dashboards.
Modeling view — Allows users to divide complex subject-area data models into separate charts, select multi-selection objects and set common properties, view and change properties in the property sheet, and set display folders for easier use of complex data models.
Microsoft Power BI updates
Power BI was originally called Project Crescent and was initially available in July 2011, bundled with SQL Server, codenamed Denali. It was then renamed Power BI and unveiled as Power BI for Office 365 in September 2013. Initially based on Excel features such as Power Query, Power Pivot, and Power View, Microsoft added features over time, including enterprise-level data connectivity and security options. Power BI was released in July 2015 as a standalated product.
Today, Microsoft updates the Power BI application monthly with new features and improvements. To get the updates, users can download the latest edition from the Power BI site or Windows 10 users can download Power BI Desktop from the Windows Store.
Microsoft Power BI works by connecting data sources and providing a dashboard of business intelligence to the users. It can connect to only an Excel spreadsheet or bring together cloud-based and on-premises data warehouses. Data from cloud-based sources, such as Salesforce CRM, is automatically refreshed. Applications such as an Excel workbook or Power BI Desktop file connected to online or on-premises data sources require Power BI users to manually refresh or set up a refresh schedule to ensure that the data in Power BI reports and dashboards uses the latest available data.
Power BI components
Power BI consists of a collection of apps and can be used on desktop, SaaS product, or on a mobile device. Power BI Desktop is the on-premises version, Power BI Service is the cloud-based offering and mobile Power BI runs on mobile devices.
The different components of Power BI are designed to help users create and share business insights in a way that suits their role.
Power BI includes several components that allow users to create and share data reports.
- Power Query: A data mashup and transformation tool
- Power Pivot: A tool for modeling data in tabular form
- Power View: A data visualization tool
- Power Map: A tool for visualizing geospatial 3D data
- Power Q&A: a question and answer engine in natural language
In addition, there are dozens of data sources that connect to Power BI, ranging from files (Excel, PDF, SharePoint Folder, XML), databases (SQL Server Database, Oracle Database, IBM databases, Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery), other Power BI datasets, Azure data connections and many online services (Dynamics 365, Salesforce Reports, Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Facebook and others).
How to use Power BI
In Power BI Desktop, analysts and other users can create data connections, data models, and reports. In the Power BI service, those reports can be shared so that other users can view and work with the reports.
Building a Power BI report starts with connecting data sources. Users then ask the data to create reports based on their needs. The report is published to Power BI Service and shared so that cloud and mobile users can see and work with the report. Permissions can be added to allow colleagues to edit reports or create dashboards or limit their ability to edit.
Power BI costs
There are three levels of Power BI for users: Power BI Desktop, Power BI Pro, and Power BI Premium. The desktop version is free, while the Pro model costs $9.99 per user per month (starting November 2018). Power BI Premium pricing depends on the size of the deployment and the number of users.