Power BI is Microsoft’s Cloud-based business intelligence service. This is a great data analysis and reporting tool that allows you to model and visualise your data and create interactive reports and dashboards. You can easily create reports and dashboards which you can share with anyone and access from apps on Windows, iOS and Android. Some features are free, others require a monthly subscription.
Tools within Power BI include:
Power Query which is used to extract and transform data
Power Pivot is used to model data and perform analysis
Power View and Power Map which are used for visualisation.
This, along with the self-service business intelligence and natural language processing, is used by analysts, business users and developers to make effective use of data and create data models to answer analytical questions.
Data can be visualised using built-in visuals, but many more visuals can be downloaded from the Power BI Visuals marketplace and custom visuals can also be imported. Microsoft have made more information available regarding customisation options, but many more visuals can be downloaded from the Power BI Visuals marketplace.
If you want to go further with more granular customisation there’s always a very powerful and widely used statistical programming language, R Script. The visualisation capabilities of R script can be exploited in Power BI to take advantage of more advanced data analysis such as forecasting, to create visuals that are not available out of the box and even make changes to data sets from within the Power BI report. You will need a Power BI Pro license to use visuals created using R script though.
What data can I connect to with Power BI?
There are many data source options you can choose from – data can be imported from the web, SQL server, text or csv files and Excel. The data source can be changed, if required. For example, if an Excel spreadsheet becomes too large, the data can be copied to a SQL database and the file path can be changed in Power BI to get the data from the database. It is also possible to combine Cloud and On-premises data. A full list of available data sources can be found here.
If you have data in an online application that you want to download to Power BI, there are apps available within Power BI that can be download to your Power BI account that can pull data via a live data connection from a wide selection of other sources such as:
Azure SQL Database
Why Power BI?
Using Power BI, you can create insights and dashboards to get answers to business related questions and share this information with your colleagues and clients. Data can be easily manipulated to bring valuable insight to business needs and this can be done quickly and effectively.
If you’re using a Microsoft infrastructure, it is really the natural choice. Your system can easily be augmented by Power BI as it is easy to use with other Microsoft products, such Azure, MS SQL and any other Office 365 product. Governance and security are built in and the product is updated monthly. Data can easily be refreshed and updated, and a schedule can be set up within Power BI to refresh data automatically. It is also easy to get to your reports and dashboards when you’re out of office using the mobile app.
Sharing a dashboard is easy – you can send an email from the Power BI Service to let someone know you have shared a dashboard with them. The email will contain a link that will take the recipient directly to the dashboard in Power BI Service. When a dashboard has been shared, the recipient will even find a Power Q&A question box at the top of the dashboard which allows users to ask questions about the data using natural language.
Power BI is full of these sorts of useful features. Drill down, for example. If you have sales data for cities across several countries, you can create visuals to represent data for each country and drill in to each country to show data for specific cities in that country. Selected data in one visual is highlighted in other visuals on the dashboard. Drill down features make it easy to inspect parts of data sets and the filter pane and slicers make it easy to change the filtering.
Dashboards can also be embedded in SharePoint and websites and visitors to sites will be able to interact with the dashboard via the site. Reports and dashboards can also be exported as PDF files.
We know because we use it.
We send various types of reports to clients on a quarterly basis. For a long time, this involved downloading a csv file, analysing data in Excel and creating reports in Word. These reports were being prepared from scratch for each client every quarter and this took up a lot of time. Creating reports in Power BI to send to clients has saved a lot of time. Now it is just a matter of downloading the csv and adding it to a database, then refreshing the data in the Power BI report.
For internal reporting we can create a report that includes data from all our clients and create a dashboard for each client by filtering each dashboard by client. On sharing these dashboards with others, it is possible for the user with which you have shared the dashboard to navigate to the report. Whilst this is good for internal use, it is not a viable solution if your intention is to share your dashboards with clients – they would have access to each other’s data. If you have your heart set on providing your clients with dashboards to view in Power BI, you can create a new report for each client. This makes it a little more tedious to refresh data – you will have to open each report individually and refresh the data. This could take some significant time if you have, for example, 10 queries in 100 reports. Fear not – you can set up a data refresh schedule to do this automatically as often as you like at any time that suits you. If you do not need any of the interactive features that are available in Power BI, you can publish your dashboard as a PDF. Then you can share it with anyone via email, SharePoint or any other means. Be careful though, it is still possible to extract hidden data from PDF files, so if you have slicers on your dashboard to filter data for different clients, you should not share PDF files outside of your organisation.