Power BI is the newest business intelligence offering from Microsoft. It’s a product that a lot of people have been talking and thinking about for the past year or two, and it is gaining more and more traction every day. I like to refer to it as “The best tool that people don’t realize they should be using”. But you might be wondering – Where does this fit in my organization? What can I do with it? Is it worth my time? I’m hoping this blog can help answer those questions.
Power BI is a tool that brings together several things that have been challenges for organizations (especially smaller ones that do not necessarily have a dedicated IT staff to build and maintain a data warehouse). Power BI is a cloud-based tool, so it is accessible anywhere in the world, provided it can get to your data. It has many connections into third-party cloud-based systems, or it can access your databases (local or hosted) through the Power BI Gateway. You can then use Power BI to shape, or customize your data, build relationships between tables, and build the dashboard and reports you need to tell your business story.
One big advantage to this process is that you can use Power BI to do the loading and transformation of your data, rather than writing SQL Server Integration Services packages to load data into a data warehouse or reporting hub. Sometimes when you’re bringing data together for the first time, you start to realize the data doesn’t go together as easily as you thought – this can make Power BI a fantastic tool for fast prototyping. You can then decide if it’s worth the effort to bring the data into your data warehouse and use other reporting tools.
Another big advantage is that you can use Power BI to build dashboards and reports, which can then be made available on the web and through mobile devices. Some of the more traditional reporting tools, such as SQL Server Reporting Server (SSRS), are really great at making reports that print fantastically and work well on-screen, but may not work so well to slice your data on the fly, and may not work well on mobile devices. Since executives spend significant time working outside the office, having mobile-enabled reports and dashboards is becoming more important than ever. With Power BI, dashboards are available on mobile devices automatically, with no additional effort on your part.
My big message here is this – if your company has not made a major investment in infrastructure to support a data warehouse and reporting solution, yet you need to bring together data from multiple systems to report on it, you should consider Power BI. It will be a fantastic way to start your data journey, and the information you gain from it can help support a data warehouse initiative in the future if the need arises. If your company has already made that investment, Power BI can still make big improvements for you. It can be a tool that is built out based on your existing data and primarily used for management to see data and make decisions. Your internal teams (Marketing, Accounting, Sales, etc.) may still prefer the granular data provided in SSRS to make more tactical decisions. Power BI is generally better at providing the summary-level information that is used for more strategic decision making.
There is much that can be accomplished with the free version of Power BI. There is also a subscription version available to enable broader functionality (automatic refreshing of your on-premises data, sharing your data with other members of your organization easily, among other features). The feature comparison chart is available here: https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/
In the coming weeks and months, I will be writing more blogs to demonstrate this process step-by-step. If you’re interested in learning more about Power BI, and want to connect with like-minded individuals who are also working with Power BI, SCS sponsors the Power BI Professional Idea Network. You can join the group on LinkedIn to ask questions and get advice from your peers and mentors at http://bit.ly/powerbi-pin