What is Power BI?
A new year presents new possibilities — and there’s no better time to reflect on how to improve your business processes than right now. Clients ask about this subject all the time: what’s the best way to improve our business processes? Specific answers will vary, as every company’s circumstances differ. One of the most reliable solutions that we can recommend to everyone is adopting a Business Intelligence (BI) tool if you haven’t already. Consider Microsoft’s Power BI platform when deciding which to implement.
Power BI is a powerful data aggregation and visualization tool. Put plainly: it lets users pull data from a wide variety of sources, compile them into sets, transform them into compelling reports, and share these models with other users. Using their data in this way changes rows and columns of data from abstract concepts into interpretable, actionable information.
Several types of people use Power BI. Specialists like data analysts and BI professionals, for example, may use it primarily to create data models or find trends. Alternatively, administrators will likely use Power BI most to keep track of metrics or KPIs. Department representatives, management, and other decisionmakers can use it to inform their choices. While each employee might use this platform differently, they can all use it for the benefit of the company. By leveraging this tool to its fullest, businesses better understand the data holding up their organization. The insights they gain from Power BI help companies around the world make smarter, more informed business decisions.
Market research specialists like Gartner and Forrester consider Microsoft the leader in BI solutions due to their suite of offerings and integration capabilities. Users can access the Power BI service a few ways. A cloud-based application called Power BI Service allows members to create and access dashboards, reports, and models. Power BI Report Server provides a server located on-premises for additional security. Finally, Power BI Mobile enables data visualization on the go.
Power BI Features
Choosing the right BI tool means knowing what it can do. Power BI offers a huge range of features and capabilities that make it suitable for all the different ways companies use data models.
Intuitive UX: Power BI offers a user-friendly interface, taking the coding out of data management. The platform’s drag-and-drop functionality allows even new users to put together their first report in minutes. Copying and pasting elements from Excel and resizing them at will makes it feel like users never even left the (Microsoft) office. Analysts across the company will find it simple to maintain consistent color schemes and fonts because of Power BI themes. This feature allows users to set these values and apply them across all visualizations.
Online and Desktop: Microsoft designed Power BI with versatility in mind. Windows, Android, and IOS devices can log in to access reports, dashboards, and workspaces remotely using this app. Sharing insights amongst the team no longer stops at close-of-business.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): One of the shortcomings involved in using a tool like Excel as your first, last, and only BI resource is that it cannot do much of anything useful with rich text data. Power BI affords analysts the use of machine learning programs that sift through data that’s too abstract for simple number crunchers to handle. No need for a person to read each individual comment in a dataset to gauge the poster’s tone and sentiment or pick out trends in repeated words or phrases — Power BI will do it for you. It can then process these into computer-friendly, visualization-ready datapoints. It even detects and catalogs the language in which these rich text items occur.
Quick Insights: Akin to artificial intelligence, Power BI also supports quick insights. Using this feature allows analysts to make something out of raw datasets in moments. Instead of manually creating models from datasets, they can prompt Power BI to generate its own visualizations. Microsoft’s steadily improving algorithmic functions power the quick insights feature. While using it on an entire dataset or report yields general insights, performing it on a visualization can give you insights into your insights, ad infinitum. Users can pin any models that they find helpful to their dashboards.
Natural Language Query: Sometimes, an analyst needs a more focused result than Quick Insights can offer. Natural Language Query, also referred to as Q&A, allows them to type a prompt into a dashboard search bar. Doing so causes Power BI to sift through the data present in the reports and generate new visualizations based on the content of their query. This lets analysts generate insights in real-time without relying on any existing model. Users can even ask related follow-up questions to dig deeper into an insight as new questions arise without having to rephrase queries into mile-long statements. Once again, we encourage users to pin models of interest to their dashboard.
Cortana Integration: For yet easier searching, Microsoft gave Cortana the power to interface directly with your Power BI reports. Optimizing visualizations from a report lets users can search for individual insights from their desktop preview those models in Cortana without ever opening Power BI.
Data Collection, Reporting, and Visualization: Here we find the real meat and potatoes. Power BI’s core functionality is its ability to take information (from one or a great many datasets) and turn it into visualizations. Analysts find these models useful in gaining insight into a process, metric, department, region, business, or other data points. The platform accomplishes these things primarily through three systems originally introduced as add-ons to Excel: Power Query, Power Pivot, and Power View. Power Query lets Power BI pull data from a wide variety of sources (more on that here). Combining this information into a single dataset and cleaning up the underlying data make it useful for reporting. Once this step is complete, analysts can use Power Pivot to establish logical connections between data points. This enables them to slice data in the final model to show relevant correlations. Finally, Power View allows users to take that dataset and make compelling visualizations out of the raw information. Analysts use these to help illustrate a point and facilitate insights. All three of these tools come integrated on Power BI as standard features.
Add Filters: Filtering data is another aspect where Power BI shines. Clicking on an element in a visualization (e.g., a slice in a pie chart) allows users to focus in on just that datapoint. Others fade into the background until users interact with them again. Reports also support slicers for models — a powerful feature that lets the analyst show or hide categories of data at will. Using slicers, members can draw attention to or comparisons between multiple groups of data without the distraction of irrelevant information.
Advanced Analytic Capabilities: Users with Excel experience will be relieved to hear that Power BI supports calculated items. Power BI uses the same equations as the Calculated Columns and Measures in Excel’s Power Pivot add-on. Using this feature gives pertinent information not found within the dataset itself.
Personalized Dashboards: Power BI users can create a dashboard that essentially summarizes a collection of data by highlighting visualizations from one or more reports. Pinning a model to a dashboard causes it to appear as a tile, which users may scale and arrange as they find useful. Clicking on one of these tiles takes you to the report that the model came from, allowing users to drill down and investigate data of interest. Clever analysts use dashboards to keep track of an overall story portrayed by underlying data.
Report Sharing and Automation: Collaboration Power BI happens through the share function. Microsoft made it easy to grant access to colleagues who can then view your insights. Users can send either reports or entire dashboards. By toggling whether recipients get an email alert and setting permissions on how they can share your insights, you control the spread of information.
Data Alerts: Power BI helps members stay up to date by supporting data alerts. Users can set notifications on data points of interest — either visualizations in reports or tiles pinned to their dashboard. Once a user-defined threshold has been reached, a notification triggers on their mobile app and Power BI Service. By setting multiple alert rules, selecting whether the feature sends an accompanying notification email, and deciding how often they can receive alerts on a given data point, users can keep informed in the way that best suits their style of work.
Row Level Security: While sending around multiple versions of a report based on who needs to know what information has never been efficient, Power BI makes it obsolete. Users with no background in coding can easily apply row-level security to reports and dashboards. Establishing roles and assigning them to intended recipients allows analysts to create mandatory filters specific to each level of clearance. Power BI makes it easy to keep everyone informed — just not overinformed.
APIs: Finally, Power BI makes liberal use of APIs. This mechanism enables the platform to automatically update models that pull from datasets using Direct Query. The process is called a data refresh, and Power BI makes it happen by periodically checking whether values referenced in a dataset has been updated. Members can use these refreshes in a few ways, either scheduling them around members’ productive hours or setting them as an automatic step at the end of a process. Fully utilizing APIs keeps businesses’ data current with almost zero direct oversight.
Cost of Power BI
Microsoft offers three packages for Power BI, each with varying capabilities and price points. These options ensure that every user, from the individual to the enterprise, has a plan that gives them the capabilities they need for a cost within their budget. The free mobile app can augment any of the paid plans by allowing users to connect, view, and contribute to data models from any IOS, Android, or Windows mobile device.
Power BI Desktop
The first version available is the Power BI Desktop application. Using this iteration is completely free — no download costs, monthly fees, service charges, or anything of the like. As the cheapest option, it also provides the fewest features. That said, the desktop version still provides all the core functionality Power BI has to offer. The main difference is the lack of collaborative features found in paid versions.
Power BI Desktop remains the primary means of creating new reports, even once the organization at large upgrades to a paid version. For that reason, data analysts at companies of every size regard the desktop version as one of many valuable tools offered by the Power BI suite. As for the rogue analyst in need of a powerful data visualization tool and possessed of no intention to share their insights: they may find Power BI Desktop to serve as their complete self-service BI solution.
Power BI Pro
The Pro version carries a price per user license. For $9.99 a month, each licensed user gains access to a collaborative network in which they can publish reports, view others’ insights, and share them among members of their organization. This level of collaboration allows for new BI possibilities, such as performing ad-hoc analyses, sharing dashboards, sparking discussion, pinning priority analytics, and promoting valuable insights.
Power BI Pro affords each user a storage capacity of 10GB and accepts datasets as large as 1GB. This version also supports up to eight automatic refreshes 24 hours. The entire Pro service is cloud-hosted and managed by Microsoft themselves, which lets approved users remotely access their workspaces, dashboards, and reports. Pro users do, however, share processing capacity with others outside their organization. Sharing resources like this can lead to decreased or inconsistent performance in the wake of greater demands for processing power.
For mid-sized businesses, those who only need users that can contribute to and collaborate on reports, and any who prizes the a la carte pricing model, Power BI’s Pro package offers the best fit.
Power BI Premium
Finally, the Power BI Premium option works a little differently. Members covered exclusively by the Premium package cannot create, publish, share, or collaborate on reports like Pro users can. Companies get three main benefits from a Premium plan. First, Premium offers bulk access for users who do not need to contribute. Second, it affords higher caps on certain features (such as maximums on data storage, dataset size, and daily refreshes across the environment). Finally, these environments enjoy dedicated processing capacity to support all this heightened activity.
Prices vary, with the cheapest plan running $4,995 per month for a license. This license applies not to individual users, but instead to data capacity. Bear with us, because it gets complicated here. Choosing a Premium plan allows businesses to spread associated costs among the members based on whether they need to create BI or only view it.
To illustrate: if a company needed 1200 employees to have frequent access to Power BI content, with 15% (or 180) of these contributing directly as Pro users and the rest merely viewing published content through this Premium capacity, that company’s monthly bill would be about $6,800 (including roughly $1,800 for those Pro licenses). This first example breaks down to an average cost-per-user of $5.67 (with 1020 of those employees costing an average of $4.17 to cover). Compare this to the cost of securing access for these 1200 through Pro licenses only — nearly $12,000 at $9.99 per user. For $5,000 more, this business has purchased more capability per user than they actually need and a worse performance environment because they lack dedicated processing capacity afforded by a Premium plan. This represents, believe it or not, a simplified explanation of Premium pricing and how it benefits companies in the right circumstances.
Power BI Premium adds a few quality-of-life improvements over Pro to further justify the price. Premium environments enjoy 48 data refreshes per day and an increased storage capacity of 100TB for users’ published content. Furthermore, every Premium environment gets its own dedicated processing capacity. This change improves overall performance because users no longer compete with other organizations for processing resources. Beyond these benefits to the environment as a whole, the Premium plan grants greater capabilities to individual users as well. Analysts can upload datasets as much as 10× larger, a maximum of 10GB.
While Microsoft makes all Power BI services available on the cloud, the Premium version comes with an option to deploy its dedicated capacity through an onsite server. On-premises users miss out on certain features because it does not live on the cloud. This may still prove the preferable option for companies working in highly regulated industries or those dealing with sensitive information, as the complete environment can live behind the organization’s firewall.
Large enterprises that have a great number of employees creating, sharing, viewing, and contributing to company insights through Power BI will find any plan other than Premium suffocating.
Power BI is a robust business intelligence solution that keeps on giving the more familiar users get with all its bells and whistles. This Microsoft platform offers something for everyone in the way of price points, support, and raw BI capabilities. Whether or not you ultimately choose Power BI as your tool, the important matter is that you’ve made the decision to understand your data and start making decisions rooted in numbers, not intuition. As such, your business is well on its way to having your data start working for you.
Stay tuned to Abel Solutions’ tip of the month for more insights on BI and other topics.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]