Have you heard of Power BI? It’s the latest self-service business intelligence offering from Microsoft, and it’s already helping thousands of organisations around the world to do business more effectively.
As with any new BI tool, CIOs and IT leaders want to know what Power BI is and how it can transform their organisation. In fact, Power BI is one of the products our business intelligence consultants are asked about most frequently.
This cheat sheet will help get you up to speed and decide whether Power BI is the right business intelligence tool for your organisation.
What is Microsoft Power BI?
Delivered as a cloud service, Microsoft Power BI combines self-service functionalities with IT management tools that allow organisations to use on-premise and external data in a secure, centrally-managed environment. It enables business users to quickly load and visualise data using Excel-like features (a bonus for those already familiar with Excel’s user interface).
What makes Microsoft Power BI unique?
Compared to other self-service BI tools, Microsoft Power BI is unique because of its advanced visualisation options and natural language query capabilities. Natural language query capability means Power BI can interpret a user question and serve up the correct interactive chart or graph in response. For example, if a user types “Which department made the most sales profits last month?,” Power BI will visually display the sales from each department for the specified timeframe. Now add “in X product” and the visual output will adjust accordingly.
Power BI also includes out of the box connectors that can tap into popular SaaS services such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, Dynamics Marketing, GitHub, Marketo, Salesforce, SendGrid and Zendesk.
What are the differences between the free and premium versions of Microsoft Power BI?
Microsoft introduced a free version of Power BI earlier this year to allow users to try before they buy. Both the free and premium versions allow users to discover and access data, ask questions using natural language query and access reports on mobile devices. However, the free version has the following limitations:
- data capacity limit of 1GB per user (compared to 10GB per user for premium)
- daily data refreshes instead of hourly
- limited support for streaming data
- no live connectivity to data sources
- no access to on-premise data sources via data management gateways
- no ability to share team dashboards, reports and shared queries.
If your organisation needs to collate data from multiple sources, is looking to improve collaboration between teams or requires a 360 degree view of what’s happening across the business, we recommend Power BI’s premium offering.
How does Microsoft Power BI work with Office 365 and Excel?
Microsoft Power BI is available as a standalone offering or as an add-on to Office 365 and SharePoint Online.
It is important to note that while the two programs have similar features and functions, Excel is not part of Power BI. Users can, however, create compelling content and reports in Excel, and then use Power BI for Office 365 to amplify those efforts with interactive sharing, collaboration and data management.
Do I have to be a data scientist to benefit from Microsoft Power BI?
While data analysts, BI consultants and IT professionals will find Microsoft Power BI of particular relevance, it is also a powerful resource for non-technical team members who regularly create and view reports. (Even Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is said to open up a Power BI dashboard every morning to track metrics.)
C-level executives, managers and information workers can use Power BI to view and analyse data in the form of charts, graphs and maps. With access to easy-to-interpret data, these employees are better placed to make decisions based on facts, not assumptions.
You can find out more about Professional Advantage and Microsoft Power BI here.
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