If you’re like many folks in today’s business world, there’s a good chance you’re already using Microsoft’s Office 365 software suite. You may even already feel like you have a fairly data-centric approach to using Office, especially if your company is a heavy Excel user. Putting all that information to use, however, requires powerful data visualization and publishing tools, and that’s where Power BI comes in.
What is Power BI?
Power BI is a business intelligence package designed by Microsoft. BI systems are a way to allow companies to quickly convert their data into usable analysis, presentations and dashboards. For example, if you want to present real-time inventory tracking information to internal stakeholders, you can use Power BI to create a dashboard that allows those individuals to have access to visuals that explain everything in detail. Power BI also empowers you to keep that information up-to-date and even makes it easier to connect with your on-the-go stakeholders by presenting your dashboards within mobile apps.
Power BI actually refers to four components of the same service. As an end user, the most obvious component to you is likely to be the Power BI desktop. This is where you create visualizations and move data around. On the backend, however, are the Power BI gateways, where all the processing and magic happen. On the access side of things are presentations and apps. Tying all three of those elements together is the main Power BI service.
Microsoft actually makes a basic version of Power BI freely available. For many smaller businesses, this may be all they need. As is the case with the Office 365 ecosystem, Microsoft encourages companies to opt-in to a subscription-based system that grants them access to more usage and raw processing capabilities with Power BI.
The pro version costs $9.99 per month per user. It allows each user 10 Gb of data capacity versus 1 Gb for free users. Free users can stream 10,000 rows of data an hour to their dashboards, while pro users can stream 1 million rows per hour. Pro users also have much better access to collaborative tools.
Integration with Office 365
Power BI is available as part of the enterprise version of Office 365, making installation and integration easy. Any information you have access to in programs like Excel can easily be brought into Power BI. It’s also thoroughly integrated with products like SQL Server, so you can quickly pull information from your databases. Likewise, anything you produce in Power BI can be published as a presentation or an accessible dashboard within an app or programs like Excel, PowerPoint or Word.
It’s easy to get lost in the publishing side of Power BI and forget that it comes with a slew of powerful functions. Power BI allows you to run powerful analytics on your data. If you’re looking to produce a sales forecast, you can quickly pull live information from your SQL Server installation into Power BI.
Power BI allows you to develop a workflow that suits your existing approach. If you’d prefer most of your output to fit within existing Excel templates, Power BI is designed to allow you to readily drop calculated items into your spreadsheets. It also allows you to develop data models. If you want to check performance indicators, you can quickly establish criteria and ask Power BI to tell you how close to your targets you currently are. It can even help you project well into the future.
Visualizations are nice, but where Power BI exceeds expectations in by providing a high level of interactivity. Once you’ve created a dashboard, users have access to tools that let them sort through the information. You can even configure real-time updates, so users can check in regularly and see the current state of your business.
Power BI comes preconfigured with tools designed for a wide array of industries. If you need to collect human resources data and make it available to others, you’ll find an out-of-the-box solution for that with Power BI. Same goes for other common business functions, including marketing, finances and operations.
You can also use Power BI to quickly search all of your company’s available data. By using the unifying power of cloud-based solutions, Power BI can interpret your queries and sift through any data source your business has access to. This includes many non-Microsoft products, including applications like Google Analytics, QuickBooks and SalesForce.
Making your information more accessible, both physically and mentally, to stakeholders is one of the biggest challenges any company faces. Power BI allows you to quickly develop insights from your available data and produce dashboards and presentations that are compelling. Where a normal Office 365 user might produce a couple charts, a Power BI user can provide detailed, interactive graphics that drive decisions. Power BI makes your information more accessible in the most basic and human ways imaginable.