Power BI – Visualize your data

Power BI is a relative new set of tools and services from Microsoft that help you visualize data in a few clicks. Internet of Things (IoT), Smart Machines, Big Data & Cloud as well as Analytics have all been identified as mega trends to watch on Gartner’s 2015 Hype Cycle. High quality tools like Power BI Desktop and services to analyze these large data-sets will become more and more important.

In this article I will have a look Microsoft Power BI and its different components. I will try to included references that help you gain wider knowledge of Microsoft Power BI and its capabilities. Don’t worry if you are used to work with Microsoft Excel the switch to Microsoft Power BI won’t be that difficult. 🙂

Power BI Desktop - Architecture v2 by Dustin Ryan
Power BI Architecture Diagram V2, created by Dustin Ryan

What is Power BI ?

“Power BI is a collection of software services, apps, and connectors that work together to turn your unrelated sources of data into coherent, visually immersive, and interactive insights. Whether your data is a simple Excel spreadsheet, or a collection of cloud-based and on-premises hybrid data warehouses, Power BI lets you easily connect to your data sources, visualize (or discover) what’s important, and share that with anyone or everyone you want.”

The Power BI Architecture Diagram, created by Dustin Ryan -a Data Platform Solutions Architect with Microsoft interested in Power BI, SQL Server, SSAS, & Azure-, shows best how the collection of software services, apps and connectors work together.

Most important Power BI components are discussed in the upcoming sections below.

Components of Power BI

As mentioned in the first section Power BI consists of connectors, apps and a collection of software services that work together.  In this section I will provide a brief overview of the most important “components” that you will use often in day-to-day practice:

  • Power BI Service;
  • Power BI Desktop;
  • Power BI Mobile;
  • Power BI Gateway;

So let’s have a look …

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Power BI Service

The Power BI service is cloud-based business analytics service that is “integrated” with your Office 365 account as soon as you sign up. You can access it from the upper left corner in Office 365 or simply browse to Power BI homepage and hit the sign-in button.

In the Power BI Service you have a navigation menu on the left that consists of a persona workspace. In this workspace you see the three layers/levels in Power BI.

  1. Dashboards;
  2. Reports;
  3. Data-sets;

You connect to different data sets and you build reports based on these multiple data sets. You can create a dashboard with visuals to keep track of the most important report parameters. The service connects with Power BI desktop and the mobile client. You can use the familiar Microsoft Office 365 sharing and group features from the service.

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Power BI Desktop

“Power BI Desktop puts visual analytics at your fingertips with intuitive report authoring. Drag-and-drop to place content exactly where you want it on the flexible and fluid canvas. Quickly discover patterns as you explore a single unified view of linked, interactive visualizations.”

For me Power BI Desktop is the central tool where you connect to data sources and create your visualizations, measures and models.

In a monthly update cycle new features are added to the Power BI Desktop. In the Power BI Desktop Documentation section you can find out “What’s new in the latest Power BI Desktop update?” and “Previous monthly updates to Power BI Desktop”.

Power BI Mobile

Power BI Mobile is a rich client application for your smartphone, that helps you easily keep track of your reports and kpi’s on the go. I have personally used the Power BI mobile clients on Android and Windows Phone. As mentioned the Power BI mobile client is perfectly for looking up and checking in, but creation of interactive reports is best in the Power BI Desktop application.

Power BI Gateway

“With the on-premises gateways, you can keep your data fresh by connecting to your on-premises data sources without the need to move the data.”

The Power BI gateway is a little application that you install on your local machine, and where you login with your network/office 365 credentials. The Power BI gateway helps you to perform scheduled refreshes of data, reports and visualizations when your laptop is online.

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Power BI solutions

Most interesting is the solutions section on the Power BI website, because it shows examples of  the Power BI features for various industries.

All the examples are clickable and show real-time drill-downs in the data and visuals. The industry solutions give you an idea of what data solutions are available for each industry.

Industry solutions

  • Retail;
  • Insurance;
  • Airline;
  • Manufacturing;
  • Professional Services;
  • Consumer packaged goods;
  • Telecommunications;
  • Energy;
  • Public Sector;
  • Capital Markets;

As you can see that the solutions have a wide variety from predictive maintenance for a major airline to demand forecasting within the energy sector. Of course you will also see various financial solutions, that would come first to mind when thinking about visualizing data.

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Department solutions

  • Finance;
  • Marketing;
  • Sales;
  • Human Resources;
  • IT;
  • Operations;

The other solution section is about department solutions, that are “independent” of the industry or company type. For these departments you will see 3 or 4 department specific solutions from operational store performance to headcount summary to marketing campaign analytics.


Concluding thoughts and wrap-up

Power BI is an easy to learn tool- and services set that is available as a Power BI free service and a Power BI Pro service.

The price-point of Power BI Pro is  € 8,40 per user per month. The main differences between Power BI free and Power BI Pro version are in the collaboration options and the data refresh options as you can see in the overview of the Power BI pricing page.

Power BI gives you the ability to create visualizations within minutes, where this takes a lot custom work within Microsoft Excel.  Microsoft Power BI is particularly helpful for a Business Analyst who likes to continuously improve processes and schedule recurring reports. However as the department solutions have shown, many professionals could benefit from using Microsoft Power BI to keep an eye on their KPI’s.

Learning Power BI

There is a lot of excellent and high quality training information available to learn Microsoft Power BI:

Personally I’ve done an excellent edX Course DAT207X – Analyzing and Visualizing Data with Power BI. The advantage of this course is the combination of theory and lab assignments that force you to work with the data and try the different features.

Also check out the Power BI Publisher for Microsoft Excel article.

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