One of the “benefits” of being a chapter leader is that sometimes it means doing a presentation yourself when you can’t get a speaker. I fell into this exact scenario for February’s meeting of Triad SQL. I was trying to figure out what to present when the planets aligned. After reading the #EntryLevel post in this month’s PASS Connector News and my boss asking me about Power BI. He wanted to know more about it and if it was something we could use.
I decided to put a presentation together to answer those questions. This post is basically the flattening out of my PowerPoint presentation.
The What/Who/Why/Flavors of Power BI
What is Power BI?
When I Googled (yes, I used that as a verb!) “What is Power BI”, this is what I got, “Power BI is an amazing business analytics service that enables anyone to visualize and analyze data.” This sounds cool, but isn’t all that helpful. After further research, I found this definition, courtesy of powerbi.microsoft.com
Power BI is a cloud-based business analytics service that enables anyone to visualize and analyze data with greater speed, efficiency, and understanding. It connects users to a broad range of data through easy-to-use dashboards, interactive reports, and compelling visualizations that bring data to life.
Why use Power BI?
There are lots of reasons to use Power BI, other than, it’s so cool. For instance, Power BI makes it easy to see, in one glance, all the information needed to make decisions. It also allows you to monitor the most important information about your business. Power BI makes collaboration easy and when I say easy I mean EZ! You can also create customized Dashboards tailored to those C-Suite folks or make a completely different dashboard based on the same data for those that actually do the work.
Who can use Power BI?
Anyone who has a work or school email address can use Power BI. Sorry, no personal email addresses. Also no government (.gov) or military addresses (.mil).
Flavors of Power BI
There are two flavors of Power BI, Free and Pro. You can do everything with Pro that you can do with Free plus a few other things. Here’s a little comparison of the two, there are more differences, but these are the big ones.
|Data refresh frequency: Daily
Data capacity Limit: 1GB/user
Streaming rate: 10K rows/hour
Data sources are limited to content packs for services and importing files
|Data refresh frequency: Hourly
Data Capacity Limit: 10GB/user
Streaming rate: 10M rows/hour
Data Sources include free ones plus direct query dataset and on-premises data
Collaboration with content packs
As of January 21, 2016, the Pro flavor goes for $9.99 USD per month per user.
Also, there is the previous version/flavor of Power BI referred to as Power BI for Office 365, which will be deprecated on March 31, 2016, so I am not including this version/flavor in this post.
The How of Power BI
The building blocks of Power BI are Dashboards, Reports & Datasets.
Dashboards are made of Tiles that contain a single visualization created from the data of one or more underlying Datasets. When I first read this all I heard was “blah blah blah Datasets”. What this means is simply this, it’s a collection of reports that are all displayed together for a specific reason. It could be that you want all your sales guys to see different views of how they are doing compared to budget/forecast or it could be that you want to give your C-Suite people a quick overview of how the company is doing as a whole. You can tailor these dashboards to whatever suits your purpose. Now the only reference to the limit on the number of dashboards I could find was on the Office 365 site and it was listed as 100 per user or group. I’m thinking of the old adage “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” would apply here though.
A report is one or more pages of visualizations. Reports can be created from scratch within Power BI or Power BI Desktop. They are very easy to create, you simply click on the type of visualization you want to display then select the data to be used. One caveat that I will mention here is be sure your data is formatted so that is can be more easily consumed by Power BI. See this link for tips and tricks on how to build a “proper dataset” for Power BI. Just as with Dashboards, you have a limit as to the maximum number of reports, which is the same as Dashboards, 100 per user or group.
A Dataset is something that you import or connect to. It contains the actual data you want to translate into visualizations. Right now you are limited as to the types of files you can import in to Power BI to Excel, Comma Separated Values (.csv) and Power BI Desktop files (.pbix). As far as connecting to data sources you can choose from many of the content packs that are available via the Power BI site like Google Analytics, Bing, Mail Chimp, Sales Force and GitHub, just to name a few or you can connect to a database. As with anything that sounds too good to be true, you are limited to the databases you can connect to. Right the now current list is limited as well, to Azure SQL Database, Azure SQL Data Warehouse and SQL Server Analysis Services (tabular model only). There is a 250MB limit to the size of the dataset that you can import in to Power BI and a limit of 100 Datasets.
That’s it. I hope this post provided a little bit of insight into Power BI and whether it’s something that can be useful to you and/or your company. Check out the following links if you want a deeper dive into Power BI.