Mark Robinson from Cloud2

Author: Mark Robinson
Mark is the guy you talk to about Business Intelligence (BI) at Cloud2

Introduction to Power BI

Since Microsoft started releasing BI products with “Power” in their name, the term “Power BI” has been bandied around by Microsoft and BI professionals (including myself) alike.

First there was Power Pivot for Excel, then Power View for Excel and SSRS, Power Map for Excel, Power Query for Excel; and finally the Power BI App for SharePoint Online (SharePoint O365). Between 2014 and 2015 Microsoft gave these products the umbrella name “Power BI”.

However even at this point things were getting a little confusing. To use the Power BI App for SharePoint Online you needed a Power BI license added to your SharePoint Online license; this caused some strange but very understandable confusion that you needed a Power BI license to use the other “Power” tools such as those for Excel; this was not the case.

By mid 2015 and into late 2015 Microsoft started releasing a new primarily browser based BI tool called…..guess what?…..Power BI. Now the people who were already confused were really confused, and the people who weren’t were starting to be.

So what’s going on here? Well its actually pretty simple, its just the timing and the naming used that makes it seem confusing.

The new Power BI tool basically replaces the Power BI App for SharePoint Online. The new Power BI tool is effectively a standalone solution i.e. you don’t need SharePoint licensing to use it. You do however need a Power BI license – and at the time of writing there are two licenses available, a Free License and a Pro license.

The Free license, which I suspect won’t remain free in its current form for too long, will meet most users needs. The only things the Free license misses out on compared to the Pro license is a larger data allowance, hourly refreshes and some collaboration features.

So what is the Power BI tool?

Well firstly it’s primarily a browser based product; however there’s also a desktop tool (Power BI Desktop) that allows you to create some content locally, and we’ll look at the different Power BI content next.

The Power BI browser interface

Power BI allows us to create, use and share different content i.e. Datasets, Reports & Dashboards.

Datasets contain the data. Within a dataset we can add tables (from a number of different sources), format these tables and the data within them, add additional Dimensions, Facts and Measures for reporting and create joins between the tables. Power BI includes connectors to many different on premise and cloud based data sources (SQL Server and Dynamics for example)

Reports are created from a dataset, so see a Data Set as your Data Model, Cube or Universe (depending on which technology your used to working with). In our reports we can have one data visualisation or many; and there are many different visualisations to choose from – and the list keeps growing. Some of the new visualsations not seen in the Microsoft stack before include Tree Maps (an example is shown above), Funnels, Gauges and Donuts (Doughnuts in English! English).

The data visualisations on each report are interactive and update one another; so when a Product Category on one visualisation is selected some or all of the other visualisations update to show data for the selected Product Category only.

Data visualsations in Reports can be pinned to Dashboards; Dashboards can therefore display data visualsations from one or many reports. Unlike in a Report, where the visualisations are interactive and linked, Dashboard visualisations are a little more static in that respect. Clicking on a Dashboard data visualisation takes you to the Report from which the visualisation came – so the Report interactivity kicks back in at this point. Lets hope Report level interactivity becomes available in Dashboards soon.

Datasets can be created in either the browser tool or the desktop tool, but I suggest the desktop tool is best for this.

Reports can also be created in either the browser or the desktop tool; I’ve found both equally competent but you may want to opt for the desktop tool if you regularly experience browser slowness or crashes.

Dashboards can only be created in the browser tool, from Reports created in the browser tool or uploaded to the browser tool from the desktop tool.

Power BI Desktop interface

I’ll be creating more specific and detailed blogs for Power BI very soon so please be sure to check back in again soon.

As always if you need any help or more information please get in touch; and do give Power BI a go, particularly whilst it’s free…..good luck!

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