Oliver Chan from Cloud2

Author: Oliver Chan

Power BI in the NHS

I was asked to write a blog, my first ever. So, I thought I’d share the various aspects of the discussions I have with NHS organisations about Power BI. (A non-technical view, may I add).

My role at Cloud2 entails me to speak to customers and organisations daily about their technology needs; primarily focusing on Office 365 and Azure of which SharePoint and of course, Power BI are part of. This means I speak to organisations that use Power BI, are looking at Power BI, not interested in Power BI and have never heard of Power BI (although this last one is quite rare). As a result, I’ve come across two key factors which are on all my customers’ minds:

  1. Cost
  2. Information Governance (IG)


Of course, there is the technology itself and its capabilities;

  • Can it connect to my data?
  • Can I get real time reporting?
  • Can I get reports on my mobile?
  • Can I get alerts? We need self-service for our users?
  • We don’t have a data warehouse, can we still use Power BI?
  • We don’t have cubes, can we use Power BI?
  • Does it look visually appealing?
  • Etc.

Honestly, there are hundreds of sites, blogs and videos that have already covered all these areas in great detail, so I won’t go into that now (couple of examples https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/category/features/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAE0-mCX4Jk ) . Of course, we can share with you some of the work we have done too, if you’d like.

So, after I have these discussions it comes back to those main two, cost and IG.

We’ll start with IG concerns…

You do need your own internal due diligence too, however, not only are there Microsoft UK data centres, but in January 2018, NHS Digital released guidance for putting data in the cloud (link here): This has been a game changer. Since that was released, the amount of NHS trusts who are openly considering putting data in the cloud is really exciting! We’d also advise not putting patient identifiable data (PID) in the cloud if not necessary. If you are not going to be reporting on it, it doesn’t need to be in the dataset. Don’t make IG concerns even more difficult to overcome for the trust.

We are currently working on a project with a Trust who is moving its whole data warehouse to the cloud and speaking to a few others who are thinking about doing the same. If they can do that, why can’t you use Power BI in the cloud? The honest answer is, you can, it’s just that it takes a bit more time and working with your IG team. We’ve created an IG risk assessment template based on NHS Digitals guidance, that aids organisations who need some support when addressing these issues.

So next is cost… There isn’t any!! Only joking. Well - kind of.

The cost for Power BI Premium which is the cloud version of Power BI is retailed at £45,000 per annum on the Microsoft website https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/ . This is an organisation-wide licence. You will also need some Power BI Pro licences for report creators/authors at £90 per user per year, on the Microsoft website. These prices will be reduced if purchased from Cloud2 (sales pitch).

Now, I am no QlikView or Tableau expert, or Power BI for that matter, but I know that all these tools are the best of the best. These are, in most people’s minds, the top three reporting tools you can buy. Gartner recognises Power BI as being ahead of its immediate competitors, however others may take a slightly different view. The cost difference between the different tools is crazy! I don’t know exact prices for Qlik and Tableau but do know that their prices are somewhat higher than Power BI. I haven’t yet come across a trust who has been able to rollout one of these tools trust-wide, which so many trusts are looking to do with their reporting tools now. The amount of money a trust can save by moving from an expensive licence to Power BI, is where Microsoft really have done well.

The Power BI prices I have shared above are for the cloud version of Power BI. There is also an on-premise version, Power BI Report Server (RS). When purchasing Power BI Premium, you also get RS free, so can opt for a hybrid solution if you like (always nice to be given options). The only other way of having access to Power BI RS is via a SQL 2016/17 licence with an enterprise agreement and software assurance and at least eight cores available, you again would get this for free.

(Quick, check what SQL licence you have!).

If you opt for this version there is some differences in its capabilities compared to the cloud version, for instance you are limited to eight automate data refreshes per day (unlimited manual), but you have in effect a free trust-wide licence to Power BI. You now just have to purchase some Pro licences for your report authors/creators.

That being said, you have three options if purchasing Power BI:

Power BI pricing
Power BI pricing

In Summary, PBI is a great tool that most NHS organisations are considering or have considered. The ones that have considered and not purchased, in my experience, is due to either, the IG concerns or an already heavily invested tool is currently in use and there is no urge to jump ships just yet. The ones that are still considering, are debating whether to go on-prem or in the cloud or are still waiting for their budget.

With its integration with Office 365 and Azure and R for predictive modelling, Power BI is soon going to be a must-have tool in the NHS, if it already isn’t.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Chan

Please leave any feedback on my views!

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