Power BI: Another Player in the Game

First up, Power BI for Office 365

Power BI for Office 365

An year ago till a couple of months ago, when we spoke of Power BI, it meant just one thing: Power BI for Office 365. Power BI for Office 365 is portrayed as a self-service business intelligence (or data analytics) tool on the cloud. The product is basically;

  • Excel 2013 with a bunch of add-ons for report authoring,
  • and special sites called Power BI sites on Office 365 for sharing and collaboration of the reports created using Excel, plus a few more goodies

Going further, Excel 2013 is the essential component of Power BI for Office 365. It is where all the data extraction, clean-up, consolidation and modeling happens (Power Query and Power Pivot). It is also where the reports and analytics is done (Power View and Power Map). The best thing about this is that all these add-on that I have mentioned are free, and can be used even without purchasing Power BI for Office 365 (PowerMap requires that you have an Office 365 ProPlus subscription). Then, if you need to share it with others, you to put the workbook on a Power BI site. This enables others in your team to see the data and collaborate on it as well. Apart from this, Power BI for Office 365 allows

  • analysis using natural language questions (in English) with Q&A,
  • creating and managing a repository of queries and data sources (including on-premise), on the cloud,
  • and access data from the Power BI Windows Store App so that information is available on the go on Windows tables

The pricing for Power BI for Office 365 currently looks like this, and has more than what I have described here. For more information I recommend reading this, the Power BI for Office 365 service description and FAQs.

And now, there is a new player in the game. And it’s from Microsoft itself…

Power BI Dashboard
(Microsoft Power BI Public Preview)

In December 2014, Microsoft released the Power BI Dashboard, targeting those without Excel and yet do some of the cool things that is possible on Power BI for Office 365. It also comes with some features not yet found on its Office 365 counterpart. Right now there seems to be nothing that binds Power BI Dashboard to Power BI for Office 365, apart from the fact that you need to sign up for Power BI Dashboard using your company email or Office 365 account. To get to it you need to navigate to www.powerbi.com/dashboards or preview.powerbi.com if you have already signed up. Once you have signed up or signed in, you are taken into a landing page with a clean look, and a couple of sample dashboards.

Exploring one of the included sample dashboards, gives you a feel of how it is intended to be used by a someone analyzing the data. The dashboard is made up of report parts from various reports that have been pinned to the dashboard. Clicking on of these takes you to the relevant report. Q&A with natural language has also found its way here from Power BI for Office 365. And it works super fast as well.

Power BI Dashboard
Power BI Report

Building your dashboards is a no-brainer:

  1. Create a dataset by connecting to the different types of data sources that are available.
  2. Create a report, where you author your visualizations using the datasets that you created.
  3. Finally you create a dashboard and pin your favorite visualizations from the different reports that you created.

When creating a dataset, the first that you would notice when looking at the data source options, is that most of them are SaaS applications, such as Dynamics CRM, Zendesk, Salesforce, Github etc.. The only on-premise options are Excel and Analysis Services (and that too Tabular models from SQL Server 2012 and after). This might get you thinking, but it seems to be aligned with the fact that this product is currently being pitched primarily as something for those who don’t have Excel and that Power BI dashboards is indeed for those casual analytics people who want the power of data to compliment the work that they do with these applications. The datasets that are created do not get complicated, either. It’s just a “table” that you pull off a source and use it in a report – nothing fancy that you would do when Power Querying or Power Pivoting.

So who decides which data sources are more important that they show up here? Judging from the “Suggest a data source” section at the bottom, I believe it is up to those using and trying out the product to push their preferences. As of now, SSAS cubes is indicated as “planned”, and I am sure that more would come, looking at the enthusiasm that is being generated from Power Query and Power Pivot users.

Now, there is something else that all this goodness comes with; the Microsoft Power BI Designer Preview. This little beast (which is a separate download) has everything that Power Query has in terms of vast data sources (including ODBC, which was introduced to Power Query only a few days ago) and data transformation. The premise here is that hardcore users would do their ninja Power Query moves in cleaning up data, and then create the reports in the app itself (think what Report Builder is to Reporting Services), andfinally the saved Power BI Designer (pbix) file will be used as a source on Power BI dashboards. Hmm, are we looking at Excel being kicked out of Power BI in the future, here? There is Power Pivot to be dealt with. But it does seem probable in the future.

Power BI Designer – Query
Power BI Designer – Report

I have always had reservations from the time when business intelligence reporting and visualization was sent to be held in SharePoint, which would act as a container. The same trend flowed onto Power BI for Office 365, where the Excel sheets had to be hosted on special Power BI sites. There was something “unnatural” about it. But looking at Power BI dashboards, where SharePoint does not seem to be seen anywhere, and how the application is just named Microsoft Power BI, and also when connecting to Excel, the option of directly getting it off OneDrive, there is this prospective happy feeling that business intelligence will finally be free of SharePoint: An Utopia of everything Power BI on a web app such as this one.

All this is exciting. Microsoft Power BI is still in its infancy and seemingly has no binding with Power BI for Office 365 (which is the de-facto self-service business intelligence tool from Microsoft), but has really good potential in breaking out as an awesome self-service business intelligence tool. My next post would be a demo of using the Power BI Designer and using its content on a Power BI dashboard. Stay tuned.

Update (Jan-17, 2015):

This excerpt looks very interesting 🙂 : http://passbaconference.com/2015/Learn/BAMarathon/SessionDetails.aspx?sid=7652

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