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Microsoft Power BI


What is Microsoft Power BI?

One of the tools within the Microsoft Power Platform, Power BI is a business intelligence service that delivers business analytics data through interactive visualizations. It has a user-friendly interface that provides an opportunity for even inexperienced developers to create their own reports and dashboards.

Power BI’s Excel Roots

Power BI’s roots are based on much of the popular functionality found in Excel, and it shares many of Excel’s foundational elements. In fact, many regular Excel users do not know their favorite go-to spreadsheet tool already includes powerful business intelligence features like PowerQuery (for pulling data from sources and loading it into a data model), PowerPivot (for data-modeling) and more. These Excel tools are also included in Power BI where they have undergone further development. For example, Power BI uses the same syntax for developing calculation functions in Excel. The functions language in Power BI is called DAX (or Data Analysis Expressions.) Also, Excel’s PowerView tool for creating visuals is similar in functionality to the visual analytics that are the centerpiece of Power BI. 

This begs the question, if Excel is in so many ways comparable to Power BI, why would Microsoft want to offer the audience of general business users two seemingly similar tools for Business Intelligence? There are several reasons, and the most prominent is development trajectory. Since Excel is by far the most utilized spreadsheet and data tool in the world (with over 1 billion instances in use), deploying broad functionality updates runs the risk of creating a bug or issues on a massive scale. Accordingly, any updates that are made to Excel are done through lengthy release cycles and are subject to rigorous change management processes. 

Read more about Power BI vs Excel on our blog!

Data Visualization and Dashboards

Power BI is specifically designed to share and create data visualizations and dashboards for business intelligence. Since Power BI has a substantially smaller reach than Excel, its release cadence is much faster than Excel’s, providing Microsoft with the ability to enhance and add on to functionality about once a month. 

Centralized Source for Data Insights

Power BI is also a cloud-based centralized source for data insights. This is favorable compared to other popular data tools like Excel, since Excel files can float around an organization across various drives and emails. Excel is not a centralized analysis platform, even though it can be cloud-based, since there are no workspaces and places to view updated reports. Power BI is simple and powerful in that everyone can work from the same workspace and see the most important elements relevant to them based on their positions. This helps reduce silos that are problematic in so many organizations.

Core Components and Features of Power BI 

Power BI has core functionality that makes it uniquely effective as a unifying tool:

Connecting to Data Sources: Power BI can connect to many data sources and has ready-made connectors to a wide array of sources like: 

Once the data is extracted from the connected source, it can be transformed (changing the data’s format, removing duplicative data, etc.), and then loaded into a data model. 

Data Model: The data modeling component of Power BI is used in place of “VLOOKUPS” in Excel and other cumbersome tools that Excel uses to link data from different tables. Power BI’s data modeling feature includes a graphical user interface to show your tables and how they are connected (called an ERD or entity relationship diagram.) This feature provides users with the ability to move tables and create relationships using drag and drop functionality. 

Measures and Calculated Attributes: Power BI enables users to easily apply functions to data. This is useful when analyzing data and performing functions such as averaging, statistical analysis, linear regression, aggregation, and the like. With functions and calculated attributes, users can also create measures that display the relationships between different columns such as ratios and variances.

Chart and Graphs: Leading business intelligence tools such as Power BI make data easier for business users to consume and interpret through visualizations and dashboards. Power BI provides a core set of 37 templates (and a marketplace with an additional 350+ free templates developed by the Power BI community) that allow users to cross-filter visuals and tabular data with a simple click, all within the same dashboard.  

Power BI Analytics: Power BI also has advanced analytical capabilities. These include visual analytics for forecasting, machine learning integration, and R integration for heavy statistical analysis. 

Beyond these common functions, Power BI has some key differentiators and benefits, including:

  • Exceptionally low cost 
  • Monthly development release cycle
  • Tight Excel integration and familiar functionality for Excel users
  • Open-source visualizations 
  • Seamless integration with Office 365, Azure, and the rest of the Microsoft stack

What are Power BI Dashboards?

This might seem like a silly question since dashboards are the primary function of Power BI and other leading BI tools, but what is a dashboard? 

Power BI provides a flexible, single page to customize a canvas of visual elements like bar charts, line charts, and other useful visualizations.

Data visualization starts and ends with people, and depending on the storytelling needs of the audience, Power BI provides flexibility to canvas the most important KPIs and visuals.

Furthermore, Power BI has customizable themes and styling capabilities that report developers and users can incorporate into their design based on their organization’s needs for data visualization and data storytelling. 


Are there different Power BI User Licenses? 

There are three main Power BI user licenses or versions available. 

Power BI Free

This version is free for anyone to sign up for. The free version features a high degree of core functionality. With it, users can work with data located in hundreds of different sources. Additionally, the same kinds of visualizations that are offered in Power BI Pro are available.

Power BI Free provides a highly functional solution and is great for solo users. It also enables users to export to Excel. Although Power BI Free is great, it does have some limitations. These include the inability to share reports and dashboards with other users, along with not being able to view dashboards created by Power BI Pro users. 

Power BI Pro 

Power BI PRO is available for $9.99 per user per month. It is also included with some versions of Office 365 although the net cost ends up being nearly the same at $10/mo. It provides higher data storage of 10 GB where the free version only provides 1 GB. There are also much better data refreshing capabilities available in Power BI Pro and it allows for sharing of dashboards and reports privately within an organization. This is important in enterprises as the need to share data with coworkers is essential in today’s business environments. Lastly, another distinct feature of Power BI Pro is that it offers row-level data security. 

A notable limitation to Power BI Pro is that it is most suited for small and medium enterprises that have a limited number of users that need to access and share reports. 

Power BI Premium 

Power BI Premium is for larger companies. This version is not a per user license, but an enterprise subscription of between $5,000 and $20,000 per month for a dedicated Power BI server. With Power BI Premium, larger organizations will get up to 100 TB of storage and can work with large datasets of up to 50 GB. Premium also allows for SSRS-like or paginated Power BI reporting. 

Given the variety of core options available for individuals and organizations, if a company has more than 400 users, Power BI Premium is the appropriate choice. Power BI Pro is the most used version in use today. Lastly, Power BI Free is just a “developers” license, allowing for proof-of -concept work by report developers and visualization engineers.


What are the benefits of Power BI?

There are many powerful business intelligence platforms available today. Power BI has become the leader according to benchmarks such as Gartner. It is believed that approximately 97% of the companies in the Fortune 500 use Power BI. 

Some of Power BI’s key benefits: 

  • Highly integrated across data sources and analytical tools (e.g., ‘R’ statistical analysis engine, Azure machine learning, tight integration with Office 365, Salesforce, and every other software tool you can think of…)
  • Per Forrester and Gartner, the best business intelligence platform in its BI Magic Quadrant report
  • Low cost and simple licensing model
  • Frequent updates and fast development release cycle
  • Cutting-edge features like the natural language query tool
  • Several versions and formats available: desktop, mobile, and cloud
  • Visualization marketplace crowd-sourced from Power BI developer community

Who are the competitors of Power BI? 

There are many alternative business intelligence platforms to Power BI. Options include Tableau, Microstrategy, Qlik, Domo, Sisense, Looker, TIBCO, and Thoughtspot. Gartner defines the business intelligence platform space as the “Analytics and business intelligence (ABI)” segment. It characterizes these tools by their relatively user-friendly functionality ranging from data preparation to downstream visualization.


Who offers Power BI Consulting? 

Despite all of these differentiators, the BI tool you choose is not nearly as important as your methodology for establishing BI as a strategic driver of your business. Virtually every business understands the importance of insight into their data, and many invest time and resources into the effort, but precious few succeed at becoming data-driven. The reasons for this are many.

For one, companies often design dashboards with a topic-centric approach, but dashboards are not consumed by topics, they are consumed by humans. Therefore, it’s critical your dashboards cater to the role of the people or persons consuming them. and its dedication to mobilizing data as a strategic initiative. In other words, dashboards need to mirror and support the narrative of the end user through their process of analysis, decision-making, and action taking.

Another reason companies fail to establish data as a strategic asset is that they separate the develop of their data warehouse from their dashboards, assigning the data warehouse to their IT team and the reporting to their analyst team. This invariably produces subpar results because the goal of the data warehouse is to make report development easy and accurate and therefore needs to be built in concert with the reporting strategy.

This is where an expert consultant can bring a lot of value. Rather than learning all of these lessons for a one-time event, the right consultant will have walked this road with tens or hundreds of companies and can steer you on the short path to extracting the most value from your data. 


Who uses Power BI? 

All industries and markets can benefit from the visibility Power BI dashboards provide. While not an exhaustive list, some examples of industries using business intelligence reporting (to transform their company’s performance and culture through data) include:

  1. Private Equity
  2. Manufacturing
  3. Commercial Services
  4. Legal
  5. Healthcare
  6. Distribution
  7. SaaS

Power BI and Source Integrations

Power BI works with data from many platforms and tools. Good dashboards start with high quality data. It is best to gather, organize, and cleanse data derived from various systems by establishing a data warehouse. Raw data can be pulled directly from virtually any source into Power BI, for example Sage, Epic, and Salesforce, but the foundation for a data-driven organization is based on a good data warehouse.

A data warehouse is a centralized database that relates tables of data from software systems across the organization in a way that mirrors the structure of the organization and eases the process of report development. It serves as a single source of truth that business intelligence and Power BI reporting can be based on.


Pilot Project

We start with a pilot project that puts production dashboards in your hands and delivers immediate ROI. We help you identify a high-impact, light-lift scope that demonstrates the value of data insights to key stakeholders and establishes best-practice for mobilizing your data.


Adoption & BI Integration

Building on the momentum of the Pilot, we design and execute a rapid rollout plan that gives everyone in the company a view into measurable progress against goals. We ensure adoption through hands-on training and support, and by ensuring every report supports and empowers defined users.


Ongoing Improvement

We help you achieve what few companies can, converting your data to a managed asset and ongoing strategic differentiator, all managed through BMI DataHub, a control panel that makes it easy to improve and extend your data strategy.

Data Roadmap



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