It has been several months since the release of the preview version of Power BI. Since then lots of features have been added. Recently Microsoft also released its pricing plan for Power BI. With the final release closing in I thought it could be helpful to explain what Power BI is now.
It is important to note that Power BI is still in preview. You can sign up for the preview here.
Power BI is a cloud-based Microsoft Business Intelligence solution which supports on premise data refresh and mobile BI (Windows and iOS devices).
Power BI was first introduced at the 2013 World Wide Partner Conference:
At the heart of Power BI lays Office 365, specifically Excel 2013 and SharePoint 2013 online. Power BI encapsulates three major BI themes:
- Data Discovery & Access
- Data modeling
- Data visualization
Data Discovery & Access
Within Excel 2013 it is possible to extract and transform data from various different sources like social media, the internet, files, CRM online and many more. The feature in Excel that enables you to do this is called Power Query. Apart from external sources Power Query also supports searching on premise organizational data like your CRM system. Selections made through Power Query (called queries) can be shared with others. The discovery of organizational data is al manageable from within Office 365 called the Power BI management dashboard.
Once you have made your selection(s) within Excel 2013 it is possible to further “sculpt” your data so that it can be better consumed by others. This is called “data modeling” and is done within Excel 2013 using a feature called Power Pivot. Power Pivot enables you to extract and enrich billions rows of data without the performance degradation you would normally get using just native Excel. In Power Pivot you can add hierarchies, add extra columns, hide columns, rename columns and add calculations (churn, ROI etc).
Power BI currently supports two kinds of visualization:
- Excel Pivot tables and charts
- Power View
I won’t go into detail about the pivot tables and charts. Many of you probably have a good idea of what it is all about.
Power View is a feature within Excel 2013. Power View is essentially an interactive canvas that allows you to display charts, tables, maps, and slicers in one dashboard window. What sets Power View apart is that the components in a Power View dashboard are inherently linked, meaning they all respond to one another. Select a region in one chart, and the other components in the Power View dashboard automatically respond to show you data for only that region. Many of these usability enhancements are “out of the box” but quite a few can be enhanced using the Power Pivot data model. An example; in Power Pivot you can categorize data such as, City, Postal code, Image etc. When using Power View to visualize this data it detects these categories and will act accordingly, in the case of city it will plot data on a map.
Other important features to note
Scheduled Data Refresh is supported in Power BI. Which means that once you have uploaded your Excel workbook its data connections are refreshable regardless of its origin (cloud or on premise).
Q & A is a feature within the Power BI site. It enables users to type in questions which Q & A will interpret and answer using different Power View visualizations.
Power Map is a 3D visualization add-in for Excel for mapping, exploring, and interacting with geographical and temporal data. At this moment is it not supported in Power BI sites. Watch this video to see it in action.