What is Power BI ?

Much like the power rangers Power BI is packed with lots of features called Power something something :)

Much like the Power Rangers Power BI is packed with lots of features called Power something something 🙂

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.

Data modeling

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).

Data visualization

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.

Demo’s you might find interesting

First steps in #Crescent (#PowerPivot #Denali)

Project crescent is a new application in the Microsoft Ad hoc reporting group.

Project Crescent is a online ad hoc reporting experience. The main goal with project crescent is to enable more simplified ad hoc reporting without the need of a client side applicaion.

In this blogpost I will show you what Crescent looks like and how it fits in with the other ad hoc applications microsoft offers.

The linking pin

Microsoft is pushing SharePoint to be their main platform to host the Microsoft BI stack and thus, suprisingly, Crescent only works with SharePoint 2010 (with SP1). After many late (very late .. or early depends on how you look at it) hours I managed to install and configure SharePoint 2010 with all the new SQL denali CTP 3 features.

Through SharePoint you are able to create a crescent report directly on a hosted Excel PowerPivot workbook (in the PowerPivot Gallery library) or through a BISM connection file. You can create  a BISM connection file and configure it to point to a Excel PowerPivot workboook or a BISM (Business Intelligence Semantic Model) hosted in SQL Denali Analysis Services Server.

Both actions, shown above, will open Crescent in the current browser window:

Draging items on the section “Table fields” will create a table which you can transform to other representation types like a chart, table or card.

Adding more charts or tables will make them interact with each other without the user to have to “configure” anything.

There even is a “playable” scatter chart type which allows you to see, let’s say, sales by year interactively:

Who should use Crescent ?

With the birth of Crescent Microsoft now offers three applications in the ad hoc reporting group:

  • Reporting Services Report Builder
  • Office Excel
  • Reporting Services Crescent

Report Builder is the light weight substitute for Visual Studio. Vizual Studio was formerly required if you wanted to make reports. Report Builder supports all of the features that Visual Studio does. With SharePoint, Report Builder can be offered to users as a “click once” application. But, in my humble opinion, Report Builder is the least “ad hoc” of the three. You still require technical skills in order to make any interesting report. I see Report Builder mostly being used as a “sand box” tool for power users. He or she would create a report and then hand it over to IT for further development. The IT department typically integrates it in a existing solution and save it to a source control (like Team Foundation Server).

Office Excel has come a long way from a business intelligence point of view. Ever since it started to support “Pivot table” integration with OLAP cubes it became the Ad hoc reporting application within the Micorosft BI stack. With each release of Office Excel the integration with OLAP cubes tightend and new features grew. With the release of PowerPivot and BISM, Excel has become a professional tool which users can use to create professional data models as well as ad hoc models (meant just for the reporting need of that moment). To use Office Excel the end user will need Office Excel application installed on his or her computer.

Crescent is a new data visualisation tool by Microsoft which is brought to the user using the browser. With Crescent users can make highly interactive reports without the need of any client application. Crescent reports are based on Microsoft Silverlight. At the moment Crescent only works in combination with SharePoint 2010. In my opinion Crescent is not meant for advanced analytics but for quick visual reports. One nice feature I am looking forward to is the integration of Crescent reports in Office PowerPoint presentations. But, coming back to the question “Who should use Crescent?”: I feel that Crescent is meant for non power users. Users which just want to do quick analysis without the need of installing a client application.

 Would you like to know more?

What is BISM

What is Crescent

What is PowerPivot