Power BI from Microsoft

Written by Matthew Harris on 2nd August 2018
General News

Microsoft Power BI overview

Power BI is a SaaS offering that enables anyone and everyone to easily connect to any of their data, create live dashboards and reports, and explore data through interactive visualizations at any time. With Power BI, you can make all of your data viewable in a single location, regardless of where the data resides, enabling a consolidated view of business operations.

Power BI includes two companion applications. The first is Power BI Desktop, a visual data exploration and reporting tool. The second is a set of native, interactive mobile applications for Windows, iOS, and Android devices, providing secure access to live Power BI dashboards and reports from any device.

In addition, Power BI can be extended with a set of REST APIs which enable developers to integrate client and web solutions with Power BI or to build custom visualizations.

 

Power BI differentiators

Together, the Power BI ecosystem provides a unique set of features that empower everyone to benefit from direct access to the BI they need. Power BI’s distinctive set of features include:

  • Pre-built dashboards and reports for popular SaaS solutions
  • Real-time dashboard updates
  • Secure, live connectivity to your data sources, on-premises and in the cloud
  • Intuitive data exploration using natural language query functionality
  • Integrated with other Microsoft products and cloud services, including Azure Data Warehouse, Azure Stream Analytics, Azure Machine Learning, Office 365. Power BI benefits from the same commitment for scale & availability as Azure.

This set of capabilities is designed to help organizations get the most out of their data, no matter where that data lives – on-premise or in the cloud. 

 

The Power BI service

The Power BI service offers a simple, intuitive experience for interacting with data. From creating and sharing dashboards to exploring and enhancing reports, Power BI makes it easy to engage with data from heterogeneous sources, fueling faster, more insightful business decisions. With Power BI, you get a rich, consolidated view of key information, no matter where all of the underlying data is stored. 

The individual components and their capabilities of the Power BI service are further described below.

 

Figure 1 - Power BI dashboard

 

 

Live dashboards

A Power BI dashboard is a set of data visualizations, or charts, from one or more underlying reports, presented in an engaging way that makes it easy to glean insights - no analytics expertise needed. An advantage of Power BI is that dashboards are live. For example, when a visualization in a dashboard is connected to a real-time data source, the visualization updates continuously, enabling faster insights.

A dashboard may contain visualizations from multiple reports. Dashboards are highly customizable - you may add, or “pin”, any chart from any report to any dashboard. You may also add an image to a dashboard (like a company logo) from an Excel file.


Figure 2 - Sample dashboard

 

Setting up a dashboard is simple, especially when the data is from popular SaaS offerings like Dynamics CRM, Google Analytics, Marketo, Salesforce, ZenDesk, and many others. Once connected to a SaaS solution, Power BI displays data in pre-built dashboards and reports optimized for that solution, so you can start exploring in minutes.

In Power BI, dashboards are not only for viewing - they are interactive tools. If there is information on a dashboard that you want to look into more deeply, drill down into the underlying reports to see details. Interesting and useful drill-down views can then be pinned to a dashboard for easier access.

 

Interactive reports

With a user-friendly interface, Power BI enables anyone to create rich, interactive reports. A report is a set of charts, also known as visualizations, based on the same underlying dataset*. You may construct a report from scratch, select a pre-authored report (such as a report generated in Power BI Desktop), or apply a default report for a given dataset. Reports can be customized - for example, by modifying visualizations in an existing report, or adding new visualizations. If there is a need to highlight different aspects of operations using the same data, generate as many reports as needed from a single dataset.

Reports are the foundation for dashboards. Once a report contains the desired visualizations, pin the report, or a subset of its contents, to a dashboard for ease of viewing. Reports can also be shared with other individuals in an organisation and consumed on both desktop computers and mobile devices.

*If you want to create reports that use data from multiple sources, use Power BI Desktop or Power Pivot for Excel with multiple sources, then upload the Power BI Desktop or Excel file to Power BI.    

 

Data visualizations

Dashboards and reports are built using visualizations, or charts. Power BI offers a variety of visualization options, enabling you to present data in a compelling and visually appealing manner. There are a growing number of visualizations available that can be applied to any dataset. These include: comparison charts (bar, line, basic area and waterfall charts), composition charts (treemaps, donut and pie charts), mixed comparison and composition charts (stacked charts), relationship charts (bubble charts), geographical charts, and gauges based on a percentage value. 

 

Figure 3 - Sample visualisations

In addition, Microsoft has made the source code for the Power BI visuals publicly available and is enabling developers to build custom visuals for Power BI. This opens up unlimited possibilities for displaying your data.

Once a set of visualizations is created, you can cross-filter among visualizations within a report to surface new insights. Use slicers to filter visualizations on the same report page so they display exactly what’s needed. When a visualization is pinned to a dashboard, it is referred to as a tile.

 

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