What is Power BI? 2015

This information is based on the features and services that Power BI offers as of January 2015.

Microsoft Power BI

  • Excel Add-ins

  • Cloud Service


What is Power BI?

Power BI has a compelling story but it’s basically a BI cloud service on Office 365 that it started with self-service BI using Excel and the Power tools and has now evolved to something much more broader.

The official definition of Power BI states that:

Power BI is a cloud service that lets you share, collaborate and access your Excel reports anywhere on any device.

which is not so accurate anymore as you can access other sources directly from within the browser such as Analysis Services, SalesForce data, Zendesk and much more.

I’ve grouped Power BI into 3 categories that I firmly believe constitutes Power BI:

  1. The BI add-ins for Excel
  2. The actual cloud service or BI Site (SharePoint Online)
  3. The new REST API (for development)

and I’m going to try my best to explain each of those categories

The parts that make Power BI what it is

Add-ins for Excel

THIS is the main reason why users know what Power BI is. Because it landed on their Excel 2013 right out of the box with Power Pivot and Power View. Shortly after the release of Excel 2013, Power Query and Power Map came out as preview add-ins for Excel.

All of these add-ins are available as part of the Office 365 suscription for Office Pro+ but some of them come right out of the box with Excel 2013 or you can get them for free. (some of them even work for Excel 2010!)

Microsoft even released something completely new called the Power BI Designer which can be translated into a Lite version of Excel that only has the Power tools that can be rendered on the cloud (Power Query, Power Pivot, Power Query)

Let’s define each of these add-ins and understand what they do:

Power Pivot

it’s the core of the whole Power BI experience. It’s the engine that runs all the calculations, hosts all your data and creates the analytical model that you can later exploit with other tools like Pivot tables, charts or more. You can read more about Power Pivot here.

Power Query

in order to create that analytical model or simply to get any data in the format that you need it for consumption, you need a tool that can help you transform that raw data into a tabular form dataset that you can later exploit to its maximum potential with either just Excel or Power Pivot. Power Query is the tool that does the trick and it’s INCREDIBLY easy to use and lightning fast. Learn more about Power Query here.

Power Query unofficial logo
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Power View

Power View – this is the new type of sheet! the one that creates truly interactive dashboards. Power View is a data visualization tool that lets you explore your data in a simple, intuitive and interactive way. Click here to see some samples of what you can create with Power View.

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Power Map

Power Map is a new 3D visualization add-in for Excel for mapping, exploring, and interacting with geographical and temporal data, enabling people to discover and share new insights. Click here to see an example of how we used the latest Panamanian census data with Power Map

Power Map 2
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A cloud Service

This is where the actual magic happens. Power BI relies heavily on SharePoint and also some other under the hood technologies to make things flow like they do. A few of them are the integration with the new Query Catalog or basically Power Query on the cloud, some new services only available with Power BI such as the dashboarding and the Q&A feature.

Let’s see some examples of these.

Refresh, Share & Manage data sources

Connect to all your data. On-premise or public facing data can be accessed either with a daily refresh or even connecting directly to your Analysis Services Tabular Model using the AS Connector. You can manage and share your queries using Power Query by just using the search bar inside Excel.

Note: the AS Connector is currently only available for customers in the US for the new preview version of Power BI

Natural Language Query

No more drilling through dozens of reports in order to get the numbers that you need. Just type in your question and Q&A will provide the answer that you’re looking for instantly either as a chart, table, map or just as a value that you can later pin to your dashboard.

It takes advantage of your Data Model created with Power Pivot and uses that model, along with some algorithms created specifically for this service, to be executed using a natural language. It only supports the english language for now.

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Stunning visualizations & Dashboards that are completely responsive and creating using HTML5. These can be created for the group, individuals or for the whole organization taking in consideration your sharing needs.

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Native Mobile apps

Power BI provides a seamless experience across all devices with native apps for iOS and Windows tablets.

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This is the latest addition to the family. The ability to interact with Power BI using a REST API in order to create some custom applications. You can create your own connectors or even create applications that will interact with a dataset in order to add new rows or alter such dataset (table). Learn more about the REST API here.



(The paths of the Power BI Specialist)

Overall, Power BI is a tremendous BI option for most companies. Not only because it fully integrates the whole Excel and BI site but also because it has several features that you are not going to get with your regular SharePoint license anytime soon.

For a Power BI Specialist, this whole post means that they are getting more and more tools which means covering more and more ground in order to deliver the right solution for each scenario. A Power BI specialist, as I like to call, has now 3 paths as defined earlier but this can be later expanded to cover even more ground and even have some new subgroups.

If you are considering Power BI as a viable option for your company and need someone to help you set up your site then contact us or request a meeting so we can assess your requirements and provide you with the most efficient way to set up your Power BI site.

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