Microsoft Power BI: Business Analytics for All of Your Data (Really, All of It!)

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This year at Tensoft Momentum 2017, we provided both an overview presentation and a hands-on lab for Microsoft Power BI.  I taught both sessions and was struck by the amount of interest from attendees.  I’ve put together a few notes from my presentation here, for a general audience.  And, I've organized it in the form of an easy-to-read FAQ.

What is Microsoft Power BI?

Microsoft Power BI is a powerful reporting and analytics tool.  It enables companies from small businesses to large enterprises to have a single view of their data.  It can look across datasets, provide a 360-degree view of the company, and create multiple elements for those datasets using dashboards.

Easy information access: Power BI Desktop and the Power BI web application make it easy to get information on any device.  These include tablets, laptops, web browsers and even KPIs on your Apple watch.  The addition of alerts on KPIs, gauges, etc. makes it powerful in terms of making the data actionable for users.

Collaboration: Microsoft continues to add more collaboration capabilities so that Enterprise customers are better supported. This includes dataset security, shared workspaces, and the ability to share Power BI dashboards as “Apps” to more easily distribute purpose-built collections of dashboards and reports to large groups of users.

Visualization: There are a lot of different ways to visualize data in Power BI, by adding charts, tables, KPIs, maps etc., to build meaningful reports.  Our customers are most interested in sales data (bookings, billings, backlog), product inventory, production schedules, and production cycle times.  So we’ve developed datasets that they can use to visualize this type of data.

Security: Data used by Power BI can come from many sources!  Whether your data is on premise, in the cloud, at our private data center, or in an Excel file, users can have a secure connection back to the Power BI platform using the Power BI Gateway to synchronize their data.

How can you get started with Power BI?

You can download Microsoft Power BI Desktop for free.  The free version allows you to explore product features, work with Excel files and play with visualizations.

A paid subscription, “Power BI Pro,” is available for $9.99/month/user. The difference between the Pro and the free license is that not all the features for sharing data in your organization are exposed in the free version.  Most importantly, Power BI Pro allows users to collaborate and share data.  For $9.99 a month, it is a pretty low investment to get a powerful tool like Power BI Pro.  So I do recommend the Pro version.

Larger customers with many users who need dedicated capacity may wish to choose Power BI Premium.  This option allows them to purchase dedicated Power BI server space for their organization.  This is often the best option for large companies.

Can Power BI bring in data from external applications?

Being a part of the Microsoft solution stack, Power BI has connectors for many different applications, from development tools to Dynamics platforms to CRM.  It also has connectors to external cloud solutions, including SalesForce, Google Analytics, and even Facebook, and can bring in on-premise and cloud data.

There are several ways to get the data into the system including Rest APIs.  Some solutions have connectors on the Microsoft website.  For other platforms, a user might have to work with a developer to get the connector.

How does Power BI fit into the Microsoft ecosystem?

Microsoft is extending their office applications and whole ecosystem into Office 365.  They have added PowerApps, Flow, Dynamics 365, Power BI and quite a few other office applications to it.  So, you can have a Power BI alert trigger a Flow workflow that calls a PowerApp to automate a task for you.  Over the last couple years, we’ve seen a convergence of what used to be isolated silos of great business applications.  It's nice to see that they're coming together, as “One Microsoft.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Microsoft Power BI, here’s a fact sheet that may be helpful.  Also, please check back for more posts about Power BI in the future.  And, finally, if you have any questions, or if we can help you with any of your Power BI or other business system needs, please contact us directly, any time.

By William White, CTO and Co-founder of Tensoft, a Silicon Valley-based Microsoft Dynamics ERP Re-seller and Application Developer

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