What the Heck is Power BI?

power bi confusion

Many organizations searching for a data management, visualization, and analysis solution have heard of Microsoft Power BI. As a leading solution in the software space, many enterprise teams already know that Power BI offers transformational change for their industry. But, in many cases, they’re still not quite sure how it works.

Over the years of supporting enterprises with Power BI deployment and adoption, we’ve found that most of our meetings inevitably start with the same fundamental question: “What the heck is Power BI?” Can you do X? Can you do Y?

No one wants to implement a solution they don’t understand. Let’s make sure your team understands what Power BI is, what it’s capable of, and how it will help your organization.

What is Power BI?

Microsoft Power BI is a collection of software services—an “umbrella” of technologies, apps, and connectors—that work together to help your organization better collate, model, and interpret its data.

These services allow organizations like yours to aggregate data from multiple sources, transform that data into visualizations and reports, and easily discover actionable insights.

Many enterprises have large volumes of data at their disposal. But, without the right tools, they don’t have an easy, reliable, and robust way to manage, analyze, and report on that data. Experienced data professionals spend hours “crunching” all the data they collect and designing reports that are outdated the moment they’re built.

Still, this analysis work is a must to enable business leaders to make informed decisions…even if they have to literally review dozens of disparate reports to hunt down valuable insights. (This is no way to live, by the way).

Enter, Power BI.

Power BI saves organizations time and resources by streamlining data analysis, visualization, and reporting processes. These tools offer timely data for business leaders to view in customized dashboards, which display tiles that connect to relevant reports for further analysis.

Dashboards and reports connect to datasets that bring all the relevant data together in one place, allowing leaders to see actionable insights at a glance and make decisions faster and more accurately.

Additionally, robust data modeling and data normalization allow almost anyone to build reports and gain insights from your organization’s data using Power BI, even if your users aren’t professional analysts.

What Components Make Up Power BI?

Power BI is a catch-all phrase that refers to some or all of these central elements:

  • Power BI Desktop
  • Power BI Service
  • Power BI Embedded
  • Power BI Report Server
  • Power BI Premium

Enterprises implement some or all of these components depending on their specific needs.

Power BI Desktop

Power BI Desktop is an application you download and install on your Windows desktop. While the program has a similar look and feel to Microsoft Excel’s interface, it generates Power BI (.pbix) files.

Power BI Desktop is a foundational tool that helps users analyze data, create models, and design reports or dashboards. While this application is free with a license, some organizations choose to use the web-based service instead of the Power BI Desktop. However, Power BI Desktop’s capabilities are designed to complement the cloud-based Power BI Service.

Power BI Service

Power BI Service is a cloud-based application that enables users to create and view dashboards, analyze data, design data models, edit reports, and collaborate with a team in real-time. Power BI Service allows you to store data on the cloud and provide easy access to authorized users through a web browser, allowing them to access enterprise data from anywhere and on any device.

Power BI Report Server

Power BI Report Server is an on-premises solution that allows organizations to host data within their firewall. This is an alternative to the Power BI Service application that still provides real-time data and easy remote accessibility, but it stores data on a local server instead of on the cloud.

Power BI Report Embedded

Power BI Embedded is a service that allows Power BI users to share data with another person, without granting them access to the full Power BI application. With Power BI Embedded, you can include data visualizations in other applications or websites, making analytics accessible almost anywhere.

Power BI Premium

Power BI Premium makes the full capabilities of the Power BI Desktop available to clients with a fully-remote, cloud-based experience. Power BI Premium supports a dedicated capacity that organizations can devote to specific workspaces, private queues, larger datasets, and more throughput and refreshes per day. It also supports composite modeling, which makes critical real-time data accessible more quickly.

How is a Power BI File Different from an Excel File?

Power BI (.pbix) files look very similar to Excel files, but they feature one key difference: they automatically pull data from connected datasets to refresh your analysis in real-time.

Every .pbix file contains three layers that help users analyze their data:

1. Power Query

Power Query is an Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) tool accessible directly through Power BI Desktop. This tool allows users to connect internal and external data sources, manipulate the data, and structure them into a data model to create a Power BI file.

Users save substantial time gathering data for reporting with this tool; plus, it simplifies future reporting by remembering previous instructions and using the same search to refresh results.

2. Data Model

Power BI Desktop lets you quickly structure any data into easy-to-read tables. Tables are combined to create data models, which answer complicated questions through rapid calculations and analysis updated in real-time.

3. Visualization

Power BI files make it simple to present and manipulate different data through visualizations. These visualizations help tell the story of your gathered data, offering robust interactive reporting capabilities.

Let’s Get Started with Power BI

The data revolution of the past few years has spawned new ways for your enterprise team to extract data. However, even with large volumes of data at your disposal, you likely still lacked a robust way to manage, analyze, and report on all of this data.

Power BI overcomes these frustrations by aggregating the data from the various sources, transforming the data so that all data (regardless of origin) can be used as a cohesive whole, and providing easy-to-use tools that allow non-technical personnel to analyze the data.

Without knowing the basics of Power BI, you may have been missing out on discovering the right opportunity for your enterprise. Now that your initial questions are answered, we know the wheels are turning. Schedule a call and we’ll walk you through some Power BI recommendations to set your organization up for BI success.

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