What is Microsoft Power BI?

September 20, 2022
15 min read
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No matter how new you are to data analytics and reporting, you’ve likely heard of Power BI. Microsoft has worked hard for over a decade to get its data visualization tool into thousands of businesses worldwide. Power BI has been a very useful tool for many of these businesses, but for some, it’s created new obstacles and data management challenges.  

Power BI is designed to be one of the most affordable, accessible, and user-friendly business intelligence (BI) tools today. This article will cover what it is, how it works, and tips on getting the most out of your investment. 

We have formatted this blog post into a series of the most common questions about Power BI and how to use it.

What is Power BI?

Microsoft created power BI in 2010 as a series of tools that integrate with Excel and other data sources to help empower business professionals to visualize their data and build reports. In the last few years, there has been a growing push toward companies making it easier to access insights, charts, and other data visualizations within a few clicks – something that once took lines of code and specialized knowledge.  

Microsoft launched Power BI to the public for the first time in 2015 and created different versions that span mobile apps, SaaS-based, and desktop programs to help meet each company’s and users’ specific needs. These different services allow data analysts to dive deep into raw data and create prebuilt dashboards for executives. Since the public launch, many integration and third-party tools have been developed to customize the user experience.

What does “BI” mean in Power BI? 

BI stands for Business Intelligence. Software, tools, and services take raw data and turn it into easy-to-digest insights that help decision-makers strategize. Power BI programs help users create reports, graphs, charts, maps, and dozens of other visualizations in a user-friendly environment with drag-and-drop capabilities or libraries of pre-built templates.

BI is a descriptive way of looking at data versus an analytical approach (which is predictive). A BI tool won’t tell you what you should do or what will happen if you do that, but instead shows you a picture of the state of your company as it is today. With those data analytics, you can identify trends or areas of opportunity to start building on.

Traditional business analytics are still used in companies by data scientists and analysts, but Power BI tools are there for any stakeholders to easily access information when necessary without needing extensive technical knowledge. This empowers even non-tech-savvy users to start spearheading company initiatives and direct meetings to what’s most important with ease.

What is the Difference Between Excel and Power BI? 

There are many similarities between Power BI and Excel, and quite a few capabilities of Excel are also seen in Power BI. Here are some key differences:

  • Functionality: Excel is ideal for users who are handling small amounts of data and calculating numerical data. It’s not designed for organizing and transforming large endless rows of data. That’s where Power BI steps in. Think of it as an expansion of the capabilities in Excel, allowing you to better visualize and extend the data for analytical purposes.
  • Versatility: Excel is set up to handle only a few data types, while Power BI can connect to many sources to use in data sets.
  • Ease of Use: Power BI was designed for a wide variety of end users, with easy drag-and-drop options and less need for extensive technical knowledge. Excel isn’t ideal for projects requiring a lot of collaborative work on a report, while Power BI can be accessed and collaborated on by multiple people simultaneously, with real-time updates, even on mobile devices.

What is Microsoft Power BI Used For?

Since being launched to the public, the capabilities of Power BI have grown endlessly with the wide variety of third-party integrations and plugins. But the core features continue to be robust business intelligence visualizations that cover various business functions. Here is an overview of some of those fundamental features:

  • Power Query

    One of the most popular features of Power BI is one that many experienced Excel users may have already used. In Excel, it’s called “Get & Transform.” Power Query allows users to take spreadsheets and data from various sources and easily clean it up into usable information. Power Query can make even the most convoluted files into clear, digestible information within minutes. And it can be automated, to save even more time.
  • Power View

    Another favorite feature, Power View, brings your data to life in various engaging and interactive visuals. Using its drag-and-drop functions, it’s easy to illustrate the information you want. Or, you can choose from the library of existing templates to see your data as charts, maps, line graphs, or dozens of other ways. Users can see big-picture representations of the data and then easily drill down on different aspects of the information.
  • Power Pivot

    For more technical users, Power Pivot allows quick aggregation, calculation, and modeling from very compressed data storage. Power Pivot can handle complex files that Excel cannot. It does not have any line maximums, and it can be combined with Power Query to create complex models seamlessly and efficiently, even on machines that normally would not handle large files using other tools.
  • Power Map

    Like Power View, Power Map allows users to create 3D data visuals. Power Map allows users to create interactive geolocation maps based on columns of data in a database or spreadsheets and to see insights related to your data anywhere in the world. This can range from clusters and heat maps to street-level views using Bing maps.
  • Power Q&A

    A lesser-known feature, Power Q&A, allows users to use natural language to ask questions about your data, and be returned a response with visualizations, no coding required!

What is the Difference Between Power BI Desktop, Power BI Premium, and Power BI Pro?

Since the public launch of Power BI, Microsoft has created various versions to accommodate a broad customer base and their varying needs. The main three used today are Power BI Desktop, Power BI Service (Power BI Pro and Premium), and Power BI mobile apps. A big question that often arises for individuals scoping out Power BI for their company is, “what are the differences between each of the versions?” To help you decide what will work best in your organization, here is a quick comparison of all three Power BI versions:

  • Power BI Desktop

    Power BI Desktop, also known as Power BI Free, is a version of Power BI that anyone can download to their computer and does not cost anything. It comes included with all Microsoft 365 plans. It is a great way for independent contractors and small businesses to enhance their data visualizations at a minimal cost. It comes with 10GB of space in the Power BI Cloud, and users can upload up to 1GB of data at a time. Reports can be refreshed up to 8 times daily, either every half hour or one hour. A limitation of the free version is that reports cannot be shared unless published publicly on the internet, which can be a security risk for any confidential data.
  • Power BI Pro

    Power BI Pro is one part of the Power BI service and is one of the ways that users can license Power BI to use more features than just Power BI Desktop. Power BI Pro includes the same storage, upload, and refresh limits as Power BI Desktop, but data and reports can be shared internally with other Power BI users. Licenses can be purchased individually, making it ideal for smaller organizations that only require access for a handful of key users.
  • Power BI Premium

    Geared towards large businesses needing many users, Power BI Premium is the other part of Power BI Service. The fee is charged based on the amount of space and processing capacity required instead of per individual user. Depending on your specific business needs, six different capacity models are available. This access type allows your company to have data processed by a dedicated portion of Microsoft’s capacity, and Microsoft will facilitate all necessary support. This plan also allows up to 100TB of data storage, 50GB data uploads, and further options for data storage.

    What is Power BI Report Server?

    For users with Power BI Premium, you are given additional capabilities and options for data storage, such as Power BI Report Server. Depending on your industry, storing your data warehouse in the cloud isn’t an option. With the Power BI Report Server, you can have your data stored on-site for your company, allowing you to control the security of your company’s proprietary information. It works behind a firewall and can be used with the cloud version of Power BI.  

    The trade-off with Power BI Report Server is that every user must use the Power BI Desktop application, and reports and dashboards cannot be accessed via the mobile apps or web browser as well as other perks of Power BI, including Power Q&A, Excel cross-functionality, or third-party plug-ins.

    What is Power BI Mobile?

    Ideal for users on the go, Power BI mobile allows you to access your company’s reports and dashboards from an app on your mobile phone. This app is available for Windows, iOS, and Android phones. It has Power Q&A and Power View functionality, and the user can tailor push notifications for data alerts.

    What Does a Power BI Developer Do?

    While one of Power BI’s biggest strengths is its ease of use and low learning curve, there is still a need for many businesses to have dedicated positions for Power BI developers on staff. Why? The technology behind Power BI is complicated. It’s most beneficial when your data environment is simplified, the software is optimized, and implemented to suit your analytical needs.  

    Data experts, like Wye Sight, are there to reduce the complexity of setup and help with regular reporting, dashboard creation, and deep dives into crucial questions. Decision makers need answers with the certainty that can only come from someone with a deep knowledge of the tool. In case you’re curious, here are the skills and experience that would be important for an experienced Power BI developer:


    Roles and Responsibilities:

    • Extracting, importing, and transforming raw data from companies’ various sources to increase ease of use for end users when creating their reports.
    • Knowledge of DAX (Data Analysis Expression) and SQL queries and functions for complex parameters for reports and dashboards.
    • Identifying and creating KPIs for continuous monitoring by stakeholders.
    • Data Warehouse Development and working with SQL various services developed by Microsoft for better data integrity and normalization.
    • Helping stakeholders and decision makers identify critical areas of opportunity or growth based on data analysis deep dives.
    • Helping create timelines for business initiatives derived from Power BI data insights.
    • Helping create machine learning models with Python and R-cross functionality for more complex and predictive analysis.


    Expected Key Skills and Experience:

    • Advanced experience with BI tools and their uses, including Power BI and other competitors.
    • Documentable analytical and mathematical skills.
    • Data normalization and mining to improve user experience.
    • SQL coding to help with reporting and database management with the Microsoft suite of products.
    • Presentations skills to report key findings and analyses to stakeholders.
    • Business Development experience helping to identify key questions and KPIs to track and measure.
    • R and Python coding knowledge and experience.
    • Data Security knowledge and experience.


    Education:

    • A master’s or bachelor’s degree in statistics, computer science, or data management.
    • Microsoft Data Analyst Associate Certification Course
    • PL-300 Certification


    Expected Salary Ranges and Job Growth:

    • As with any salary, the range can vary depending on location, experience, and skill. However, an estimated salary range can be used to help draw in qualified, talented candidates.

    salary range
    According to glassdoor.com, the range expected for a Power BI Developer averages $117,454 a year but can vary anywhere from $77,000 to $277,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 9% job growth for Power BI Developers between 2018 and 2028, so it’s important to stay competitive when hiring.

    How Can My Business Benefit from Microsoft Power BI?

    In this article, we have covered some of the main features of Power BI and how your company can use them to help democratize data access, guide business strategy, and improve decision-making. Here are some of the critical ways that Power BI can help benefit your business:

    • Ease of Use: Key stakeholders and decision-makers no longer need to rely on other departments or know how to code to get answers to business performance questions or create dashboards to track top priorities.
    • Real-Time Information: Between customized push notifications via the mobile app and KPI-optimized dashboards, users can see the changes happening across the company throughout the day.
    • Pricing: With the range of plans and licenses to choose from with Power BI, companies of all sizes can pick what works best for them and easily change as their companies’ needs do.
    • Integrations: With its endless number of integrations with websites like Facebook, WordPress, Salesforce, HubSpot, and multitudes of data sources like Excel, Amazon Athena, Google Analytics, and many more, companies can get the data from where they want it.
    • AI Capabilities: Microsoft is constantly innovating in AI technology. Implementing AI into Power BI is one of their priorities. Using AI-powered tools with built-in machine learning features helps companies and users analyze data and identify key trends quicker than ever before and start making educated decisions and predictions to get them ahead of the curve in ways other tools cannot.


    But before you jump on the bandwagon, it’s important to remember that Power BI is still a powerful BI and analytics tool that needs to be approached with caution. An investment in Power BI also means an investment in better data management practices and a new data-driven business approach.  

    To learn more about the limitations of Power BI, download our latest whitepaper below. We’ve included some hidden facts about Power BI that will directly impact your implementation and overall investment.

    Can We Implement Power BI and its Features on our Own?

    The technology behind Power BI is highly sophisticated and not something that the average IT person is familiar with. When it’s set up and implemented correctly, it becomes the easy-to-use and dynamic tool you expect – but it takes some effort to reach that point.  

    This question is like asking, “Can I fix my car without a mechanic?” While the answer is technically yes, it’s going to be difficult, may require tools and knowledge you don’t have, and the results may not be what you expected. While you can certainly install Power BI yourself and try building dashboards with a single data source, the reality is that it won’t produce the results you are looking for.  

    To see a faster return on your Power BI investment, you need to hire someone with experience. At Wye Sight, our team comprises Microsoft Dynamics 365 reporting and analytics experts who live and breathe Power BI. They know the ins and outs of Power BI and have the background in data management to ensure your environment is optimized to deliver the insights you need when you need them. We also provide extensive Power BI training to ensure that everyone on your team can use Power BI how it was intended to be used.  

    Find out more about our Power BI services below:

    What Does a Power BI Consulting and Training Partner Do?

    Whether you are a new or seasoned Power BI user – or a company still weighing the pros and cons – a Power BI consulting and training partner can help guide you in the right direction. With decades of experience in data management, reporting, and analytics, we recommend bringing your current reporting and analytics issues to an expert to learn about your options.  

    We live in an age where data is the foundation of every business. And before you can start building impactful dashboards and creating visual collaborations across your company, you need an expert to assess your current environment and data practices. An experienced Power BI partner has a deep knowledge of everything from data structures to custom query building and can help you:

    • Analyze your existing reporting and analytics practices
    • Simplify your data structure
    • Provide a practical approach to implementing or optimizing Power BI
    • Uncover new possibilities for data and performance analysis
    • Provide tailored Power BI training to your staff
    • Answer any questions about Power BI, data management, reporting, data warehouses, analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more.


    Empower your team, uncover new insights, and reach your data goals with the Power BI certified experts at Wye Sight. Book a discovery call today!