Benefits of Power BI as a self-service BI Solution


Whether you’re a fan of Microsoft or not, Microsoft Power BI is worth considering if you’re searching for a business intelligence solution.

Microsoft under the leadership of Satya Nadella has brought in fresh make over of Microsoft, and when it comes to Business Intelligence, the changes brought about under the leadership of James Phillips needs to be specially mentioned. Business intelligence (BI) delivers critical performance analytics and insights to workers, empowering them to make faster and better business decisions. However, enterprise-wide penetration of BI is still surprisingly low. This is partially due to the misperceptions that business intelligence is costly, difficult to use and deploy, and slow to deliver real business value. “Self-service BI” is shattering these perceptions. It delivers low-cost, rapidly deployed decision-support, enabling any worker, regardless of job role, geographic location or department, to work from a reliable and up-to-date set of data, presented in a context and detail level relevant to job role and appropriate to data access privileges. This definition serves as a useful discussion point to highlight how Power BI can help your organisation to achieve the objectives of self-service BI and realise its benefits.

Quick Deployment

A light semantic model over existing data: Power BI is tightly integrated with Microsoft’s other BI products and Excel, as well as having built-in connectors to external data sources and it empowers authorised users to rapidly set up new data connections and create new analysis reports. Power BI is a full-stack solution that includes data loading, data modelling, metrics, reporting and distribution. It can take the source data, and perform in-process data modelling relatively easily as well a providing an easy to use and powerful user interface for analytics and reporting.

Agile process to build new data models: It is the time it takes an organisation to create the required BI sematic layers that determines how agile or responsive it is. and with Power BI, you get a Full-Stack BI. It may come as a surprise to some, but Power BI can – with a little application – become a full-stack BI solution. This is because even though it is a single tool, it lets you carry out the key steps in a BI process. The table below lets you compare Power BI with the SQL Server BI stack:

Clearly, Power BI will let you do nearly everything that you can do using the traditional SQL Server BI toolkit. Power Query queries extend the scope of the data sources further to include Azure data services, OData feeds, web pages, web services, and SaaS applications. You can design, build, and deploy self-service BI solutions by creating Power BI reports from datasets, connecting to tabular models.

Power BI will ingest data from virtually any source

Connects directly to source data and Uses tabular models to integrate different data sources: Microsoft Power BI connects to most types of on-premise databases and they have a large and growing list of cloud-based connection options as well. Power BI has tightly integrated support for tabular models, Power Query queries and third party data sources. Collectively these provide access to all the data sources your users will need and covers relational, multidimensional, structured, or semi-structured data from on-premises, cloud, or web data sources. The easiest way to consolidate diverse data sources is to develop tabular models and Power Query queries. When data is stored in a tabular model then the underlying queries to the original source data are maintained so data refreshes can be scheduled easily.

Unlimited access to in-cloud and on-premise data: Power BI gathers and stores all your cloud and on-premise info in a centralized location that you can access anytime, anywhere. You can also make use of pre-packaged content packs and built-in connectors to streamline import of your data from apps such as:

Simple, Customizable and Collaborative Visualizations

Microsoft has built a brand new HTML 5 compliant visualisation engine that is simply awesome. Everything (virtually everything) will slice and dice and cross filter everything else. Anyone that can create a chart in Excel can create a chart in Power BI (and probably some people that can’t create a chart in Excel too for that matter). You don’t need a specialised IT report writer to create every new report for the business.

Making data more comprehensible: Power BI users can create custom visuals and use them in dashboards and reports. The number of visualizations is growing, however currently, visualizations include:

Sharing Data Insights: Analysts can utilize a free-form canvas for drag-and-drop data navigation as well as a vast library of interactive visualizations, easy report creation, and fast publishing. As Power BI is part of Microsoft’s set of business apps, it offers seamless integration with popular Microsoft software systems such as SQL Server, Azure, and Excel. PowerBI service BI takes this further and allows data insights uncovered by individuals, who have explored the data, to collaborate with colleagues-by sharing your personalised dashboards or by taking snapshots of individual reports and emailing them from within the Power BI apps.

Open source Visualizations: PowerBI allows you to share its visualisation source code so that any capable developer can develop their own visualisations and share them with the community. Developers can either copy an existing visual and extend it, or they can start from scratch and build something completely new.

Easy to Use

Minimal IT Support: Power BI is self-service BI at best. Microsoft has brought the rigour and structure from SQL Server Analysis Services into this product to ensure that it is a Self Service BI Tool with Enterprise strength features, including row level security, active directory integration etc while it is still familiar enough to Excel users that they can and will embrace it. Power BI tools can significantly reduce the learning curve for new users because report and dashboards have a simple and consistent interface that will already be familiar to many Excel users of Power View or Pivot Tables.

Augment data models with key performance indicators: A user can just drag data fields onto a visualisation within Power BI and it will intelligently interpret the data and decide how best to represent it. Power BI is made to interpret how fields are related, what type of data they contain, and whether they represent aggregations, calculations, unique values, geography fields, or hierarchies. The metadata is derived from the underlying data model can be enhanced with calculations, measures, KPIs, and perspectives (subsets of the source data), all defined using a sophisticated formula language called Data Analysis Expressions (DAX).

To streamline the experience even further, users can inquire the data and build visualisations from the results by using the natural language capability and just typing questions.

Power BI is Cheap!

Because users can get up to speed quickly and require little to no training, support costs with self-service BI are significantly lower than they are with more complex BI solutions. If you implement SaaS-based self-service BI, you can also recover direct server investments and evolving maintenance costs with a convenient monthly subscription. Also, self-service BI platforms scale seamlessly so that as adoption increases, additional server capability can be added without disrupting access or requiring significant IT resources. In marked contrast to traditional enterprise BI solutions, self-service BI tools don’t require either a data warehouse or the associated database licensing costs. This alone cuts down months if not years off of BI project timelines and it eliminates sizable expense. Power BI is free to try and indeed free to use as long as you want. If you want to take advantage of more of the enterprise features including controlled sharing of data, automatic refreshes using gateways etc. then you have to pay – wait for it – a whole US$9.99 per month per user. It is enough to give the competition a run for their money!

  • Power BI
  • Free – $0
  • 1 GB data capacity limit
  • Author content
  • Consume curated content packs for services like Dynamics, Salesforce, and Google Analytics
  • Create, view, and share personal dashboards and reports
  • Data exploration
  • Import data and reports from Excel, CSV and Power BI Desktop files
  • Native apps for iOS, Windows, and Android
  • Publish to web

Power BI is offered in three different plans, with a cost sheet showing the high-level features of each plan here, so you can decide which option works best for your organization.

The Power BI service is on a continuous release cycle. As improvements are made they are released into the cloud service. You can experience parallel improvements to the mobile apps and to Power BI Desktop. The pace of their release cycles s still incredible. Quite literally, today’s biggest complaint can disappear when you wake up tomorrow morning.

I highly endorse it and urge you to try for yourself and make your own evaluation. Have you used Power BI before? What was your observation?

NRoot Labs has tremendous experience and has the resources to architect and deploy comprehensive BI solutions with Microsoft’s technology stack on-premise or in the cloud. Contact us to learn how you can integrate Power BI into your overall BI strategy.


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Benefits of BI in Economic Downturns

With power comes great responsibility, and with data comes reliability

Around the globe, companies must cut costs and reduce risks as they face undemanding sales,reluctant suppliers, and tighter credit. In addition, restrained credit can affect the entire supply chain, causing delays or limiting availability to key raw materials. It’s vital to have contingency plans for handling the potential impact of constrained trade. But with challenges come opportunities – opportunities from Business Intelligence. To justify BI, decision makers need to look at the big picture advantages.

BI compiles a company’s most essential data so employees can focus on answering crucial questions. Access to data allows for fast decision making and an edge over the competition. Let us address how BI can help you reduce costs, make smarter operational decisions, and help your business thrive within an uncertain economy.

Identifying cost-cutting opportunities and inefficiencies

In good times, when revenue and margins are high, business leaders seldom ask if they can squeeze more out. Their perspectives change when the economy falters. This is when instances of poor decision-making comes to light.

Bottom line vs. top line: When professionals have access to the information they need, they’re able to focus on improving their work, rather than getting distracted by insignificant tasks. Taking a data-driven approach also opens up opportunities for new incentives by rewarding how employees improve the bottom line beyond expectations. In highly competitive positions such as sales, recognizing performance data this way lets top talent set goals for their maximum potential. BI thus helps empowering the employees and thus improves the bottom line.

It’s been shown that top-down change is only essential for companies during critical moments, while bottom-up change brings long-term improvements. With BI solutions, the company is guided by the bottom line keeping the top line in focus. As data is entered into the system, dashboards across different roles depend on the information needed while employees are connected by the same results. In some organizations, without centralized reporting, this leads to decisions made on false assumptions. Instead, through BI, everyone shares a single source of truth. Thus helping the change occur from the bottom up, rather than top down.

Operational Efficiency

To win, survive, or grow in today’s market, businesses need discipline and execution. BI is capable of providing solid forecasting that takes into account the operational model and how it relates to the economic environment. It helps business units have fast, efficient and agile reactions when a problem occurs.

Turn on a dime: Disruption is often unpredictable. When a market shifts and a business comes across a road block, BI makes it easy to sail in a new direction. Data is selected and displayed based on the organization’s strengths, highlighting opportunities for additional revenue. With BI’s far-reaching effects, everyone within the organization can be prepared to make an impact where it’s needed. BI thus helps business units react faster and efficiently when challenges arise.

Find profitable customers/channels: Data improves conversations by focusing on facts rather than subjective experiences. It’s imperative to have data that supports every argument. If decision makers are discussing something that may deeply affect the company, the outcome shouldn’t depend on subjective experience or a single event. Instead, to make important decisions, there must be data available that keeps everyone focused on the reality of the business, not just the perspective of executives. BI helps you analyze customer profitability, so you can allocate your limited resources on those customers that are profitable now and cultivate those customers who are most likely to grow your sales when the economy recovers.

Get real-time information to the right employees: With access to information, your company stake holders can quickly analyze what’s happening within the business today and make decisions based on information that’s both current and relevant. With a nuanced and reliable BI reporting tool, stakeholders can rest easy knowing the business is planning for long-term success. The most common problem in several companies is that people on the frontline do not receive information, even though they make the most decisions. And yet individuals who make the fewest decisions, albeit the strategic ones, have the most access to information. With BI, stakeholders can have direct access to the data that’s driving the company’s decisions to easily get on board with them.

Increased visibility

Identify new revenue opportunities: By being able to analyze all your data, you will obtain insights about potential opportunities you might have missed in the past. You can create new offers to adjust to the current market situation and to better satisfy your customers.

Track KPIs: You will be getting alerts and notifications every time data changes regarding a specific KPI. If the data changes, you get notified and can drill down to see why it happened and what can you do to fix it.

Get a 360° view of your customers: You will understand customer behavior better and use it to provide the customer with customized offers. Knowing what customers buy or don’t, at what time and where, enables you to turn this information into profit.

The bottom line is, Business Intelligence solutions combine the best value, pervasive deployment, and complete integration. To reap the full performance enhancing benefits of BI, you need a solution that is easy to use and makes your stakeholders smarter. Business Intelligence doesn’t need to be so complex that it shuts out regular business users. Nor does it need to eat up IT resources. The key is to find the right BI implementation partner to help you thrive.


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