Visualizing Progress with Microsoft Power BI

2018 marks the 11th consecutive year that Gartner has recognized Microsoft as a leader in "Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms." This is largely due to Microsoft Power BI (business intelligence), a suite of tools that provides data-driven insights both internally and client-side. Power BI is available as an SaaS option in the Office 365 suite and, as of 2017, the on-premises Power BI Report Server. Power BI incorporates data preparation, discovery, interactive dashboards, and augmented analytics into a single, intuitive channel. Through the Power BI dashboard, users can create visually dynamic reports, collaborate with co-workers, and receive real-time updates across a variety of sources. 

Moreover, Power BI offers solutions tailored to a variety of industries including: retail, insurance, manufacturing, professional services, public sector, capital markets, and more. This range is integral to Power BI's key tenet - making your data work for you. By supporting a productive, diverse data culture, Power BI empowers employees to better understand and utilize the information at their disposal. 

How does Power BI work?

When leveraging Power BI, the user experience is centered around the home dashboard. Through these personalized dashboards, users can view their files, data streams, favorites, shared content, applications, reports, and workspaces. Power BI pulls this data from a range of sources, selected by the user. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Web pages
  • SharePoint Lists
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM
  • Microsoft Excel and CSV files
  • Azure SQL databases and MySQL
  • Google Analytics and Azure Analysis Services
  • SaaS-based solutions including Salesforce, MailChimp, and Facebook

Data sources can be either on-premises, in the cloud, or hybridized. This simplified approach allows for ad hoc analysis, dependent upon user need.

The dashboards are live, tracking and reflecting the most recent data. The same goes for alterations made by team members. Power BI immediately notifies all members when a change has been made to a shared project. And through the Power BI Mobile App, users can access their data and reports from anywhere, on any device.

When looking at "Ease of Use and Visual Appeal," Gartner reported:

"Microsoft's customer reference scores place it in the top quartile... There are a number of features within the product that contribute to its overall ease of use, including its primarily cloud deployment model. Microsoft was early to the industry in terms of a natural language/search interface with Microsoft Q&A".


Image courtesy of Microsoft.    

What can I do with my data?

Once integrated, data can be turned into intuitive, visually striking presentations and interactive reports. Power BI offers over 85 modern data visuals, available as drag-and-drop canvases. Some of the most popular include:

  • Cartograms
  • Word clouds
  • Flow and globe maps
  • Timelines and forecasts
  • Image grids and infographics
  • Decision tree, bullet, and bar charts

All visualizations are pinned to the dashboard. After finalization, these reports can be published for your organization on the web. Power BI also allows users to create mobile-optimized reports for viewers on the go, ensuring continuity across devices. 

In their assessment of Power BI's offerings, PC Magazine wrote "giving information a fresh perspective can be extremely valuable and is a core part of the self-service BI value proposition: more people looking at more and different data in new ways... Telling a data story visually."


Image courtesy of Microsoft.    

Is Power BI secure?

Because Power BI is part of Microsoft's cloud platform, the service is fortified with a number of security features. Power BI uses Azure Active Directory to store and manage user identities, authenticate logins, and cross check credentials. While user dashboards are cached in Power BI, access to the integrated data sets or reports requires further authentication. Power BI tracks how data is being used, who is accessing it, and on which devices. 

Furthermore, Power BI also uses Active Directory to securely manage the storage of data in Azure BLOB storage, or metadata in the SQL database. Again, Power BI tracks anomalies, usage, and access, to ensure that all data is being secured. By monitoring policies and providing proactive support, Power BI positions businesses to meet all security, governance, and regulatory requirements. And the coverage is scalable, providing enterprise-wide support that will grow with your business. 

When considering "Customer Experience," Gartner found that:

"Microsoft shared the highest customer reference scores in this Magic Quadrant for achievement of business benefits... The high achievement of this business benefit is enhanced by both the low price and cloud deployment. User enablement and the availability of skilled resources are other elements of the overall customer experience for which Microsoft is evaluated as above average." 

Tip: Azure Active Directory provides a one stop shop for cloud-based identity management. Read more about it here.

How much does Power BI cost?

Like most Microsoft cloud services, Power BI is deployed through flexible per-user, capacity-based licensing. Catering to different company needs, there are two available levels: Pro and Premium.

Power BI Pro is listed at $9.99 per user, per month. Pro users are licensed individually and partake in both content creation and consumption. They can connect to data sources, create reports and dashboards, share content with other Pro users, etc.

Power BI Premium is different, in that companies are licensing capacity for their content, rather than employees. Essentially Premium "acts as a virtual server in the cloud, allowing for greater storage and data refresh frequencies than the Pro version." Under Premium, content is stored in Power BI, and can be viewed by as many users as needed, without additional cost. These users can not create content, but can view dashboards and reports, across web and mobile platforms. Creators would still need their own Pro licenses. Premium has a starting price of $4,995 per month, dependent on scalability and usage.

From a price perspective, Gartner explains:

"Microsoft has put downward pricing pressure on the analytics and BI market with its low per-user and now virtual server subscription price. License cost was the second most important reason for reference customers choosing Microsoft Power BI, with 12% of them citing this as a reason for selecting it."

Implementing Power BI

In today's competitive market, can your business afford to underutilize the information at its disposal? Power BI allows your employees to optimize their insights, improving collaboration, efficiency, and long-term growth. Need help with a Power BI implementation? A technology partner such as iCorps can provide the critical expertise, and IT support you need to deliver on the Power BI promise - making your data work for you.

Office 365 productivity

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