What is PowerBI?

Power BI Dashboard

Business owners have long wanted convenient ways to compile usable data into a workable, advantageous format. Many solutions have been discovered, but most have been cumbersome, quickly outdated, or too rigid to provide truly useful information. Enter Power BI.

Power BI is a product from software giant Microsoft, and it transforms your company’s data into rich visuals that you can collect and organize to help you focus on what you need to know. The software allows you, as a business owner, to spot trends, identify strengths and weaknesses, and make workable action plans based on empirical data.

How Does It Work?

Power BI for Office 365 is a cloud-based service. It works with Microsoft Excel to provide companies with convenient, self-service business intelligence (BI) solutions. The platform allows organizations to collect data; organize it in interesting, visual representations; and share that information with people that matter. Power BI gives you a way to work with data in a powerful new way: discovering, analyzing, and visualizing it like never before. Power BI allows companies of any size to deploy a cloud-based business intelligence environment comparable to those used by the largest and most powerful companies in the world.

History

The first iteration of Power BI went public as part of the Office 365 platform in the summer of 2013. As described by InformationWeek, the first version of Power BI brought users technical business intelligence systems, requiring database administrators to curate data cubes, models, and trusted sources—useful, but technically complicated. The second iteration brought self-service options, such as Microsoft Excel and Tableau Software, making the platform significantly easier to use. The third version, released in early 2015, brought additional user-oriented improvements and added features.

Functionality

While aimed primarily at individual users, Power BI also offers live data access and access controls that allow for collaboration and use of on-premises corporate cloud services. As a result, the newest version of Power BI offers the following functionality:

  • Quickly create collaborative business intelligence sites. Anyone can use Power BI to swiftly create a collaborative business intelligence site to share workbooks containing useful data and insights on business performance.
  • Keep continuously-up-to-date reports. Power BI allows organizations to keep reports with fresh data saved to the cloud and to have it updated automatically.
  • Manage team data queries. With Power BI, organizations can share not only workbooks, but also the data queries created in power query for Excel. This allows teams to share and manage data queries when creating their own reports.
  • Maintain a Data Catalog. Power BI users can use the data catalog feature to make it easier for organization members to find and connect to relevant, shared data by searching for it from within Excel.
  • Natural language queries. The Q&A feature allows people to type questions regarding the data in natural language, and the system interprets the question and presents answers in the form of interactive visualizations.
  • Mobile data access. Thanks to its existence in the cloud, Power BI allows users to stay connected from anywhere. It also offers a mobile application, making connectivity on-the-go even easier.

Aside from its natural integration with Excel, Power BI also interacts with data from a wide array of third party software and services. This level of connectivity allows for less duplication of effort, seamless integration, and more useful data and visualizations. Power BI allows companies to link data from multiple sources for analysis using easy to understand visualizations.

Get Started

To get started with Power BI, simply sign up online using Office 365. Power BI has been offered as a "freemium" service, with users able to enjoy some core functionality for free. Added functionality requires a subscription fee, which starts at $9.99 per user per month.