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Microsoft Power BI: Turning Insights Into Impact

Beyond the ‘Dashboards Are Dead’ Rhetoric: Part 3

Evolution

Originally designed under the Microsoft SSRS team in 2011, it was added to the Microsoft Excel tool early in the game as an add-on to enhance its analytical capabilities. 
Since 2019, Microsoft Power BI has been confirmed as a Leader at “Gartner Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platform.” Since 2022, Microsoft Power BI has safely led the BI&A market.

Technology and Architecture

Installation & applications

Power BI It offers an on-premises solution via the Power BI Report Server, a free desktop application for individual use, and the Power BI Service. This cloud-based platform supports both self-service and enterprise analytics.

Querying Data

Power BI either imports data directly (DirectQuery) from the data source or utilizes its in-memory capability to store data locally (Import Data). The latter allows users to define data transformation processes within the Power Query Editor, enhancing the tool’s adaptability to diverse data scenarios. A third option of combining the two in a hybrid approach called the Composite Model allows the user to blend data from multiple sources, leveraging the strengths of both DirectQuery (for real-time data access) and Import mode (for data cached within Power BI), in a single Report.

Structure, Entities & Relationships

In Power BI, there is a dataset that gathers data from various sources. A dataset acts as a metadata layer that defines the structure and relationships of the data sources. The dataset allows Power BI to understand how to generate SQL queries and interact with the underlying data source in real-time.

From a dataset, a user can create a Report, a collection of visualizations, tables, charts, and other data representations that provide insights into the data. A report is essentially a canvas where a user creates and designs interactive data visuals using data from various sources. One report can have many visuals, but every visual can only be created and related to a single report.

Each visualization made in a report can be used as a tile, which can later be pinned into a dashboard, another type of canvas of different visualization types. The dashboard’s main purpose is to summarize and display key insights and KPIs in a single-page layout. It is meant to provide an at-a-glance view of the most important data metrics. One dashboard can have many tiles from various datasets under the same Workspace.

Dashboards Tabs

A report consists of multiple tabs, each containing different visualizations and insights and can represent different aspects of data analysis. A Dashboard is a single-page canvas since dashboards are used to provide a consolidated view of key metrics and visualizations, enabling quick data consumption.

Containers & Organizations

Power BI uses Workspaces to separate its datasets and its related visualizations. Every report, with its visualizations, tiles, and dashboards, must be related to the specific workspace where it was created. Having said that, There is an option to utilize an App, a collection of dashboards, reports, and datasets bundled together to deliver specific insights to end users. Apps act as a way to package and distribute content from one or more workspaces to a broader audience. Once you create an app, you can publish it to the Microsoft AppSource marketplace, allowing other users in your organization or external users to install and use the app.

Diagram

Focus and Strengths

Microsoft continues to add Microsoft Data Fabric suit-related capabilities to Power BI. Yes, it’s cloud vendor-specific, but with a strong market share and growth, the market limitation for Power BI is less narrow than one may assume. For example, including Power BI in Microsoft 365 E5 has provided an enormous channel for the platform’s spread. As many customers turn to Teams for remote work collaboration, the ability to access Power BI and now “Goals” within the same Teams interface is a compelling integration for business users. Power BI and Azure Synapse alignment addresses multiple D&A personas and use cases.

The Future

I’m not a big fan of Power BI’s cumbersome structure. With a simpler approach, BI projects can be executed faster and shorten the time to market.

Nevertheless, rising from such a popular tool as Microsoft Excel definitely helped Power BI with its wide adoption among end users, and the low entry price and knowledge helped even more. With such a strong user base and community, alongside Microsoft’s advanced AI and LLM capabilities, I expect Power BI to continue leading the market and most likely even increase the gap from its followers.

Catch Up on the Other Blogs in This Series

  • Read my take on Tableau in part 2.

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