Microsoft Power Bi

Microsoft Power BI overview

Power BI is a Microsoft offering that enables anyone and everyone to easily connect to any of their data, create live dashboards and reports, and explore data through interactive visualizations at any time. With Power BI, you can make all of your data viewable in a single location, regardless of where the data resides, enabling a consolidated view of business operations.

Power BI includes two companion applications. The first is Power BI Desktop, a visual data exploration and reporting tool. The second is a set of native, interactive mobile applications for Windows, iOS, and Android devices, providing secure access to live Power BI dashboards and reports from any device.

In addition, Power BI can be extended with a set of REST APIs which enable developers to integrate client and web solutions with Power BI or to build custom visualizations.

Power BI differentiators

Together, the Power BI ecosystem provides a unique set of features that empower everyone to benefit from direct access to the BI they need. Power BI’s distinctive set of features include:

  • Pre-built dashboards and reports for popular SaaS solutions
  • Real-time dashboard updates
  • Secure, live connectivity to your data sources, on-premises and in the cloud
  • Intuitive data exploration using natural language query functionality
  • Integrated with other Microsoft products and cloud services, including Azure Data Warehouse, Azure Stream Analytics, Azure Machine Learning, Office 365. Power BI benefits from the same commitment for scale & availability as Azure.

This set of capabilities is designed to help organizations get the most out of their data, no matter where that data lives – on-premise or in the cloud.

The Power BI service

The Power BI service offers a simple, intuitive experience for interacting with data. From creating and sharing dashboards to exploring and enhancing reports, Power BI makes it easy to engage with data from heterogeneous sources, fueling faster, more insightful business decisions. With Power BI, you get a rich, consolidated view of key information, no matter where all of the underlying data is stored.

The individual components and their capabilities of the Power BI service are further described below.


Figure 2. Power BI overview

Live dashboards

A Power BI dashboard is a set of data visualizations, or charts, from one or more underlying reports, presented in an engaging way that makes it easy to glean insights – no analytics expertise needed. An advantage of Power BI is that dashboards are live. For example, when a visualization in a dashboard is connected to a real-time data source, the visualization updates continuously, enabling faster insights.

A dashboard may contain visualizations

Figure 3. Sample Power BI dashboard from multiple reports.Dashboards are highly customizable – you may add, or “pin”, any chart from any report to any dashboard. You may also add an image to a dashboard (like a company logo) from an Excel file. Setting up a dashboard is simple, especially when the data is from popular SaaS offerings like Dynamics CRM, Google Analytics, Marketo, Salesforce, ZenDesk, and many others. Once connected to a SaaS solution, Power BI displays data in prebuilt dashboards and reports optimized

Construct highly visual, interactive dashboards that display live data in one place for that solution, so you can start exploring in minutes.

In Power BI, dashboards are not only for viewing – they are interactive tools. If there is information on a dashboard that you want to look into more deeply, drill down into the underlying reports to see details. Interesting and useful drill-down views can then be pinned to a dashboard for easier access.

Interactive reports

With a user-friendly interface, Power BI enables anyone to create rich, interactive reports. A report is a set of charts, also known as visualizations, based on the same underlying dataset*. You may construct a report from scratch, select a pre-authored report (such as a report generated in Power BI Desktop), or apply a default report for a given dataset. Reports can be customized – for example, by modifying visualizations in an existing report, or adding new visualizations. If there is a need to highlight different aspects of operations using the same data, generate as many reports as needed from a single dataset.

Reports are the foundation for dashboards. Once a report contains the desired visualizations, pin the report, or a subset of its contents, to a dashboard for ease of viewing. Reports can also be shared with other individuals in an organization, and consumed on both desktop computers and mobile devices.

*If you want to create reports that use data from multiple sources, use Power BI Desktop or Power Pivot for Excel with multiple sources, then upload the Power BI Desktop or Excel file to Power BI.     

Data visualizations

Dashboards and reports are built using visualizations, or

Figure 4. Sample visualization charts.

Power BI offers a variety of visualization options, enabling you to present data in a compelling and visually appealing manner. There are a growing number of visualizations available that can be applied to any dataset. These include: comparison charts (bar, line, basic area and waterfall charts), composition charts (treemaps, donut and pie charts), mixed comparison and composition charts (stacked charts), relationship charts (bubble charts), geographical charts, and gauges based on a percentage value.

In addition, Microsoft has made the source code for the Power BI visuals publicly available and is enabling developers to build custom visuals for Power BI. This opens up unlimited possibilities for displaying your data.

For more information on custom visuals please visit View data using a variety of visualization types in addition to standard charts — options include geographical maps, bubble charts, gauges, waterfall charts and more

Once a set of visualizations is created, you can crossfilter among visualizations within a report to surface new insights. Use slicers to filter visualizations on the same report page so they display exactly what’s needed. When a visualization is pinned to a dashboard, it is referred to as a tile.

Mobile applications

Power BI supports live, secure dashboard access on any device through native, interactive apps for Windows, iOS, and Android. To enhance the viewing experience, the dashboard user interface is optimized for smaller displays. Setting favorites makes it easier to access specific visualization tiles.

The apps include several mobile-specific features. You can zoom in and out of visualizations to look at data more closely. To stay on top of changes, set up alerts, and receive a notification when data exceeds or drops below certain thresholds. Take a snapshot of a report or visualization, and make annotations using highlight features. Collaborate with others by sharing your annotated snapshot via SMS or email.

Natural Language Query

Natural language query – also known as Q&A – is a unique feature of Power BI that lets you ask questions of your data phrased in plain English, and produces answers in the form of new visualizations, or charts. Ask anything of your data – Q&A then intelligently filters, sorts, aggregates, groups, and displays data based on key words in the question asked. Even the least quantitatively-inclined can quickly find answers  by asking questions the same way they would ask another person.

Figure 5. Ask questions of your data like you would ask a person

Use Q&A simply by typing a question in the Q&A textbox near the top of a dashboard, as shown in Figure 5. Power BI then generates a chart to answer the question, using the data from the underlying reports. Pin the chart to the dashboard if desired, and modify it by asking more questions. Because a dashboard can contain charts from multiple datasets, your questions can involve data from any one of the datasets.

The way a data model is set up has an important impact on Q&A usability. Q&A provides the best results when data models have been set up with natural key phrasing. As an example, every table in the data model should correspond to a single entity

Power BI’s Natural Language Query intelligently filters, sorts, with a simple name, ideally using a single word and aggregates, groups and displays data based on the key words in the question asked.  avoiding abbreviations and acronyms.


Sharing with others

By default, all of the data and reports you create and upload are privately visible only to you. But dashboards can be easily shared with other users in your organization if needed – simply provide the email addresses of the people from your organization with whom you want to share the dashboard. Any subsequent changes to a shared dashboard automatically sync across all users – no manual updates required. To control access, you can specify whether another user can share that same dashboard with others.


Request more information
DFSM Consulting is an Australian owned and operated company with focus on Microsoft Dynamics AX, which is a solution for mid-large organisations. With our head office in Sydney and branches in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, we are a complete one-stop-shop for all of your ERP needs.