A Guide to Getting Started with Microsoft Power BI
I recently read that 1.7MB of data is created every second by every person every day in 2020.
Whilst that number is astonishing in itself, I was struck by another thought: how much data do we consume and process every day?
At work, how much time do we spend gathering data from multiple sources before trying to glean some useful insights from these mismatched sources?
As project managers, the answer is simple – too much time! Tasks, budgets, risks, issues, resources; every element of a project generates data that should be tracked and analyzed.
Without business intelligence software or a background in statistics, delivering reliable, actionable insights to drive projects forward is a daunting task.
That’s where Microsoft Power BI comes in. Power BI, a tool for gathering and analyzing data, allows anyone to transform data into engaging visualizations with useful insight – no coding or statistical skills required.
In this article, you’ll learn how to get started with Power BI. We’ll cover the basics of the platform including key concepts, Power BI Desktop, and Power BI Service.
What is Microsoft Power BI?
As described by Microsoft, Power BI is a ‘’collection of software services, apps, and connectors that work together to turn your unrelated sources of data into coherent, visually immersive, and interactive insights.’’
Power BI uses connectors to import data from multiple sources such as SharePoint and Excel. End-users can easily generate rich reports and dashboards from that data and share these reports with their team.
The goal is to find, surface, and act on business insights.
Power BI is part of the Microsoft Power Platform platform, completing the task of ‘Analyze’ within the ‘Analyze, Act, Automate’ approach.
Components of Power BI
As mentioned above, Power BI is a collection of services and apps.
The platform is available in three formats:
- Power BI Desktop: Used to create and share reports.
- Power BI Service: Used to view reports online.
- Power BI Mobile Apps: Used to access reports and dashboards on Windows, iOS, and Android.
There are two main end-user roles for Power BI:
- Consumer or user: An individual who uses Power BI Service in a browser to view reports and complete light editing on datasets.
- Designer: An individual, often a business analyst, who creates and shares reports using Power BI Desktop.
We’ll review the desktop and cloud offerings further below.
Power BI relies on numerous services to import and transform data and create visualizations.
If you use Excel, you will be familiar with many of these concepts and services. However, Power BI can handle larger datasets than Excel and provides a wider range of visualizations.
Power Query is the engine for importing data and transforming (cleaning) data for processing.
Data is imported through a simple interface and transformed using the ‘Power Query’ editor.
Power Pivot is used for creating data models – relationships between tables – and performing calculations.
Calculations use DAX – Data Analysis Expressions – to interrogate data. DAX statements are similar to Excel functions. Power BI includes over 200 DAX functions such as sum, average, max, and count.
Power View delivers data visualization in various Mircosoft applications, including Power BI, SharePoint, and Excel.
In addition to out-of-the-box visualizations such as bar charts, Gantt charts, KPIs, and tables, additional visualizations are available in AppSource.
Visualizations are used in both reports and dashboards in Power BI.
A Power BI report refers to a collection of visuals and can span multiple pages. Reports connect to one dataset, or data model, only.
A Power BI dashboard is a one-page summary of your data, with visualizations (tiles pinned to the dashboard by the report designer).
Each tile links to an underlying report, making it easy to drill-down for more detail as needed. A dashboard can contain links to multiple reports, providing a high-level view of your data in one place.
This is a useful way to display geospatial data, for example, office locations, on an interactive map.
Powered by AI, users can simply type questions about their data in the Power BI interface (Power BI Service).
Uses and Benefits of Power BI
The use cases of Power BI depend on organizational requirements.
At a high level, Power BI:
- Enables data-analysis with connections to multiple data sources.
- Allows users to combine these data sources into a single report for in-depth insights.
- Generates engaging, interactive visualizations with a few clicks.
- Allows users to filter data and create personalized views without changing the underlying dataset.
- Facilities collaboration with comments and sharing.
In the context of project management, Power BI simplifies and enhances project reporting for managers, teams, and senior executives.
Instead of searching through sites, emails, and spreadsheets, the project team can easily track performance in real-time dashboards.
Power BI dashboards give senior managers and PMOs leads visibility into:
- Current projects within the organization.
- Portfolio timeline with filters for year, quarter, month, week, and day.
- Resource allocation, including project managers.
- Key project metrics.
- Overdue projects.
- Risks and Issues.
Similarly, project managers can track:
- The project timeline
- Active items and tasks
- Project status reports
- Issues and risks.
Power BI can also report on SharePoint project sites. At BrightWork, we’ve done the heavy lifting for our customers with our Power BI Pack.
The pack is a pre-built report with six configurable dashboards for project and portfolio reporting – as shown in the above screenshots.
As mentioned above, Power BI is available as a desktop or cloud-based service. The version you use depends on what you need to do with Power BI.
Let’s take a further look at Power BI Desktop and Power BI Service.
Power BI Desktop
Power BI Desktop is a free download and installs directly onto your computer. Access the download from Microsoft or within Power BI Service.
Think of the application as an authoring tool, used to create and publish reports.
Power BI Desktop is used by designers to import, transform, analyze, and visualize data using the components outlined in the previous section.
Power BI Desktop has three views to work within:
- Report: Build reports and visuals. This page remains blank until the first visualization is added.
- Data: Transform data using Query Editor.
- Model: Build relationships between tables with a drag and drop interface.
Power BI Service
Power BI Service is a cloud-based application for consumers – anyone who receives and interacts with reports and dashboards.
Power BI Service users must have a license:
- A free license allows users to work on personal reporting and visualizations in the ‘My Workspace’ area. Users can also view any reports shared with them.
- A Power BI Pro license is required to publish content to other workspaces and share dashboards ($9.99 per user per month).
Power BI Service is based on ‘workspaces’, which contain links to dashboards, reports, and datasets.
It’s easy to find content quickly on the homepage. Add your favorite apps and workspaces, use ‘Recents’, or search for a dashboard.
Power BI Service does facilitate light data editing and collaboration via comments on reports and dashboards.
Use ‘Get Data’ to import data from your organization, online services such as SAP, files, and databases.
Note – if you opt to import local files, choose OneDrive or SharePoint as a source. Files stored locally will not update automatically.
The free Power BI samples used in this article, along with practical training materials from Microsoft, are an easy way to try Power BI.
Choose a learning path suited to your role – consumer or designer – and get started!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2020 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness