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C2 Software’s review of Power BI

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Powe BI LogoPower BI was released for “general availability” on 24th July, 2015 and here at C2 we’ve been having a good look at making it work for us and some of our clients. Power BI (Business Intelligence) is a cloud-based analytics service that allows you to gain insights into your most critical business data. 

Power BI is available on the web and via mobile apps making your data available wherever you are. Specifically we’ve been looking at the built-in Content Packs and also doing some work with on-premises data sources and building reports with Power BI Desktop. The first thing to say is that Power BI is not without its foibles at this time, we’ve had to wrestle with some issues particularly around scheduled refreshes of data which periodically fail and sometimes reports which work perfectly well in Power BI Desktop don’t work as expected online.

Dashboards in Power BI

We’ve been able to overcome or find workarounds for most issues and we’ve even spent some time looking at how dashboards in Power BI can be setup to run on displays with a full-screen kiosk-like view and rotation through dashboards. None of this stuff is supported (yet) in Power BI but with a few browser plugins we’ve been able to make this work very satisfactorily.

Power BI Blog

Data Model

The hardest part of building reports in Power BI isn’t actually the reporting building bit at all, it is getting your data model right and this is true of any BI tool. Power BI has a limitation that data models can’t be more than 250MB in size, your typical database is going to be bigger than that so you really need to think about abstracting a data model that’s built purely for reporting purposes. In SQL Server terms this is usually a series of views that “denormalise” the data or in Access a series of saved Queries. Power BI Desktop then makes it relatively easy to create relationships between these so that the slicing and cross-referencing can take place in the reports.

ManualRelationship

Once the data model is right creating data visualisations is relatively straightforward, these can be created in Excel using a combination Power Pivot, Power Query and Power View, directly in Power BI online or using Power BI Desktop. We’ve concentrated our efforts with Power BI Desktop which supports the publishing of reports directly to Power BI online. After publishing the reports you can start building your dashboards by pinning the required visualisations from your various reports.

Conclusion

One thing to note is that currently you can’t share Power BI dashboards outside of your own organisation (O365 domain) which at the moment is the most requested feature by the Power BI community and something that Microsoft cannot ignore and is arguably the biggest failing of Power BI in its current incarnation. C2 are in the process of investigating how dashboards can be shared outside of organisations utilising scheduled screenshots, whilst we appreciate this static view of data is far from ideal it is the best that can be achieved within the limitations of the current release of Power BI.

Power BI is definitely a game changer for BI and tangible benefits are achievable today, in the future it can only get better and more powerful. Given Microsoft’s move to a more agile approach to updating their products these enhancements should come relatively quickly in small releases.

If you would like to discuss your BI requirements and how C2 can help you please Contact Us for further information.


19 Oct 2015

About the Author

James CTwo is our blogging alter ego for the Dynamics CRM and Web experts here at C2. We have a passion for anything CRM, Web Design or Social Media. We love writing about it! Find us on YouTube & Twitter.

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