Nowadays data that’s being collected is growing exponentially. Therefore businesses need reporting tools that can help them analyze this data. Today only about 10% of an organization’s business users can do business analytics due to many issues such as,
- Where does the data live?
- How do I access it?
- How to get data into the right format so that I can analyze it?
The above questions can be resolved and provide a better solution with a higher value using power BI.
Power BI is a tool which enables to transform data into rich visuals. This allows organizations to focus and find out what matters the most for the organization. It provides analytics solutions for whole organization. It is a set of software services, apps and connectors which combines to generate unrelated sources of data into coherent, visually immersive, and interactive insights.
- Business on one dashboard – Provides a single place to monitor all the important data. Gives a single view of most critical business data.
- Stunning interactive reports – A tool which transforms analyzes and visualizes data through interactive reports.
- Consistent analysis – Allows building reusable models through data and provide consistency across reporting and analysis.
The Parts of Power BI
There are three main elements in Power BI namely, Power BI Desktop, Power BI service and Power BI mobile. Power BI desktop is a windows desktop application where users can install into their personal computers. Power BI service is an online SaaS (software as a service) service.
The Power BI service is built on Azure, which is Microsoft’s cloud computing platform and provide following facilities.
- Azure Active Directory (AAD) – account authentication and management
- Azure Traffic Manager (ATM) – direct user traffic to the nearest datacenter
- Azure Content Delivery Network (CDN) – efficiently distribute the necessary static content and files to users based on geographical locale
- Azure Blob / Azure SQL Database. – Store data
Major Benefits of Power BI
- Microsoft Power BI transforms your company’s data into rich visuals.
- Collects and organizes so you can focus on what matters to you.
- Stay in the know, spot trends as they happen, and push your business further
- Gives the ability to connect to your data from anywhere, anytime with Power BI
- Reduces the time which takes to generate reports. With Power BI it takes only a couple of hours to create reports by one person that used to take several weeks and a team of several people.
- Account teams can use faster analysis to respond to smaller problems before they evolve into larger problems.
Building Blocks of Power BI
Power BI can be broken down into few basic building blocks as follows. It is necessary to understand these building blocks in order to expand and generate complex reports.
This refers to the representation of data using charts, graphs, maps and etc. Power BI contains many different visualization types which can be easily used to represent business data in a very meaningful way. One of the main objectives of visualization is to present data in a suitable manner which would give context and insights for the business to analyze and take decision accurately.
Visualization is mainly depends on the dataset. It is the main source for the visuals. One of the main advantages of Power BI is the ability to connect different data sources to retrieve datasets. A single dataset can be created through different database fields such as website table, excel table and online result of a business process.
Report is generated through the datasets provided. It is a collection of visualizations which is related to one another. Report is arranged in a way to satisfy business needs in best way possible so that decision makers can perform necessary business decision based on the generated reports. Following images shows an example of a report which contains few charts such as map, graph and etc.
Dashboard is the place where a user can combine different reports relevant and share among others. It is a single page view with collection of visualizations which leads to provide a quick insight of the data.
When considering a report or a dashboard it consists of many visuals, tile is a rectangular box which represent a single visual in those. Following is an example of a tile.
What Power BI Can Do
Business Intelligence (BI) plays a major role in business world. BI can be defined as a technology-driven process for analyzing data and presenting actionable information to help corporate executives, business managers and other end users make more informed business decisions. This figure shows main elements in BI. Following explains what PBI can do to achieve BI.
01) Connect to Different Data Sources - Power BI Desktop can connect to a whole range of data sources, including on-premises databases, Excel workbooks, and cloud services. Currently, over 59 different cloud services such as GitHub and Marketo have specific connectors, and you can connect to generic sources through XML, CSV, text, and ODBC. Also it can connect to other applications like active directory, facebook and google analytics. Power BI will even scrape tabular data directly from a website URL.
02) Clean and Transform Your Data with the Query Editor - Power BI Desktop includes “Query Editor”, a powerful tool for shaping and transforming data so it’s ready for your models and visualizations. For example, using “Transpose” in “Query Editor”, you can flip data (turn columns to rows, and rows into columns) so you can break data down into formats that you can manipulate.
You also may need to format data, so Power BI can properly categorize and identify that data once it’s imported.
Once your data is in a format that Power BI can use, by transforming and cleansing the data, you can begin to create visuals and reports.
In Power BI Desktop Report view, you can begin to build reports. It has five main areas:
- In Power BI Desktop Report view, you can beg1.The ribbon, which displays common tasks associated with reports and visualizations
- The Report view, or canvas, where visualizations are created and arranged
- The Pages, tab area along the bottom, which lets you select or add a report page
- The Visualizations pane, where you can change visualizations, customize colors or axes, apply filters, drag fields, and more
- The Fields pane, where query elements and filters can be dragged onto the Report view, or dragged to the Filters area of the Visualizations pane.
03) Model data - One of Power BI’s strengths is that you don’t need to flatten your data into one table. Instead, you can use multiple tables from multiple sources, and define the relationship between them. You can also create your own custom calculations and assign new metrics to view specific segments of your data and use these new measures in visualizations for easy modeling.
You can enter calculations using DAX (Data Analysis Expressions) language. One of the great things about DAX in Power BI is that it has lots of useful functions, particularly around time-based calculations such as Year to Date or Year over Year. With DAX you can define a measure of time once, and then slice it by as many different fields as you want from your data model.
04) Visualizations - Power BI has a whole range of visualizations available by default, from simple bar charts to pie charts to maps, and even more complex representations like waterfalls, funnels, gauges and more. Power BI Desktop also offers extensive page formatting tools, such as shapes and images, which help bring your report to life.
There are many options for editing (changing the colors or formatting) the visual. Power BI Desktop gives you the ability to control the layout and formatting of your report pages, such as size and orientation.
When you have multiple visualizations on the same report page, selecting a particular segment by clicking or using a slicer will affect all the visuals on that page. In some cases, though, you may want to slice only specific visuals. This is particularly true when using elements such as scatter plots, where limiting the data to a specific segment will remove crucial meaning.
Fortunately, Power BI Desktop lets you control how interactions flow between visuals. Ex: In following report once you select one state from the map all the other visuals dynamically draw according to that particular state data. This is called interactive reports.
The Power BI Visuals gallery contains custom visualizations created by members of the community and by Microsoft. These visualizations can be downloaded and added to Power BI Service reports and Power BI Desktop reports. They behave just like the native visualizations included with Power BI and can be filtered, highlighted, edited, shared, etc.
05) Exploring Data
Power BI Service - The Power BI service is the natural extension of Power BI Desktop, and its features include uploading reports, creating dashboards, and asking questions of your data using natural language. You can use the service to set data refresh times, share data with your organization, and create customized service packs.
Quick Insights - When you’re working with a dashboard, report or dataset in the Power BI service, you can have Power BI look for quick insights into the data. There are a bunch of insights, which you can scroll down through the page to view and consider. With Quick Insights, you can let Power BI do the work to spot outliers and trends in your data, then use those findings in your dashboards, or further refine and filter them to get to the insights that are most important to you. Following shows what the Quick Insight looks like.
06) Create and Configure a Dashboard - Dashboards in Power BI are one-page collections of visualizations that are created from within the Power BI service. You create dashboards by pinning visualizations from reports that you authored and published using Power BI Desktop, or visualizations you created within the Power BI service itself.
You can change the layout of visuals on a dashboard however you’d like. Eg: To resize a tile, drag its handles in or out. To move a tile, simply click and drag it to a different location on the dashboard.
07) Ask Questions of Your Data With Natural Language - Power BI comes with a powerful language recognition engine that lets you ask questions of your data using conversational phrases and questions. So along with building reports and visualizations with Power BI, you can create charts and graphs just by asking simple questions.
To ask a question of your data, open a dashboard in Power BI and the top of the screen you’ll see an input box, where you can ask questions about the displayed data. With Power BI, you can add your own suggested questions for other users who use the natural language query box for a dashboard, frequently referred to as the Q&A box. These suggested questions are what users will see when they click on the input box at the top of a dashboard.
08) Publishing and Sharing - Once you’ve completed authoring your report in Power BI Desktop, just select the Publish button on the Home tab in Power BI Desktop, and the process begins. And that’s it – it’s easy to publish reports from Power BI Desktop to the Power BI service. Your report and data, including visualizations, queries, and custom measures, are packaged together and uploaded to the Power BI service.
You can update reports and datasets that you’ve already published from Power BI Desktop to the Power BI service by publish again.
09) Introducing Power BI Mobile - If you want to keep track of your data while you’re on the move, you can use one of Power BI’s mobile applications for iOS, Android, and Windows devices.
- Suranga Gunawardana
- Nawodika Siriwardena