A Brief History of Power BI
Microsoft Power BI is a relatively new product and whilst it’s become quite a popular choice of business intelligence software for many companies these days, its origins can be traced back as far back as a decade ago. While the ‘Power BI’ name wasn’t coined until recently, many of the program’s core functions are a result of merging the best of Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services and Microsoft Excel along with considerable financial investment.
- 2006 – Project ‘Gemini’ began as a secret Microsoft business intelligence project with Microsoft SQL Server capabilities.
- 2009 – ‘Gemini’ was renamed ‘Microsoft Power Pivot’, released as a free add-in for Excel.
- 2010 – ‘Power Pivot’ began gaining popularity from Excel users, and Microsoft began to invest more in this add-in.
- 2012-2013 – ‘Microsoft Power View’ was released, followed by ‘Data Explorer’ (which was later renamed to ‘Power Query’).
- ‘Power Query’ and ‘Power Pivot’ worked cohesively with one another for BI solutions, but with them both available as Excel add-ins, this made them more accessible.
- January 2015 – Microsoft announced a new preview-only BI service via com
- This served to explain the technical ‘Power Pivot’ solution which had, at this point, become compatible with ‘SharePoint’.
- Half a million unique users across the world helped to test it and shape what would become ‘Power BI’. Over the course of this six-month preview period, the development team implemented features and products that would fix common data analysis and visualisation issues.
- July 2015 – Power BI became generally available as a SaaS solution.
Why Use Power BI?
While Power BI may seem like a considerably new tool, it stands now as the go-to option for businesses to directly connect with their data, and gain insight from it.
Microsoft’s desire to create a business intelligence solution was born out of an attempt to fix the complex procedure that was common practice in the past. Businesses no longer need to build corporate ‘self-service’ tools to explore and analyse their own data, to then deliver these interactive dashboards and visuals to the end users who could then subsequently make better business choices.
Microsoft instead opted to provide a powerful SaaS business intelligence solution to give business users direct access to their data. Over the years, Microsoft has created a Power BI solution for small business, large corporations, mobile and tablet users, and even a “white label” service for software developers.
Power BI can connect to a huge array of data sets, consolidate the data and make it more presentable, therefore easy to understand. Data and reports can be shared with other users directly. Power BI has built-in tools so it can identify trends and patterns in data, and use those patterns to apply ‘predictions’ for businesses. These estimates allow users to create a strategy for future demands and metrics to be met.
Did you know?
You don’t have to write DAX code in Power BI to create a measure.
With the Quick Measures feature in Power BI, you can create calculations without writing any form of data analysis expression. This feature is not often used by Power BI users, opting instead to write the full DAX measure.
Power BI Quick Measures allow you to choose from a list of tables and fields and apply the calculation that you want to create. You’ll just need to set input parameters, but you can drag-and-drop the field from a list. Once you proceed, your DAX expression will be created for you. These can then be used in Power BI visuals as normal.
This method is recommended if you are starting out in building models and creating calculations and don’t know DAX yet. Learning DAX in full is essential if you need to understand complex Power BI analytics.
Power BI Components
Here is a quick overview of the Power BI components:
- Power BI Desktop: the Windows desktop application. Power BI Desktop allows you to create as many visuals as you like, using the full range of templates and no restrictions except for the total amounts of data that can be fed in, and uploaded at once.
- Power BI Service: the online service, the SaaS (Software as a Service) part of Power BI. Power BI Desktop is where you can create reports, Power BI Service is where they are published and shared with end users, who can view and interact with them. You need a licence to share reports, schedule updates and use any other additional features.
- The two different licence types of Power BI Service are called Power BI Pro and Power BI Premium. Pro is more of a self-service option for business intelligence, whereas Premium gives users advanced analytics, on-premises and cloud reporting, and a greater scale of possibilities.
- Power BI Mobile: as the name suggests, this is the device-based application for phones and tablets. This is available for Windows, iOS and Android devices. Mobile users get access to real-time dashboards and reports, either in the cloud or SQL Server.
- Power BI Report Server: the on-premises report server with a secure web portal. Within this server, you have access to the tools to create reports with the optimised Desktop application, as well as mobile and paginated reports and view Excel workbooks. Report Server is available through the Power BI Premium licence, or alternatively, SQL Server Enterprise Edition.
- Power BI Embedded: where Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) can embed Power BI into their own applications on a pay-as-you-go, white label basis. Essentially, Power BI is integrated with other apps or products and the program takes care of all the reporting and analysis duties as it usually does, in the background. It’s almost as if it’s not even there.
How can Power BI Benefit Your Business?
Here are some of the key benefits of Power BI from a business point of view:
- It offers more advanced analytical possibilities than many other business intelligence solutions.
- The variety of templates allow businesses to make total sense of their data.
- Its built-in features can track trends and make educated predictions.
- It allows users to create dashboards so they can access the data they need very quickly.
- Alerts can be set to keep users up to date on metrics and measurements.
- There is enhanced data security, both internally and externally.
Why Hire a Power BI Consultant?
Here at XL Intelligence, we are experts in delivering Power BI consulting services, for businesses in a variety of sizes. We can create the dashboards and visuals for you so that you can see how your business is progressing every single day. We offer a bespoke service which is unique and personalised to you, your requirements and the audience receiving your reports and dashboards.
We will be able to provide you with suggestions and recommendations that reflect your business aims and objectives, and implement the most effective way to communicate messages to users. Rather than opt for a Power BI course, or watch repeated Power BI tutorial videos, you might find that a fully trained and approachable consultant who specialises in this software is the right option to help get you up to speed.