Microsoft Power BI is a suite of business intelligence (BI), reporting, and data visualization products and services for individuals and teams. Power BI stands out with streamlined publication and distribution capabilities, as well as integration with other Microsoft products and services. But is it a good choice for your organization?
What is Microsoft Power BI?
“Power BI,” Microsoft says, “is a business analytics solution that lets you visualize your data and share insights across your organization, or embed them in your app or website.” The solution comprises several products and services, and value and versatility comes from leveraging the individual elements, and taking advantage of how they work together.
Power BI service
Power BI service is a secure Microsoft hosted cloud service that lets users view dashboards, reports, and Power BI apps — a type of content that combines related dashboards and reports — using a web browser or via mobile apps for Windows, iOS, and Android.
Power BI Desktop
Power BI Desktop is a free, self-service data analysis and report authoring tool that you install on a Windows computer. It can connect to more than 70 on-premises and cloud data sources to turn information into interactive visuals. Data scientists and developers work with Power BI Desktop to produce reports and make them available to the Power BI service.
In Power BI Desktop, users can:
- Connect to data
- Transform and model the data
- Create charts and graphs
- Create reports and dashboards that are collections of visuals
- Share reports with others using the Power BI service
Power BI Pro
Power BI Pro is cloud-based software that comes with a monthly fee of $10 per user. The biggest difference between Power BI Desktop and Power BI Pro is the ability to collaborate with other Power BI users and distribute reports and visualizations to other Power BI subscribers across the organization (see chart below).
With Power BI Pro, users can:
- Embed Power BI visuals into Power BI apps
- Integrate with other Microsoft solutions, such as Azure data services
- Share data, dashboards, and reports with other Power BI users
- Create workspaces — places to collaborate with colleagues to create collections of dashboards and reports
- Enable peer-to-peer sharing — a way to share published dashboards or reports with people outside the organization who have a Power BI Pro license
A table from Microsoft Power BI docs provides a feature comparison between the Desktop and Pro versions of Power BI:
Power BI Premium
Unlike Power BI Desktop and Pro, Power BI Premium is not an application. Premium gives an organization space and capacity in a Microsoft-hosted cloud to share reports. An organization can choose how to apply its dedicated capacity by allocating it based on the number of users, workload needs, or other factors — and scale up or down as needed.
With Power BI Premium users have:
- Flexibility to publish reports across an enterprise, without requiring recipients to be licensed individually per user
- Greater scale and performance than shared capacity in the Power BI service
- The ability to maintain BI assets on-premises with Power BI Report Server
- One API surface, a consistent set of capabilities, and access to the latest features for embedded analytics
Pro and Premium considerations
If your organization has many people who create reports and visualizations, and who don’t share information often, a Pro subscription may be sufficient. However, if you must share the information both inside and outside of your organization, you’ll need a Premium subscription. Power BI Premium is priced based on the number of virtual cores Microsoft dedicates to the service. You can see prices at the Power BI pricing page.
Power BI Report Server
Report Server is an on-premises report server. You can create reports in Power BI Desktop or Pro, and viewers can use Report Server to access those reports on a web browser or mobile device, or they can receive them as an email. Report Server would be useful for a company that has restrictions on cloud usage.
Power BI Mobile
Power BI has mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 mobile devices that let users connect to and interact with data.
Power BI Embedded
Power BI Embedded allows developers to embed Power BI dashboards and reports into other applications, either within their own organization — which requires users to sign in to a Power BI account — or in an application for a client or customers who don’t have a Power BI account.
7 reasons to use Power BI
How do you know whether Microsoft Power BI is right for your organization? Here are seven reasons to choose Power BI — and one reason you may want to choose something else:
- A quick start. You’ll be able to get insights quickly with an uncomplicated setup, no required training, and included dashboards for services such as Salesforce, Google Analytics, and Microsoft Dynamics.
- Streamlined publication and distribution. Instead of emailing large files or putting them on a shared drive, analysts upload reports and visualizations to the Power BI service, and their data is refreshed whenever the underlying dataset is updated.
- Real-time information. Dashboards update in real time, as data is pushed or streamed in, which gives viewers the ability to solve problems and identify opportunities quickly. Any report or dashboard can display and update real-time data and visuals. Sources of streaming data can be factory sensors, social media sources, or anything from which time-sensitive data can be collected or transmitted.
- Ability to customize Power BI app navigation. An “app navigation experiences” feature gives report developers the power to customize navigation to help viewers find content quickly and understand the relationships between different reports and dashboards.
- **Ability to customize security features. **Report developers can set up row-level security (RLS) access filters to ensure that viewers see only data relevant to them, mitigating the risk of people seeing data they shouldn’t.
- Cortana integration. Power BI works with Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana. Users can verbally ask questions in natural language to access charts and graphs. This can be especially helpful for users with mobile devices.
- Artificial Intelligence. Power BI users can access image recognition and text analytics, create machine learning models, and integrate with Azure Machine Learning.
So, why would you want to pass on Power BI? Well, the online Power BI service — including Pro and Premium — is accessible from any web browser, but the Power BI Desktop application is not available for Linux or Mac operating systems. If you’re in a Mac-only environment, Microsoft Power BI Desktop may not be right for you.
Stitch helps get your data to Power BI
Before you analyze your data with Power BI, you’ll need to replicate data from all of your sources into a data warehouse. Using an ETL tool to replicate data into a cloud-based data warehouse, such as Microsoft’s Azure Synapse, makes it easy to combine data from all of your sources for a holistic view of your business.
You can simplify and streamline data ingestion by using a cloud-based ETL service like Stitch that automates the process of connecting to and extracting data from sources and loading the data into your destination. From there you can use Power BI to perform the in-depth analysis you need.
Our approach is simple, straightforward, and ready to go right out of the box. Try Stitch for free and start getting data-driven insights from Microsoft Power BI tomorrow.