Many people talk about Power BI, its benefits and common challenges, and many more want to learn Power BI, which is excellent indeed. But there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings amongst the people who think they know Power BI. In my opinion, it is a significant risk in using tools without knowing them, and using the technology is no different. The situation is even worse when people who must know the technology well don’t know it, but they think they do. These people are potential risks to the businesses that want to adopt Power BI as their primary analytical solution across the organisation. As a part of my day-to-day job, I communicate with many people interacting with Power BI. Amongst many knowledgeable users are some of those who confuse things pretty frequently, which indicates a lack of understanding of the basic concepts.
So I decided to write a series of Power BI 101 to explain the basics of the technology that we all love in simple language. Regardless of your usage of Power BI, I endeavour to help you know what to expect from Power BI. This is the first part of this series.
What is Power BI?
I do not frequently get the “What is Power BI” question from my customers, my website’s comments, or my students within the training courses. It is indeed a question that I often ask people. I usually ask the question to indicate people’s level of understanding on different occasions, such as when a friend wants to know more about Power BI, or in a job interview from a candidate who applied for a Power BI related role, or my students attending a training course. Depending on the context that I ask the question, the responses are often pretty different.
It is the general rule of thumb to know what a “thing” is before using it. The “What is X?” (and X is the name of a “thing”) is a broad question, so the answer is also broad. Therefore we usually need more digging to get a better understanding of the “thing”.
In our case, the “thing” is Power BI, so the question is “What is Power BI?”. And the answer is:
“Power BI is the Business Analytics platform part of a larger SaaS platform called Power Platform offering from Microsoft.”
Now, let’s dig a bit more with two more questions:
- What is a Data Platform?
- What is Saas?
Let’s quickly answer those questions.
What is a Business Analytics Platform?
A business analytics platform is a complete business-centric software solution that
- Connects to various sources of data created by other software systems
- Integrates the data
- Cleanses the data
- Models the data
- Analyse the data
- Visualise the data
- Helps to make data-driven business decisions
- Provides data governance
- Provides practical and secure collaboration mechanisms
- Provides secure ways to share the contents with others
- Advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
There are many purposes to adopt a business analytics platform across the organisation, including but not limited to:
- Preventing data silos by providing a single source of truth across the organisation
- Using a unified set of tools across the organisation
- More realistic data governance processes
- Reducing the complexities of interacting with the data
- Creating a collaborative work environment that everyone can access relevant data and insights in minimum amounts of time
What is SaaS?
Microsoft provides a good definition of Software as a Service (SaaS) on Azure official website. A SaaS is a complete subscription-based software solution fully hosted in the service provider’s cloud system. The organisations rent the use of an application, and the users connect to it via the Internet.
Power BI Service is a SaaS Application
In the previous section, we learnt about SaaS applications, and Power BI Service is a SaaS application indeed, so it is a subscription-based software hosted in the cloud.
Microsoft provides various subscription plans for Power BI Service as below:
- Premium Capacity
- Embedded Capacity
- Premium Per User
Each subscription plan comes with its own features, limitations and toolsets, so it is important to know the differences between different subscription plans.
We will learn more about Power BI Service, its components, tools, connections and its subscriptions later on in this series.
What is Power BI Desktop?
When some people talk about Power BI, they are indeed referring to Power BI Desktop. So let’s quickly see what Power BI Desktop is.
Power BI Desktop is a desktop application we install and use on our local machine. It is completely free of charge, so everyone can use it without paying a cent. Power BI Desktop is a development tool that allows us to connect to various data sources, transform the data and combine it into a data model. We can then use Power BI Desktop to visualise data in the data model.
We will learn more about Power BI Desktop later on in this series.
Power BI is Not a Reporting Tool Only
So the bottom line is that Power BI is much more than a simple reporting tool that we can learn and use pretty quickly. When we talk about Power BI, we are talking about an analytical platform, not a reporting tool. For now, it is enough to know that Power BI Desktop is not the only reporting tool available in the Power BI platform. Depending on our Power BI subscription plan there are several reporting tools available for us which we will cover in the future parts of this series.
In the next part of this series, we discuss the main components of the Power BI platform, the Power BI Service and Power BI development tools.