The ability to handle data successfully is increasingly becoming a key success factor for companies in the course of digitalisation. As a result, the role played by business intelligence (BI) is becoming increasingly critical. Thanks to business intelligence, companies can use the data they collect to create meaningful evaluations and visualisations, which provide them with an important basis for business decisions. Sound judgement instead of gut feeling is the motto. But while business intelligence is already established in large companies, in particular, SMEs often find it difficult to integrate BI solutions into their own business processes. This is because the complex BI tools often offer many possible applications and require in-depth knowledge of configuration and operation.
This is where Microsoft Power BI comes into play. The tool for self-service business intelligence makes it possible even for non-technical users to aggregate, analyse, visualise and share data from the company with others: “As part of the Microsoft Power Platform, Power BI also sets great store by high usability and simplicity”, explains Roland Krummenacher, Solution Architect Cloud & IoT at bbv. “You don’t have to be a developer to integrate and transform data with Power BI and use it to create reports and visualisations. I see this very often in my professional environment. Increasingly more companies are using Power BI today.”
In addition, Power BI offers a decisive advantage over other BI tools like Tableau or Qlik: The solution is very well integrated into the Microsoft world. Whether Microsoft 365, Dynamics ERP, Dynamics CRM, Microsoft Azure or Sharepoint – Power BI can be integrated seamlessly with these, but also with many other data sources inside and outside the Microsoft ecosystem and used for corresponding evaluations.
Microsoft Power BI: The individual tools
Power BI is an umbrella term Microsoft uses to describe a number of applications:
- Power BI Desktop: Power BI Desktop is the actual reporting tool and therefore the point of entry for Power BI users. They can access local or cloud-based data sources here, transform data, create data models and prepare reports or visualisations. Microsoft provides Power BI Desktop free of charge; the application is installed locally on the user’s computer.
- Power BI Service: While reports can be created with Power BI Desktop, they are only visible to the relevant user. If the prepared reports are to be shared with other employees, Power BI Service is needed – the SaaS solution from Power BI: It offers a central, web-based workspace for all Power BI end users in the company. If users want to publish reports in the company with Power BI Service, they need at least a Power BI Pro licence, which costs about 10 francs per month and user. The product can be licensed via the Microsoft 365 licence portal.
- Power BI App: Using the Power BI mobile app, users can view shared dashboards and reports on mobile devices. The app can be downloaded free of charge from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
For evaluation purposes, Power BI usually imports data from the data source and updates it at regular intervals, but no more than eight times a day (or at most 48 times a day with Premium capacity licensing). However, certain data sources also support DirectQuery or Live Connection: Instead of importing data into Power BI, the tool accesses the underlying data source directly and simply uses Power BI for visualisation. This means that reports and dashboards can also be created using real-time data and shared. The information cannot be viewed by unauthorised persons: “With DirectQuery, rights to access the data sources directly can be defined, assuming connection via Azure Active Directory is supported”, explains Krummenacher. “This means that an unauthorised person cannot view a prepared report, should it be shared inadvertently with them.” If the data is imported into the report, Power BI even offers the possibility to define access policies and ensure data governance.
Power BI is suitable in principle for the most diverse companies and applications. From production quantities, rejects or throughput times in mechanical engineering to budget reports in ongoing projects or expense overviews. Smaller datasets can also be evaluated with ease, such as billable hours or employee surveys in HR, though further steps are needed for big data evaluations. Without a corresponding analysis service that first aggregates the data, Power BI quickly reaches its limits, particularly as datasets in Power BI are limited by default to a size of 1 GB. In addition, the solution clearly focuses on enterprise BI. As soon as reports are to be made available outside the company as well, for example for multi-client capable systems, websites or web applications, Power BI is no longer suitable. “Although Microsoft provides the Power BI Embedded solution for this purpose, it is very expensive. There are definitely cheaper alternatives”, states Roland Krummenacher.
bbv can provide support
Anyone wishing to use Power BI is not left to their own devices. With its many years of expertise, bbv supports companies in using the tool: “We have in-depth knowledge of data engineering and setting up databases. And we have been working with Microsoft Azure and the corresponding data sources for more than ten years – which is why we have also developed know-how in the area of Power BI”, says Krummenacher. “We work together with the customer to develop Power BI-based evaluations and products from existing data sources – or enable them to use the tool themselves.”
Roland Krummenacher is a cloud expert at bbv. Over the past eight years, he has advised more than 40 companies on cloud issues and has been technically responsible for various cloud projects. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for Azure and heads up bbv’s cloud community.
Markus Holzner is a Business Area Manager for ICT customers at bbv. He believes that achieving a successful project outcome is not just about a good result, but also a satisfied customer and satisfied employees.