Sunday, September 27, 2015

Introduction to Power BI

Last Saturday, at SQL Saturday #441 in Denver, I delivered my second presentation on Power BI.  My first was as a guest speaker for Pragmatic Works Free Training on the Ts in March as part of the Women In Technology month.  In March, I covered Power Pivot Add-In for Excel, but this Saturday, I delved into the new Power BI Desktop application that was released for general consumption on July 24, 2015.

My presentation slides can be found here. Please note that 85% of my presentation was a demo, which is not visible in the slides.  I may try to repeat it and record the demo so that others can see it later.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a pen handy, and I had passed my cell phone with EverNote around the room so folks could look at Power BI Mobile, I didn’t get all the questions written down, but let me try to recap the FAQs:

  1. Can you extend the functionality of Power BI? 
    Yes, there is an API so you can program against it and there is currently a contest running for the next best visual.
  2. Can you export from Power BI to Excel?
    While it is easy to import from Excel, exporting out is not currently that easy out of the box.  Someone suggested trying to copy/paste from the UI, but when I tried this, it wasn’t available. HOWEVER, a more recent release is supposed to include this change.
  3. What is the advantage of manipulating the data in Power BI instead of Excel?
    The main advantage is the ability to refresh and have the ETL steps reapplied, whereas Excel would require you to master Excel macros/VBA.
  4. Can you connect Excel and SSAS models?
    Yes.  You can mash them up easily using Power BI Desktop.  I have not personally tried it yet.
  5. How does it compare to the dashboarding tools in Visual Studio?
    I don’t know the answer to this one.  I haven’t seen dashboarding tools in VS.  So, I am hoping that someone who does would give a presentation at the Denver PASS chapter so I can see!
  6. How does PowerBI compare to Tableau?  Since I’ve never used Tableau, only seen a demo, I can’t answer this, but as one of my attendees pointed out, the price is the big difference.  PowerBI.com is FREE or $10/mth/user for the Pro license. 
  7. Can you use the Power Pro license features FREE with your MSDN license?  If you have either the Enterprise or Platforms license (don’t ask me more as I’m not really an MDSN license expert). I checked back through the emails I have from MDSN and lo, and behold, on Aug 12,2015, they sent me a link to activate my Power BI Pro.  So yes!  I had some issues getting it to work personally.  Kept getting errors.  Finally created a new account thru onmicrosoft.com and it created an Office 365 account for “my company” but then I had to login using my email address at my employer’s and it started “setting up” power bi with “less than one minute left” … not sure if it will ever finish.  Hmmmn… so appears this has not been well tested.

If I have forgotten a question or haven’t answered one fully, please let me know!

As an update, my company is getting closer to adopting Power BI.  This week our operations group received a sales call from SAS who wanted to sell them a $9K deal.  Our operations group runs on spreadsheets.  Their BI needs are still immature and they don’t have enough volume or statistical needs in my opinion to require SAS, plus SAS is not nearly as easy to learn as Power BI.  I thought it would be another year before anyone gave Power BI a notice because our entire company’s development group is immersed in improving our sales software, but the operations group immediately started the ball rolling on PowerBI as soon as I sent them an email highlighting the benefits of PowerBI.  Yay!

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