Power BI is a powerful reporting tool. It is part of the Microsoft Power Platform and works very well with a variety of Data Sources starting with text, coma separated value files, Excel files and all the way to massive cloud databases.
What is Power BI used for?
Power BI is the best tool for making sense of the data. instead of looking at tray data and spending time in Excel to filter and group data, you can easily build visualizations and filters in Power BI to make data easy to understand. Each team may be interested in a different section of the data so Power Bi makes it easier to deep dive into specific issue or zoom out to the big picture.
What is Power BI in simple terms?
Power Bi is the tool that will connect all your data and tell you a story. Your data may reside in log files, Excel spreadsheets, databases, cloud environments and so much more. Power BI has the capability to link to all these data sources, make relationships between them and present the data in a fast and meaningful way.
Is Power BI easy to use?
Yes and No. Once you start learning Power Bi you’ll see that building visualizations, filters, reports and dashboard is very simple. it is very easy to learn and to use Power BI to build beautiful reports from the imported data, as it is imported.
It becomes more complex once you need to transform your data. The engine for the data transformation is the Microsoft Power Query. This is where things start to get more complex. You can start to create custom columns, calculations, measures and more.
However, it is very similar with how you transform data in Excel. In fact, Power Query is very similar with the Excel Power Query. Plus, there is a lot of knowledge online already. It’s easy to just ask a question on Google and find a solution.
How is Power Bi different from Excel?
Power BI has similarities with Excel but is a different tool used for a different purpose.
The similarity consist in the data transformation engine. Microsoft Power Query is pretty much the same as the tool with the same name in Excel. If you ever used Excel to get data from another source (another Excel spreadsheet, web, a database etc) you used Power Query. The functionality is the same.
Another similarity is building of the visualizations. The charts, filters, slicers, pivot tables used in Excel to build dashboards are very similar.
The difference comes in how the tool is used.
While Excel is a tool that contains all the data in its spreadsheets and require a certain amount of skill to build, edit and maintain the visualizations and the dashboard, Power BI can be split between the report creators and report consumers.
Power Bi report creators can build reports and visualizations, edit and change the data. Power Bi consumers will just interact with the reports and require no sill in data transformation or report building.
In other words, you can share an Excel file with a dashboard and expect users that are not familiar with Excel to break it, but they will not be able to break a Power BI report.
In simple terms, Excel is like a computer with the case open where you can easily add more components but also break it. Power BI is like a tablet where you can just interact with the software and reset to factory settings with a tap of a button.
Is Power BI difficult to learn?
Building visualization is easy to learn. It consists in selecting the right visualization and selecting its elements.
However, building the dataset, establishing relationships and transforming data requires a higher level view of data. It is very similar with building a database. There are also formulas to use to create new columns and measures that can be more difficult to learn. If you are familiar with formulas in Excel, it is very similar to that. However Power BI uses DAX and M language to manipulate data and although similar with Excel formulas, the syntax is a bit different.
Do not get discouraged by this. Follow the free tutorials referred at the end of this page and take it step by step.
Can I learn Power BI on my own?
Absolutely! There are great tutorials to follow step by step from the very beginning. See the reference section at the end of this post to learn more.
However, if you are the type that prefers to learn with a coach, there are also many virtual or in person training you can use. I also list some of them in the reference section below.
How to start with Power BI?
Before you start learning Power BI, you need to understand the Power BI components. There are 4 components in Power BI. Depending on the level of user you are, you may only need to learn one or a few of these components.
Why do I need the Power BI Mobile App?
This is for Report Consumers – people that want to view and interact with reports made in Power BI
This is the app that you download on your mobile device to consume reports. The reports are developed by Power BI user with a Pro or Premium license and are published in a workspace. As a report consumer, you only need access to that workspace. A workspace is an Office 365 user group or a team in Microsoft Teams. As long as you are a part of one of these types of workspace and the report is published.
Why do I need the Power BI Desktop?
Power BI Desktop is the report builder. Think of this as the Excel Application that you have installed on your computer to edit Excel spreadsheets. Power BI Desktop is the desktop application you install in order to edit Power BI reports (files with extension pbix), and to edit datasets using the Power Query Tool.
What is the Power BI Service?
If we are to continue the parallel to Excel, this is where the comparison stops. Similar to Excel, you can share the pbix file, the same way you would share the xlsx file with other people. The difference is that the xlsx files in Excel contain the data while the pbix files contain only a link to the data. You can only access that data if you have the same permissions as the person who created the pbix file.
For example, if someone from HR created a report using a sensitive employee information file located in a folder that only they have access to, they can share the pbix with you but you won’t be able to access the data.
This is where Power BI Service comes into play.
Power BI Service is used to store the published reports, the datasets and settings related to reports (gateway connections, refresh schedule etc)
The Power BI service is a web portal. You use it to manage your published Power BI Reports
What is a Power BI Gateway?
Think about the Power BI Gateway as a Data Warehouse. If you take the example above, with the sensitive HR report, the HR person can use the Gateway to give you access to the data used in the report without giving you access to the actual data source.
In the gateway you setup Data sources with specific credentials.
Let’s say that you want to setup an Automatic Refresh Schedule for your report. In order to do that, you have to setup the data source in the gateway, with your credentials so that the report can always access the data source at the time of the refresh. The Power BI service will use that data source to refresh the report.
There are two types of gateways.
- The Personal Gateway
- The Enterprise Gateway
The Personal Gateway is something you can install on your computer in order to setup data sources for your local reports.
The Enterprise gateway is the same software but installed on a computer that is available to the enterprise (like a server, or a dedicated computer that is always ON). You can use this one for reports that are shared with a larger team and have to be available even when your computer is OFF.
How much is Power BI?
Power BI licensing can be found on the Microsoft Power BI Pricing page
In this section, you can find references to Power BI tutorials and learning resources.
Best Free Training for Power BI
By far, the best training for Power BI is the Microsoft Power BI Training offered through the Microsoft Learn Portal.
Best YouTube Channels to learn Power BI
Here are some of the channels I found useful to Learn Power BI. More will be added as I find them.