Analyzing and Visualizing Data with Microsoft Power BI

From its first release in 2015, Microsoft Power BI’s monthly updates and continually growing set of features have developed this program into a robust tool for modeling and visualizing data. Data is one of the biggest assets to a business. Informed future decisions can only occur where historical data is accessible and high quality, and as businesses grow, the need for employees at all levels to have immediate access to data becomes increasingly important. Microsoft Power BI serves as a low barrier to entry business intelligence tool operating in the realm of self-service business intelligence.

Business Intelligence

Business intelligence is an umbrella term for the technologies and strategies used in the process of analyzing business data. This process often includes combining data from one or many sources, creating a data model to establish relationships between the data sources, and providing reporting and analytics to synthesize the information. Self-service business intelligence is a methodology of enabling all business users to interact with data. Business data becomes accessible, as users can create reports without heavy reliance on a technical team. This accessibility increases the pace of business by allowing users to quickly make decisions.

Power BI offers features that allow companies to move toward self-service business intelligence through sharing and collaboration. It has the advantage of user comfort, as it connects seamlessly with SharePoint groups and features a similar interface to other tools in the Microsoft Suite. Power BI Desktop operates locally and houses the data transformation capabilities. Datasets and reports are then published to the Power BI service, which enables sharing and collaboration. Power BI Mobile is a mobile extension of the Power BI service offering access to completed reports and dashboards on the go.


Power BI features many tools for data import, data manipulation (with an applied steps list making data transformation easily reproducible), and data visualization through report creation. The below points detail some key features that make Power BI a great tool for any business looking to increase their analytics and visualization capabilities.

Sharing & Collaborating with the Power BI Service: Microsoft Power BI features a cloud-based interface for sharing and collaboration, Power BI service, that connects with SharePoint groups, seamlessly integrating into the existing environment for organizations currently operating in the Microsoft 365 Suite. Underlying datasets, as well as full reports, can be shared so users can create or modify their own visualizations based on department needs. Collections of individual visuals or full report pages can be added to dashboards providing an at a glance view of performance relevant to a particular business process. These dashboards can be configured with data-driven alerts that can also be customized by user. Pinning live pages to a dashboard allows end viewers to interact with reports through filtering capabilities.

Data Refresh & Live Data Connections: Power BI features a number of ways to make sure your reports and dashboards are displaying up to date information at all times. Typically, when data is imported into Power BI Desktop, a copy of that data is created within the program. To avoid importing a copy of your data, connecting using DirectQuery will query the underlying data source. Using a gateway connection, data is automatically refreshed each time the report is opened or can be refreshed every 15 minutes. Data refreshes can also be scheduled to coincide with daily report/dashboard viewing needs. Power BI also allows you to live stream data for real-time reporting. Data can either be pushed into the Power BI service, which then creates a new database in Azure queried through DirectQuery, or streamed into a temporary Redis cache for use by streaming visuals. With real-time data streaming, updates in your reports and dashboard visualizations occur right before your eyes! Utilizing these connection types (while super cool) comes with differing varieties of limitations that should be assessed before fully committing to a solution.

Power BI Mobile: The Power BI mobile app allows users to take all visualizations and dashboards available in the Power BI service with them at all times. Executives, sales representatives, or other frequent travelers can remain informed of business operations and maintain access to updated information prior to meetings. Wherever geospatial visualizations are used in the Power BI service, Power BI mobile uses location services to zoom in and display data points within a user’s physical vicinity (e.g., a regional manager traveling across states to oversee various stores could zoom into their current location and view store performance for that area).

Final Thoughts

Power BI is one of many different self-service business intelligence tools that put data in the hands of your employees, giving them access to the information they need to work effectively and efficiently. Consultants can help develop an effective data model, establish backend needs for live data connections that support consistency and accuracy of your underlying reporting data, and develop access controls and role-based security to manage data governance best practices. They can also develop visualizations and dashboards by working with business users across departments to identify and incorporate their needs. With proper implementation and support, Microsoft Power BI can help open the gates of data access giving users the ability to utilize valuable data assets.