The rise of Power BI (and BI as a whole)
Over the last few years, Power BI has gone from a visualisation tool on the side to become front and centre in the business intelligence (BI) industry. A combination of including the tool in Office 365 subscriptions and adding more and more features over the years has positioned Power BI as a market leader in preparing and presenting data for analysis (5 million subscribers in 2016). Previously where Tableau or Qlik may have been one of the few key players, now Microsoft has a seat at the visualisation table.
What is “BI”?
Business intelligence means a few different things – from visualising, analysing to just organising and reporting upon data. All of this helps organisations make data-driven decisions. If you’re a business that can easily utilise all of your data to drive change and streamline processes, then you likely have a modern (or at least impactful) BI setup. Examples of how business intelligence can help include:
- Identifying market trends
- Analysing customer behaviour
- Reporting on priority issues
- Forecasting profit or loss
- Simplifying and visualising complex information
Why use a BI tool at all?
Visualising data is a powerful thing. When done right, it provides an intuitive shop window on potential insights and data within. When done wrong it can be misleading, confusing, or difficult to maintain and interact with. Visualisation at its worst, a set of reporting and analytics costs a company time and money, and at its best, it can guide them to success.
Data-driven businesses understand the value not just in having easy access to prepared data but in going a step further to ensure it is an easily digestible format for users – whether this is internal staff or customers outside the organisation. Having a BI tool and a capable BI development team helps build a reporting and analytics capability more than just spreadsheets or databases. The aim is to allow users from the high-level executive board to the tech-savvy analyst to be able to access the information they need quickly and accurately.
None of this information is new, with BI tools such as QlikView, Tableau, and Spotfire offering such reporting capability for a while and evolving with the industry. Power BI is simply a younger player in this industry by comparison with a few offerings of its own.
What has changed dramatically, however is the way in which data is utilised- especially the scale. The volume of data being extracted, stored, and processed is ever-increasing and the cloud computing industry has grown to handle this increase. Data engineers now have a variety of data pipelines, templated connectors, APIs, and computational power to move data quickly and automatically from A to B. It’s never been easier to get data out of a system, model it and connect a BI tool for reporting.
A further change is the way in which a user interacts to seek information. Rather than passively consuming a dashboard or report, there is a push for “self-service” reporting to provide users with the tools and visualisation package to equip them to find the answers to their own questions with ease. Interestingly, this is something Microsoft has embraced with features like the “Ask a question about your data” to auto-generate reporting and insight from natural language input.
So how did Power BI become so popular?
Power BI has stormed into the number one spot according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms. While this isn’t a definitive yes for Power BI being fit for every use case or scenario, it demonstrates the tool’s popularity. The Microsoft product has quickly become an office staple for many organisations, for multiple reasons.
As mentioned, the licensing method is attractive to Office 365 users, meaning Power BI Desktop is free, so users can easily develop reports and complex dashboards without having to worry about building a business case for the tool. Microsoft has leveraged their ecosystem to create another product that sits firmly alongside others with which users are familiar. This results in user’s being used to some aspects of the user interface from other office products (Excel, Access) whilst also capitalising on a huge amount of integration potential.
BI tools have been racing to ease the process of connecting to multiple data sources, creating pre-built connections to a number of different systems, and Power BI is no exception. There is always more to do, but the tool, like its competitors, is able to connect to a huge range of systems, filetypes, and repositories.
Power BI is a tool at the forefront of data visualisation and analytics, but it is by no means the only BI software available. This blog gives a surface view of BI, and at Oakland, we always have more to share on the value of embedding such processes within organisations. For more complex examples of how we’ve leveraged Power BI and other BI suites into our projects, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0113 234 1944.