Microsoft Power BI: A Beginners Guide

Posted by Jen Bieker on May 22, 2015


Microsoft PowerBI:  A Beginner's Guide

Power BI (Business Intelligence) are user friendly tools that let you connect to sets of data and visually interact with the data, looking at patterns, trends, or anything else you would like to see.
In the past, databases were difficult to get at and we didn’t have the user friendly tools to pull things out in a meaningful way.  We relied heavily on developers and reporting tools, like Crystal Reports or SQL Server Reporting Services.  It used to be a long process of going back and forth with development and tweaking reports until we got exactly what we needed.

Then, if you’re like me, I finally got what I wanted, and realized I would love to see the data this way, or that way, or better yet, grouped like this.  UGH!

Now, with Power BI, I have the tools I can use to manipulate my data anyway I want, right at my fingertips.

How Did Microsoft do it?

Basically, Power BI is comprised of three steps.
1. Get my data – they made connectors inside of Excel to connect to various types of data sources.
2. Manipulate my data – use the powerful drag-and-drop style tools to manipulate the way I want to see my datasets.  I could do this all day long – it’s amazing to be able to see your data transform into various patterns and trends.
3. Share my work – create real-time dashboards to show your data and keep up to date.  There are additional tools to share your creations with co-workers.  Power BI Sites, Data Management, and mobile options.

Let’s Take a Closer Look at Getting Data

There are 2 components used in Microsoft Excel to get at your data.  First is Power Pivot.  This tool imports and integrates data from various sources to create a data model.  It allows additional calculations, aggregates, hierarchies, and key performance indicators.  You are, creating a data model, with Power Pivot.

Second, is Power Query.  It’s a great big search or query tool.  However, it’s more powerful than just for searching out pieces of data; it allows you to then do actions like merge, rename columns, replace values, and other modifications to continuously improve the data model created in Power Pivot.

Viewing My Data

Once you have a data model to work with, Power BI has two visualization tools available.  Power View, is exactly as named, an interactive viewing tool.  It has similarities to working in Excel and PowerPoint.  For example, charts, graphs, and tables.  Brainstorming ideas on how you would like to view your data, before going into Power View can help you get started.  

Then there is Power Map.  This is a 3D mapping tool.  Take your data model and plot points on the surface of a 3D map.  Maybe you want to see which products you sell best in different geographic locations?  Which locations jump on special deals the most?  The possibilities are endless.

How do I get Started?

Up front, I want you to know that Power BI is going to take some time and playing with to get things right.  First, you need to at least have Excel 2013 on your computer or use O365.  Next, I suggest you watch a couple videos to see for yourself how powerful these tools can be. Third, think through some simple data ideas you would like to try out.  Then, sign up for Power BI Preview or download the tools, read through the user guide and give it a try.

Overview Videos:

 

Power BI Getting Started Guide – online documentation

Sign up for Power BI – if you want to use the online / cloud version.  This is called Microsoft Power BI Preview.  Here you can get your data, build reports & dashboards, and share them with others online.

Or, download the Power BI Tools onto your computer to use in Microsoft Excel.  You will want to download Power Query for Excel and Power Map Preview for Excel 2013

 If needed, activate the Power BI tools in Excel

File > Options > Add-ins, select the Power tool and click on OK

Have fun, try it out, and play with your data.


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