Reports run your business, right? A good report tells you everything you need to know about the current state of affairs with some element of your business.
Financial reports show you how much cash flow you’ve got and, as someone once put it to me, how many weeks you have left until bankruptcy. Sales reports show you the current pipeline and how much revenue you ought to be closing in the future. Service reports, inventory reports and more — without them you can’t see what’s happening today so you can’t plan for tomorrow. You can’t know to order more parts for inventory if you don’t know how many you have!
Unfortunately, many businesses make due with sub-par reports. This might be a function of their current systems (older software might not have great reporting capabilities) or it might be due to a lack of data integration between systems. The latter occurs when people are spending too much time extracting, massaging, transforming, and then aggregating data — generally in the #1 Business Intelligence tool in the world, Microsoft Excel.
Yes, Excel really is #1, but that’s not a ranking based on its features. That’s just usage. More reports are built in Excel than in any other tool. Why? Because people have it, know how to use it and often perceive that spending a few hours to make it work in Excel every month is better than investing money into a “reporting platform.”
If the platform under consideration is a SSAS cube, or Tableau, that might be true. There’s probably a lot of setup to be done before the data is useful, and you probably have to aggregate it somewhere first. Just dropping it into a spreadsheet seems easier. However, this misses the cost of having someone spend hours of their time every month creating the same reports over and over, and it further misses the potential cost of any mistakes that person might make in the data aggregation or presentation. If the pipeline seems fine due to an error but the reality is different, that could be a large business disruption.
So what about Microsoft Power BI? Microsoft released Power BI a number of years ago, and did a pretty sizeable overhaul on it a few years later to turn it into what it is today — the reporting and analytics arm of the Microsoft Power Platform. Power BI is pretty compelling for many reasons. Here are six reasons you might want to consider Power BI:
1. Power BI Desktop is free
That’s right — there’s a free version! You can sign up and build reports at no cost. Of course, there are restrictions that require licensing, but even the monthly license for Power BI Pro isn’t very expensive compared to some other tools.
2. Easy-to-learn Power BI feels familiar
Power BI follows the same general user interface principles of other Microsoft applications, so if you know how to use Word and PowerPoint, you can probably figure out where options are in the menus in Power BI.
3. Power BI connects your data easily
Power BI comes with access to the full set of connectors built into Power Platform to link to and retrieve data from other applications, databases, and files. You don’t need to set up a data warehouse to aggregate your data. Power BI can pull in different data sources for you. You can transform and relate data within the report itself, and then set up the visuals with drag-and-drop capabilities. This means building the data set behind a report doesn’t require a data scientist or a massive undertaking to connect all of your data. Anyone comfortable with the source systems, who knows that field “X” in one system matches field “Y” in the other, can build the relationships and create a meaningful data set.
4. Power BI offers interactive reports
Power BI reports aren’t just for looks. The reports are interactive, and the interactivity doesn’t require more work than making sure the report understands how data is related. Clicking on one section of a chart will filter the dataset to just that portion, and all other graphs and charts related to that data will adjust to also display their data within the context of that filter.
For example, if I create a bar chart for monthly revenue, and a pie chart next to it showing revenue by product line, when I click on a specific month in the bar chart, the pie chart will adjust to show only that month. Similarly, if I selected a single product line, the monthly bar chart will show just revenue from that line. This sort of data interactivity helps a report user truly understand the data, giving them context to the trends, and helping them understand what it means instead of only seeing what the report creator thought was important.
5. Power BI integrates with the entire Power Platform
Power BI plugs into the other components of the Power Platform. You can drop full Power BI dashboards onto a Dynamics 365 Sales dashboard, or even just a single chart onto a Dynamics 365 Sales or Service record (like an account, opportunity, or support case). You can create Power Apps with embedded Power BI components and show better analytics to users of the app.
6. You can access Power BI reports anywhere
Finally, Power BI also leverages the mobility capabilities of the Power Platform so you can view your reports on the go on your phone. There’s no need to be sitting at your computer, and no need to wait for the next scheduled email to arrive (although you can do that too if you want!). You can consume the reports when and where you need them!
Put all of these pieces together and you find the real power to using Power BI — You can start as large or as small as you want and build from there. You can create just a single report and get comfortable with the tool. Once you see the value it brings, you can build more and eventually replace all of those Excel spreadsheets with reports that automatically refresh data from source systems and provide real-time visibility into the health of your business. You’ll wonder how you ever got by with those manual spreadsheet reports. And you’ll have to find something else to do with the time you used to spend pulling data together by hand and hoping it was right.
For more information on Power BI, check out our Boyer Power Hour webinar on BI coming up at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 13.