The short answer, for most of you, is no. However, the complexity and capability of the products could be beneficial depending on what type of position or organization you work in.
In my effort to answer this common question about Power BI I researched the following:
– Power BI Desktop Gateway
– Syncing on-prem SQL server data
– Syncing SharePoint Online list data
– Syncing data from an Excel workbook
– Building, and sharing a dashboard
– Inserting a Power BI visualization into PowerPoint
The feature spread above gave me the opportunity to explore the main features of Power BI which break down as:
– Ingesting data, building a data set
– Creating dashboard or reports with visualizations based on that data
In a nutshell Power BI is a simple concept. You take a data set, and build visualizations that answer questions about that data. For example, how many products have we sold in Category A in the last month? Quarter? Year? Power BI is especially powerful when drilling up or down in time scale.
And there are some interesting ways to visualize that data:
However, there are a number of drawbacks to the current product that prevented me from being able to fold these visualizations into our existing business processes.
1. Integration with PowerPoint is not free. This shocked me.
The most inspiring Power BI demo I saw at a Microsoft event showed a beautiful globe visualization within a PowerPoint presentation. It rendered flawlessly within PowerPoint and was a beautiful, interactive way to explore a geographically disparate data set. I was able to derive conclusions about the sales data displayed without having to look at an old, boring chart.
During the demo, nothing was mentioned about the technology required to make this embedded chart a reality. After looking into the PowerPoint integration I learned that not only was the add-in built by a third party, it was not free, and when I signed up for a free trial the add-in could barely render my Power BI visualization. The data drill up/down functionality was non-existent and not all of the visualizations were supported.
It was extremely disappointing.
2. Only Dashboards can be shared with other users, and cannot be embedded in our organization’s community on SharePoint.
Folks in our organization spent 50% of their time in Outlook, and the rest in SharePoint, OneNote, Excel, Word, and the other applications needed for producing documents, and other work. Adding yet another destination to that list to check on how something is doing was impossible for us. Habits are extremely hard to change, and I see that consistently in our client’s organizations as well.
Because I was not able to fold in the visualizations with the PowerPoint decks we use during meetings, I had to stop presentations in the middle, navigate to Internet Explorer (because the visualizations only render well in that browser), and then go back to PowerPoint once we were done looking at the dashboard.
This broke up the flow of our meetings, and led to more distractions. I also followed up with coworkers after meetings to see if they ever visited the dashboard themselves at their desk. None of them had ever navigated to a dashboard outside of a meeting.
3. The visualizations aren’t actually that great.
Creating visualizations that cover such a wide variety of data sets is difficult. But, the Excel team has been working on this problem for over 15 years. When I import my SharePoint or SQL data to Excel I’m able to create extremely customized Pivot Tables and Charts that show precisely the data I need to see.
I was never able to replicate visualizations from Excel in Power BI, to produce the types of visualizations I actually needed. Excel has the ability to do conditional formatting, and other customizations in charts and tables that is simply not possible with Power BI. Because of how generic the charts are, and the limited customization it looks “cool” without being functional.
In conclusion, if you have spare time and want to explore Power BI for your organization you should. However, if you are seriously thinking about how you can fold this product into your work processes, challenge yourself to build a dashboard and look at it once a week. See if you can keep that up for a month, and then think about how that change affected your work habits and whether the data analysis actually contributed value each time. At least half of you will realize that this gimmicky product is fancy, but not actually useful.
Allison Sousa, PEI