During the last several months, I’ve taken you through an initial exploration of Power BI Desktop, a program that you can download directly from Microsoft. However, there is another version of Power BI, one that resides in the cloud. Many of its features are similar to Power BI Desktop, but there are also significant differences. Let’s begin the new year by taking a look.
First you have to sign up to use Power BI. Click on the following link to go to the self-service signup page:
You should see a link on the page that says: self-service signup process which takes you to the link:
The screen (shown below) tells you that you can sign up and get started with Power BI for free. That is almost true. There are some notable exceptions. For example, you cannot sign up with an email address provided by consumer email services or telecommunication providers, this includes the fact that you cannot sign up with a Microsoft Hotmail account. Also .gov and .mil addresses are not allowed at this time. I guess that surprised me a bit because government and military intelligence is something that we are in great need of. However, I guess if you want to call it BI, then strictly speaking it is business intelligence only. J
Another reason you may not be able to signup is because your IT department has disabled self-service signup for Power BI even though your organization may have the Office 365 SKU that supports Power BI. Again Microsoft provides instructions for your administrator on how to fix that problem should they so decide to let you use Power BI. Again, I can only assume you must work for an organization that has no interest in business intelligence if they tell you no.
Of course, Microsoft does provide a way for you to personally register for a new Office 365 trial subscription and use that ID to sign up to use Power BI.
You will get an email from PowerBI/Microsoft asking you to confirm your email address.
After you have successfully navigated all the steps to get a Power BI account, you should see an initial power BI screen like the following:
If it is not already there, you can downloaded the financial sample file from: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?linkID=619356. I just don’t remember how I got it originally. To install the data after downloading it, I used the Get Data button at the bottom of the left navigation panel
I can then click the Get button within the Files box to load the CSV file I just downloaded.
This will provide me with a flat file dataset to work with as a sample. The next figure shows what appears to be an entry for both the Database group and the Dashboard group with one entry in each named Financial Sample.
By opening the Dataset Financial Sample, I can choose which fields I want to work with from the Fields list.
I can simply click the check box to the left of the field name or I can click on a field name and drag it over to the working area. For this demo, I will use Sales and Month Name.
While I do have the ability to customize some features such as the formatting of the title text and even to highlight one of the columns as shown below, I quickly realize that starting from a raw data file like this in Power BI, I can not define a custom order for the Month dimension to force the months to appear in chronological order.
Rather than being in chronological order, it appears that the month columns are ordered from the largest to the smallest in sales value. While possible, this is typically not what I would want to display.
I’m going to leave that problem as it is for now and attempt to click on the Dashboard entry for Financial Sample. I am told that I have a report with unsaved changes. When did I work on a report since I never clicked inside the Reports group? Well, it appears that when I define visualizations in the dataset area, I am actually creating a report and must save it if I want to keep it.
When I click Save, Power BI prompts for a report name. For now, I am just going to call it: TestReport.
With the report saved, I now can see the Financial Sample default dashboard.
The first thing I notice at the top of the page is a text box which is asking me to enter a question about the data. This is something new that we have not seen in the Power BI Desktop. The interesting thing is, I can enter a question (or even a statement since the syntax of a question is not as important as the words used in the sentence) that references one or more of the data fields in my dataset. In this case, I can ask a question like: What are the total sales? (Interestingly, I can just type: Total sales and get the same result.) As I type enough of the question for Power BI to guess at what I want, it starts displaying results
I can continue to drill down to get sales by product by just adding the words by product to my question/statement from the above example. Note that Power BI automatically decides to switch from a simple text answer for a single value to a bar chart with the bars representing my product dimension.
I can just as easily request to see total sales by month. Note in this image, the months are displayed in the correct chronological order even though the report I created earlier did not show them in that order by default.
I can even display sales by country as shown below.
By simply changing the visualization, however, I can create a map of sales by country which might be a better way to present geographic data to management.
So I’m going to stop here in this week’s tour of Power BI. I’ve discussed some of the issues you may need to deal with to get access to Power BI and have shown how to load and use a simple flat data file in the form of a CSV file. In future weeks, I will explore more of the features of Power BI and especially how you can use Power BI Desktop or even Excel to create the datasets you need to display in Power BI.
On last point that I will cover in more detail at a later time, but which you might want to be aware of at least for now. One of the advantages of using Power BI to display your data analysis is that you can save your dashboards and make them available to others within your organization as a simple download. Yes, with Power BI Desktop you can save your model and copy the file from your machine to others. However, if you make a change, you must redistribute the changed file each time. Also refreshing the data is a manual process at this time when using Power BI Desktop. We will see in future blogs how these issues are addressed by Power BI to make your life simpler.
C’ya next time I’ll take our Contoso data and show how easy it is to use it from a One Drive file.