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Power BI picked up where Excel left off, and with Microsoft's steady cadence of releases has exceeded previous capabilities PHOTO: João Silas

Management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” 

This statement has never been more relevant. 

Businesses have access to unprecedented amounts of data, but all that data means nothing unless they can turn it into insights.    

And though the market is flooded with new business intelligence (BI) and analytics solutions promising to do exactly that, Microsoft's Power BI platform has consistently been named a leader in BI and analytics since its launch, allowing businesses to measure and manage like never before. 

Picking up Where Excel Left Off

Microsoft unveiled Power BI in 2014 as the successor to Excel-based plugins like Power Query, Power Pivot and Power View. It was first made available to the public in July 2015.

The web-based analytics platform includes data warehousing and manipulation features which enable organizations to join and visualize data from multiple disparate sources.    

Microsoft sells the platform through the now standard “as a service” model, meaning pricing is subscription based on a per user basis. 

3 Power BI Features You Should Know

Connecting Siloed Data

When your data is stuck in siloed systems, you're stuck with a fragmented view of your organization. 

How can you make big decisions without seeing the big picture? Measuring progress or setbacks in your organization requires a system of record that centralizes all your data.

If you already use Microsoft systems like Microsoft Dynamics, SharePoint, Excel, Project or SQL, you can import, join and visualize their data in Power BI.

Data imports extends to non-Microsoft systems as well: Google Analytics, Salesforce, Oracle, Hadoop, SAP, Snowflake and more can be integrated with Power BI. 

Robust Security Features

We all know information security is important. 

Power BI excels here. It engineered security and compliance into the fabric of the tool, ensuring compliance with noteworthy regulatory bodies and legislative acts.

One feature that I'm jazzed about is row level security. With row level security, administrators can grant and restrict access to data on a per row basis — not per report or per widget, but per row. Manager X can see rows 1 through 100, whereas intern Y can see rows 6, 13 and 20, for example. 

All of Power BI’s user identity management is controlled through Active Directory, an interface most of your system administrators are likely already familiar with.

For more extensive Power BI security coverage, Microsoft offers a Power BI Security whitepaper (automatic download).

Easy Implementation

Gartner singled out Power BI's ease of use for end users when it named the software a leader in its most recent BI and analytics magic quadrant. This is evident in the system's set up process.

It goes a little like this: download the software, plug in your subscription key and get to work. No developer or IT involvement required. The WYSIWYG interface makes performing most tasks, including importing data as mentioned before, usually only a few clicks away.

Maximize Power BI's Value

Here are a few tips to make sure you get the most from your Power BI investment.

Automate Data Extraction and Report Creation

Manually extracting, transforming, loading and visualizing data wastes time and makes reports susceptible to human error. Data drives decision making, so surely you don’t want to make decisions based on skewed data.

Power BI allows you to automate data extraction, transformation, loading and visualization, which will save you time and help ensure accuracy.

Extend Licenses to Various User Types

Executives, directors, managers and business users can all benefit from access to Power BI. Users with the most rudimentary understanding of business analytics will find value in Power BI’s robust and easy to use reporting features. 

Eliminate Redundant Reporting

Scenario: you have four sales teams nationwide. Each team is sent an annual report on sales numbers. Each team need only see their team’s data. What do you do? 

You create four reports, one for each team.  

Instead, why not create 1 report, and filter viewable data down on a per-team basis? With Power BI, you make one report, not four. 

Standardize Reporting

Departmental discrepancies in data governance policies and nomenclature standards may create reporting miscues and impede cross-functional knowledge sharing. You can use Power BI to help standardize reporting and improve organization-wide knowledge sharing.

Does your organization plan to implement or already use Power BI? Can you think of any unique use cases for the platform? Let me know in the comments below.