Microsoft Power BI
Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, was founded in 1975 and has become a household name primarily due to its Windows operating system and Office suite. The vendor has a broad enterprise offering too, ranging from cloud (Azure) to database to its ERP products.
Microsoft was among the first vendors to focus on providing cloud-based solutions for analytics, a path later followed by several competitors. Azure is used by numerous companies as a cloud computing platform and for storing large amounts of data, putting Microsoft in a comfortable position to offer integrated analytics front ends.
Microsoft concentrates its core BI and analytics capabilities in Power BI and brings in tools and capabilities from Microsoft Azure such as Azure Data Explorer and Azure ML for specific usage scenarios. Power BI is a cloud-based analytics product consisting of Power BI Desktop (a full client for data preparation, dashboards and analysis) and Power BI Service (a web application for content publishing and sharing). It is an interactive tool for data visualization geared at enabling business users to analyze data and share insights predominantly via dashboards. Power BI Premium offers dedicated capacity, which is especially useful in large deployments. Additionally, Microsoft bundles Power BI with its Office products, as the more expensive licenses from Office (from E5 upwards) include Power BI Pro. This makes it very attractive for a lot of customers. There is also a “free” version available, but it does not enable users to publish reports.
Data visualization in Power BI delivers rich visualizations but is limited in flexibility by its dashboard-oriented approach. NLQ makes it easy for users to retrieve relevant visualizations. Guided analytics is mostly covered by ‘Quick Insights’, a feature that automatically analyzes data sets for patterns and outliers and provides the user with suggestions about relevant findings. The ‘Insight’ feature can be used to receive information about interesting patterns in the data a specific visualization is based on. For advanced requirements, Microsoft has integrated AutoML features into Power BI Data Flows.
The vendor has also incorporated formatted reporting functionality from its on-premises Reporting Services product set as paginated reports into Power BI to provide a broader feature set and integrate analytics capabilities. Power BI Report Server delivers a subset of Power BI features to on-premises customers, mostly to facilitate their migration to the cloud.
Microsoft continues to invest in the integration of Power BI with other Azure services. For instance, by using Power Automate, Power BI reports can be exported and distributed in different formats and scenarios. Power BI also now integrates with Microsoft PowerPoint to provide better data storytelling capabilities as well as to increase the use of insights gained in Power BI for a larger number of users.
Recently, Microsoft has also introduced “Direct Lake Query” for analyzing very large data volumes in Power BI. Direct Lake is based on loading parquet-formatted files from data lake storage without the need to query an SQL endpoint and without importing data into a Power BI data set.
User & Use Cases
Power BI customers use the tool mostly for consuming standardized content such as dashboards (84 percent) and reports (67 percent). At 61 percent, the rate of usage for data analysis is lower than with comparable visual analysis and self-service tools, showing that Power BI attracts fewer users to engage in analysis than to view predefined content. Tableau and Qlik are currently Microsoft’s main competitors, both of whom have a vision of empowering business users through intuitive and attractive tools. Microsoft’s own products, Excel, SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), are also frequently evaluated in competition with Power BI.
Power BI has clearly made its way from being a departmental tool to an enterprise information platform. The median number of users is above average and many large and middle-sized companies use the software as their main BI and analytics front end.
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