I’ve seen lots of data visualization tools over the years. Cognos, Microstrategy, ProClarity, and more. While I haven’t been a BI person for most of my career, in many of my positions, someone has wanted to try some new tool and eventually I’ll get involved somewhat. I remember first seeing the OLAP cube browser in SQL Server 7, and showing my boss a quick demo. While it wasn’t something that you could let an end user have, it also got my boss excited, and they started a project as I was leaving to implement some OLAP for the sales department.
When I first saw Tableau years ago (2008?) at TechEd, it was the first tool I’d seen that was really slick for the end user. I expected they’d grow quickly, and they have. Many people have looked at the Tableau tools as the standard for data visualization. For years nothing looked close, and as much as I appreciated Microsoft moving PowerPiviot and other tools to Excel, they weren’t as nice to use as the graphical tools.
That changed with Power BI. When I first saw this tool, instantly I could start to see the power of the tool. Even altering and changing a tool had an ease and power that I hadn’t seen since the Tableau tools. The initial release had lots of limitations and was just on the web. It was slow, and refreshes from remote data weren’t great. There were security limitations, and I wasn’t sure that the vision for the product made sense from Microsoft, even though I could see tremendous potential.
Things have improved, and I am somewhat amazed with the power of Power BI. A simple sales report is interactive. I can click on something intuitively and the values I see will adjust to focus on that item. What’s more, other graphs on the screen adjust. However, I don’t have to stick with simple graphs, I can add better imagry, such as this wine report, or this airline maintenance report that drives work. I was especially impressed with the analysis of Stephan Curry (which won the contest). Some of those reports I couldn’t imagine trying to build with other tools, especially SSRS.
Power BI is a great tool, and if you need to provide visualizations for end users, I’d urge you to take a look. The Power BI Desktop tool is great for modeling and working with data. I find myself using that for quick looks at data, building a graph in a way that’s easier than in Excel. I went through Microsoft’s EdX course, and was somewhat amazed to see the vast capabilities available in the product. Guy in a Cube, Adam Saxton, has a YouTube channel where he and Patrick LeBlanc (@PatrickDBA) bring you constant training and tips on how to get the most out of the tool.
What’s more, I keep finding more and more Power BI blogs and posts that I can add to Database Weekly every week. So many people are experimenting and finding ways to better analyze data with Power BI. This week we have a continent slicer, data privacy, collaboration, and more. With montly releases, I find that people are constantly digging into the possibilities and helping you learn with them. There are even developers building custom visuals that you can download. There’s even one for acquarium lovers. If you want to learn about these, Devin Knight blogs regularly about custom visuals and we include many of those links here and on SQLServerCentral
Power Bi is a great way to empower your users, reduce your reporting load, and make everyone happier. Power BI is a great way to let users experiment with data and actually decide what reports are worth investing in more with IT resources to perhaps optimize the performance of certain visuals. Give it a try to day, especially the desktop version, and see how you can easily start to examine data that might be important to you. Even the SQLDBAWithaBeard finds Power BI helpful.