Articles for the Month of January 2015

What is Power BI? Microsoft just changed the answer to the question

In reading the Power BI blog, it appears Microsoft has just changed what Power BI is. Since Power BI’s introduction last year, Power BI was a series of add-ins to Excel, which I liked to call the four powers, Power Pivot, Power Query, Power View and Power Map, and a web component. For people who weren’t interested in the web component, the most of the features listed in Power BI are available to anyone who has Office 2013 or Office 365. That now appears to have changed. Microsoft now says that Power BI is a Cloud Based service, and doesn’t mention Excel at all.

New Power BI

As I documented here, Microsoft released Power BI Designer as a web application and a stand alone application. It has been freely available since December 18, 2014 to anyone living in the US. This was the first step away from Excel as you no longer needed Excel to create dashboards. In the January 27 announcement, Microsoft has completely broken away from Excel. Now Power BI is new, and the new Power BI is the Designer of December. The old restrictions still apply. Sorry, if you are not in the US, you can’t use Power BI Designer aka the new Power BI. You can get an iPad version of the app in the Apple store and the Surface version in the Microsoft store, but phone support is not yet available for either iPhone or Android, but they are slated for release later this year.

New Product, New Price

It appears the mall is not the only place having sales in January. Microsoft just announced a major price reduction in Power BI too. Here’s the previous pricing model, which I saved from Microsoft’s website, just in case the Power BI webpage changed, which it did.


Here’s the new pricing model ,which doesn’t fit very well on my webpage.  To save you having to click on it, I will cut to the chase. Power BI is now $9.99.   Now that they product is targeted to the masses, the price isn’t an even number, just like everything Not Sold In Stores. It stands to reason that dropping the price will help in the  wider adoption of Power BI. The previous pricing made Power BI much more expensive than Office 365, which was probably a tough sell to many IT managers.

What’s Next with Power BI ?

To be honest, I have no idea what Microsoft is planning next. This announcement marks a big break with the past, which I guess we could call Power BI 1.0. The new direction to a standalone and web product makes Microsoft look more like its competitors, which I am sure was the idea. Personally I thought the break with Excel was quite surprising as I thought the plan was to leverage the knowledge of the current user base, so I didn’t expect it. I wonder if they are going to rebrand the four powers in Excel?  Based on today’s announcement I wouldn’t be surprised, and I will be watching Microsoft closely to see what happens next.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur


Running the local version of Power BI Designer Preview

Power BI Designer is available both as a web application and as an desktop application which you can download to your PC. As you might have surmised, the two versions are mirrors to one another when it comes to functionality, with the biggest difference is the need to upload the results. The local version allows people who have an older version of Excel loaded to do Power View-like report functionality which they may not be able to do with the version of Excel they have.

Getting Started

If you want to get started with Power BI Preview and you live in the United States, click here . You don’t need to be a current Power BI customer to download and use the preview. The best way to learn how to use it is through the videos which Microsoft has included on the application start up screen shown below. I highly recommend watching them as they succinctly describe how it works.PowerBIDesignerVidoes

Things to keep in Mind when using with Power BI Designer

This product is still in preview, so there are some things that you can’t do, like change the colors. It was also meant to be non-developer friendly, so Power BI Designer picks a lot of things for you, and then you can change them afterwards. This model may be a little disconcerting if you don’t care about line charts, which seem to be the default. Microsoft created this program with the intent that you would be uploading the finished product to a Power BI tenant, it isn’t designed to have any native security or data refresh. This is not Excel, as the files you save in Power BI Designer have the suffix PBIX, so you have to have Power BI Designer to open these files.

Generating Dashboards

The steps for creating a dashboard are identical to how the Power BI Designer works with the online preview. First you need to select a data set, which can be from nearly anywhere–Azure, HDFS, Facebook, SSAS, Sql Server, MySQL,Sales Force, csv, to name a few—and then it will attempt to visualize your data sets for you. If you don’t like the visualization, most likely a line chart, which was defualt selected you can select a different visualization format, such as a treemap, funnel chart or any of the different options. To complete the dashboard, merge your selections onto one screen by tiling smaller visualizations onto a dashboard. The data displayed on the dashboard is contextual, so if you change the value all of the corresponding visualizations will change along with the selection.

Wait, There’s More

Microsoft is just now rolling out with Power BI Designer, and like Ronco’s ginsu knives, there are a lot more things planned for the product in the future. Here’s a list of suggestions made so far. If you think the product really needs something, go tell Microsoft as it appears they are actively monitoring the feedback. When they do release something I find noteworthy, I’ll let you know in a later post.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur


Presentation Follow Up to Data Analytics and Distribution with Power BI

Thank you to all of the people who took the time to view my session on Data Analytics and Distribution with Power BI. I really enjoy getting the chance to decrease the confusion I hear regarding Power BI, and hope that you will find the question and answer section helpful if you are trying to learn more about the product.

Questions and Answers

 In Power BI Designer, is it possible to manipulate the colors of the charts?

While this may change as Power BI Designer is still in preview mode, currently the colors are assigned automatically. As you might guess, this is a feature that other people are interested in so it is on Microsoft’s list of things to add. If Power BI Designer color selections are implemented like they are in Power View, which is very similar to Power BI Designer, it is likely themes of colors will be available, rather than the ability to pick each color like in Report Designer, but we will have to wait and see.

Are Power BI designer/dashboard changes specific to each user?

If you have created a Power BI Designer Dashboard, you have the ability to share it with people in your organization. There are a couple of things that need to happen for this to work. The people that you share it with must have Power BI accounts, and they have to be in the same domain as you are. When you share the reports they are only able to read, not edit them. For more information regarding security and Power BI, see Microsoft’s guide here.

Can I grant access to users outside of our domain?

Power BI’s security model is a separate tenant from the security model for SharePoint in the Office365 cloud, but they are related as you can only grant access to Power BI if those users are able to access your version of Office 365 SharePoint. As stated in the previous question, for Power BI Designer Dashboard, the users must be part of the same domain.

How does Power BI perform predictions? Is it the same logic which is used in Data mining?

Power BI uses the Forecasting and Hindcasting features to perform predictive analytics. There are a number of different analytical categories, and the kind used in Power BI use Time Series. As the name suggests, Time Series models analyze a set of measurements performed over time to determine patterns in the past which can be used as guides going forward. Data Mining looks at variables, which may or may not include time, as it looks for patterns throughout the data. These underlying statistical models are not the same.

Does Power BI have Power Map feature?

Power BI definitely contains Power Map. In fact Power Map is only supported in preview mode if you do not have Power BI. This link can provide more information about the limits of Power Map in Excel. Power Map is designed to be run as a movie, and provide a directed look of the data on the map, rather than providing the interactive drill down mapping features which are available in Power View. You can share a Power Map by saving it as an mp4 video file and posting it anywhere. There are a number of Power Maps on You tube if you care to search there.

How does “R” play here?

The R language is completely agnostic as to what is the source of its data, you have the ability to use excel if you want to as a data source. If you want to use R within Excel, try the RExcel add-in, which is available here.

Is the PowerPivot where the data is stored for Power BI Designer?

No. Data can come from anywhere, not just from Power Pivot in Excel. For example, if you want to use a website as a data source, you could do that too as there are a number of different available data sources, and that is one of many.

Do you have to use Power BI Designer on the Web?

While Microsoft has designed the Power BI Designer as a web project, so that you can create Power BI Designer Dashboards as part of the preview, there is also an application available for download here. The desktop application works very similarly to the web version, with the exception of course that you will need to upload and Select Power BI Designer file as your data source. Should you wish to modify the dashboard once it is loaded, you can do so.

How would you determine anomalies or freak instances in data versus true trends?

The problem of determining anomalies is one which the practitioners of predictive analytics are constantly struggling. For trending to occur, the numbers of what was previously considered an anomaly need to increase. Forecasting within Power BI applies one of the more standard methods for accounting for anomalies, looking at the standard deviations and probability. The likelihood a number will fall within a certain range of numbers are based upon the number of times this has happened in the past, which is graphed as a bell curve. The values representing the far sides of the Bell curve are discarded, which is known as variance, which in Forecasting in Power BI is represented as 1δ .The number increases with the more variance you wish to represent.

Does SharePoint on premise support Power BI Designer?

No. Power BI Designer is currently in preview version in the US for Power BI subscribers. You can download the application to play with it.

Will Power BI be available in next version of SharePoint?

While I cannot speak for Microsoft, I can tell you that it isn’t there now. For more information on SharePoint, check out their website here.

Does this work in Office 365 SharePoint? And this replace the bi feature offered in SharePoint on the cloud?

Since I do not work for Microsoft, I am hesitant to talk much about how their licensing plans really work. For more information, please check out their website.

If we want to start learning Power BI, where do we start?

There are a number of great places to learn about Power BI, the best and most up to date being here. I have included some other places where you might want to go to learn more about Power BI


Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur

The Changing Forecast of Power BI

On Thursday, I have the opportunity to talk about parts of Power BI which reside outside of the Excel. I’ll be showing the some of the web components of Power BI and how to use them. Because the install base of the Power BI tenant is not nearly as high as the number of people who have used the Power BI components within Excel, this webinar will highlight the more exotic features. When I signed up to do this webinar, I planned to showcase forecasting and hindcasting as they are neat ways of visually showing predictive data analytics. Having used them before, I thought that demoing their capabilities once again would be a good way to show some of the neat reasons that you might want to use Power BI. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to demo these features.

Forecast Maintenance

Imagine my surprise when I saw this announcement from Microsoft stating that the Power BI Forecasting feature was “offline for maintenance”. Since the announcement came in December, I originally thought that this would be no big deal. Surely the feature would be back online soon. I thought wrong. The forecasting feature is gone. When using Power BI, the option never appears. It’s like it never existed.   In the excitement to release Designer, the non-excel dash boarding feature, the disappearance of the previously released tool has not been highlighted, until now.

The Dark Cloud of Iterative Releases

When the Forecasting feature was released in May, there was a lot of buzz about the fact that Microsoft was able to release a great new feature in time to coincide with the PASS BA Conference. Well, the pulling of this feature is the Nimbostratus of the cloud release, bringing rain. There are a lot of features available for me to show in Power BI, so I still have a lot of demo material, but I find this development to be rather troubling. Here’s hoping that this giving and taking of features in Power BI doesn’t repeat itself.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur