Power BI to the People!

This week I attended the European Office365 Connect conference, a new event by the organization behind the well-known SharePoint Connect. Office365 is much more than “just” SharePoint, so I expected a large crowd and especially many business folks, or at least some “super users” like myself. But to my surprise it was a rather intimate gathering, where I met many of my more “techie” friends. With great speakers, a beautiful venue (a concert hall) and excellent catering it was definitely a good gathering, and I hope next year it will attract a larger crowd, including my peers from non-IT businesses.

PowerThe first keynote was by Marc Reguera, Finance director at Microsoft. He showed what you can do with Power BI, a wonderful app that can turn a mass of data into meaningful information, all displayed on one interactive page. He sliced and diced Microsoft’s travel costs, showed the results of Spanish football clubs over the last 40 years, and how countries moved on the Democracy scale over time.
If MS Access is Excel on steroids, MS Power BI is Access on steroids AND looking great as well!  It looked so easy and wonderful, that my hands are itching to try this app myself. My household expenses over the years would be a great starter exercise.

To give you an idea of what you can do, please check out Marc’s video’s, all named : “From Data to Insight & Impact”. This is one about the progress of Africa.

It looked deceptively easy, because creating meaningful graphs and charts needs skills.

It is like PowerPoint, Prezi, Haikudeck, Slidedocs and other “presentation software”: these are just tools that help you.  You still need to know why you are creating this presentation, which message you want to give your audience, how to write concisely in bullet points, which fonts and colours  to select for a text that is easy to read, and how to add some visual interest without going over the top. A good presentation does not create itself, although the tools make it sound as if they do.
Prezi states: “Create zooming presentations that make you more engaging and memorable”. I surely remember some zooming Prezis. They made my head spin. I do not remember the content though :-).

This is also the risk with Power BI. It may be available for everyone, but only a few people will be able to turn data into truly useful and reliable information. Those people generally know:

  • How to find reliable data. Marc told us it has been an ongoing exercise, starting small, and needing ongoing effort to refine and add data.
  • How to treat data, what slices and dices will be relevant, how to combine data in a correct way. If I would use this to learn about my household expenses over the years, you would see an explosion of car costs in 2012.  Why is that? Was our car so old that it needed a large revision and new parts? Did we drive around Europe during a holiday? Were we involved in a massive crash that caused great damage? Without adding the number of cars in our household you could draw incorrect conclusions. But if you know that we bought a second car in 2012 you will understand why these costs increased. So you have to know which data to include in your dataset.
  • Statistics. You do not want to draw conclusions on trends or differences that are not statistically significant.
  • Which graph to use for which purpose.
  • Basic design skills, such as knowing about colours, colour contrasts and layouts.

In the hands of someone who has been working with data for some time, Power BI can be an excellent tool. Not only does it crunch large amounts of data, but it does it quickly, so you will finally have time left that you can spend on analysis, strategy and customers.

But remember: “With great Power BI comes great responsibility” 🙂 (Free after Spiderman or Voltaire):  Use wisely, and know which data to use and how to properly draw conclusions.

Have you tried it already? Please let me know what you think of it!


Image courtesy of khunaspix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Title inspired by the song Power To The People by John Lennon (1971).




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