8 min read

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]elf-service Business Intelligence is the buzzword everyone’s talking about today. It gives modern business users the ability to find unique insights from their data without any hassle. Amidst a myriad of BI tools and platforms out there in the market, Microsoft’s Power BI has emerged as a powerful, all-encompassing BI solution – empowering users to tailor and manage Business Intelligence to suit their unique needs and scenarios.

[author title=”Brett Powell”]A Microsoft Power BI partner, and the founder and owner of Frontline Analytics LLC., a BI and analytics research and consulting firm. Brett has contributed to the design and development of Microsoft BI stack and Power BI solutions of diverse scale and complexity across the retail, manufacturing, financial, and services industries. He regularly blogs about the latest happenings in Microsoft BI and Power BI features at Insight Quest. He is also an organizer of the Boston BI User Group.[/author]


In this two part interview Brett talks about his new book, Microsoft Power BI Cookbook, and shares his insights and expertise in the area of BI and data analytics with a particular focus on Power BI.

In part one, Brett shares his views on topics ranging from what it takes to be successful in the field of BI & data analytics to why he thinks Microsoft is going to lead the way in shaping the future of the BI landscape. In part two of the interview, he shares his expertise with us on the unique features that differentiate Power BI from other tools and platforms in the BI space.

Key Takeaways

Ease of deployment across multiple platforms, efficient data-driven insights, ease of use and support for a data-driven corporate culture are factors to consider while choosing a Business Intelligence solution for enterprises.

Power BI leads in self-service BI because it’s the first Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform to offer ‘End User BI’ where anyone, not just a business analyst, can leverage powerful tools to obtain greater value from data.

Microsoft Power BI has been identified as a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for BI and Analytics platforms, and provides a visually rich and easy to access interface that modern business users require.

You can isolate report authoring from dataset development in Power BI, or quickly scale up or down a Power BI dataset as per your needs.

Power BI is much more than just a tool for reports and dashboards. With a thorough understanding of the query and analytical engines of Power BI, users can customize more powerful and sustainable BI solutions.

Part One Interview Excerpts – Power BI from a Bird’s Eye View

On choosing the right BI solution for your enterprise needs

What are some key criteria one must evaluate while choosing a BI solution for enterprises? How does Power BI fare against these criteria as compared with other leading solutions from IBM, Oracle and Qlikview?

Enterprises require a platform which can be implemented on their terms and adapted to their evolving needs. For example, the platform must support on-premises, cloud, and hybrid deployments with seamless integration allowing organizations to both leverage on-premises assets as well as fully manage their cloud solution. Additionally, the platform must fully support both corporate business intelligence processes such as staged deployments across development and production environments as well as self-service tools which empower business teams to contribute to BI projects and a data driven corporate culture. Furthermore, enterprises must consider the commitment of the vendor to BI and analytics, the full cost of scaling and managing the solution, as well as the vendors’ vision for delivering emerging capabilities such as artificial intelligence and natural language.

Microsoft Power BI has been identified as a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for BI and Analytics platforms based on both its currently ability to execute as well as its vision. Particularly now with Power BI Premium, the Power BI Report Server, and Power BI embedded offerings, Power BI truly offers organizations the ability to tailor and manage BI to their unique needs and scenarios. Power BI’s mobile application, available on all common platforms (iOS, Android) in addition to continued user experience improvements in the Power BI service provides a visually rich and common interface for the ‘anytime access’ that modern business users require. Additionally, since Power BI’s self-service authoring tool of Power BI Desktop shares the same engine as SQL Server Analysis Services, Power BI has a distinct advantage in enabling organizations to derive value from both self-service and corporate BI.

The BI landscape is very competitive and other vendors such as Tableau and Qlikview have obtained significant market share. However, as organizations fully consider the features distinguishing the products in addition to the licensing structures and the integration with Microsoft Azure, Office 365, and common existing BI assets such as Excel and SQL Server Reporting Services and Analysis Services, they will (and are) increasingly concluding that Power BI provides a compelling value.

On the future of BI and why Brett is betting on Microsoft to lead the way

Self-service BI as a trend has become mainstream. How does Microsoft Power BI lead this trend? Where do you foresee the BI market heading next i.e., are there other trends we should watch out for? 

Power BI leads in self-service BI because it’s the first software as a service (SaaS) platform to offer ‘End User BI’ in which anyone, not just a business analyst, can leverage powerful tools to obtain greater value from data. This ‘third wave’ of BI, as Microsoft suggests, further follows and supplements the first and second waves of BI in Corporate and self-service BI, respectively.

For example, Power BI’s Q & A experience with natural language queries and integration with Cortana goes far beyond the traditional self-service process of an analyst finding field names and dragging and dropping items on a canvas to build a report. Additionally, an end user has the power of machine learning algorithms at their fingertips with features such as Quick Insights now built into Power BI Desktop.

Furthermore, it’s critical to understand that Microsoft has a much larger vision for self-service BI than other vendors. Self-service BI is not exclusively the visualization layer over a corporate IT controlled data model – it’s also the ability for self-service solutions to be extended and migrated to corporate solutions as part of a complete BI strategy. Given their common underlying technologies, Microsoft is able to remove friction between corporate and self-service BI and allows organizations to manage modern, iterative BI project lifecycles.   

On staying ahead of the curve in the data analytics & BI industry

For someone just starting out in the data analytics and BI fields, what would your advice be? How can one keep up with the changes in this industry?

I would focus on building a foundation in the areas which don’t change frequently such as math, statistics, and dimensional modeling. You don’t need to become a data scientist or a data warehouse architect to deliver great value to organizations but you do need to know the basic tools of storing and analysing data to answer business questions. To succeed in this industry over time you need to consistently invest in your skills in the areas and technologies relevant to your chosen path. You need to hold yourself accountable for becoming a better data professional and this can be accomplished by certification exams, authoring technical blogs, giving presentations, or simply taking notes from technical books and testing out tools and code on your machine.

For hard skills I’d recommend standard SQL, relational database fundamentals, data warehouse architecture and dimensional model design, and at least a core knowledge of common data transformation processes and/or tools such as SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) and SQL stored procedures. You’ll need to master an analytical language as well and for Microsoft BI projects that language is increasingly DAX.

For soft skills, you need to move beyond simply looking for a list of requirements for your projects. You need to learn to become flexible and active – you need to become someone who offers ideas and looks to show value and consistently improve projects rather than just ‘deliver requirements’.

You need to be able to have both a deeply technical conversation but also have a very practical conversation with business stakeholders. You need to able to build relationships with both business and IT. You don’t ever want to dominate or try to impress anyone but if you’re truly passionate about your work then this will be visible in how you speak about your projects and the positive energy you bring to work every day and to your ongoing personal development.  

If you enjoyed this interview, check out Brett’s latest book, Microsoft Power BI Cookbook. In part two of the interview, Brett shares 5 Power BI features to watch out for, 7 reasons to choose Power BI to build enterprise solutions and more. Visit us tomorrow to read part two of the interview.

Data Science Enthusiast. A massive science fiction and Manchester United fan. Loves to read, write and listen to music.


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