Understanding Microsoft Power BI – Self Service Solutions


Microsoft Power BI is a familiar, intuitive and cloud based self-service BI (Business Intelligence) solution for all your data needs in your very own Excel, which users have been using for decades. It includes different tools for data discovery, analysis and visualization. This article discusses Microsoft Power BI, different tools under the Microsoft Power BI umbrella and when each of them can be used.

Introduction to Microsoft Power BI

Microsoft Power BI is a cloud based self-service BI solution for the enterprise. It allows users to get insight into virtually any type of data in Excel, which users have been using for decades. Power BI provides capabilities that can be leveraged by people with all level of skills including data analyst, power users, business users, data stewards and folks from the IT department.

Power BI empowers end users and provides tools to take care of end to end business intelligence scenario for Self-Service BI solutions, for example:

  • Data discovery and combining data, which comes from different sources
  • Modelling the data brought-in from different sources. like defining the relationship, creating hierarchies, KPIs, measures, etc.
  • Once you have the model ready, you can visualize the data from different perspectives with different intuitives and available interactive visualization options.

Power BI is a broad umbrella, under which these four tools or Excel add-ins have been provided:

Power Query

Have you ever been in a situation where you were asked to create a report but you had no idea where to get the data? Well, this is where Power Query helps you to connect to data sources across your organization or valuable public data sources, all within your familiar Excel environment.

Power Query (code name for this feature was “Data Explorer”) is an Excel add-in (supported both in Excel 2010 and Excel 2013) which can be installed from ‘Download Microsoft Power Query for Excel‘. Power Query has an intuitive and interactive user interface, which can be used to search, discover, acquire, combine, refine, transform and enrich data. You can think of an ETL tool built into your familiar Excel to search or discover data from a wide variety of data sources (both from your enterprise as well as from online public data sources). You can learn more about Power Query Excel add-in from ‘Microsoft Power Query for Excel Help‘.

Power Pivot

Power Pivot is another Excel add-in (supported both in Excel 2010 and Excel 2013) that allows you to create a data model on massive amounts of data from virtually any source, define relationships for your tables, create measures, KPIs, hierarchies etc. Power Pivot uses xVelocity in-memory engine for lightning fast analytic performance and empowers Excel users for powerful data analysis. With the use of Power Pivot, you can explore the data and do data mash ups on the model you created. Your created model can be exposed to Power View as a report ready element for analysis and to get insights into it.

You can download the Power Pivot Excel add-in and learn more about Power Pivot from Microsoft’s Business Intelligence page, and about how to use it from Start Power Pivot in Microsoft Excel 2013 add-in‘.

Power View

Power View is yet another Excel add-in (supported in Excel 2013 only) that allows an intuitive, interactive, ad-hoc data exploration, visualization, and presentation experience. It empowers end-users to do ad-hoc analysis and create a variety of reports very quickly with different visualization options; in other words it allows end users to spend less time in report formatting and more time to visualize the data to gain insights and digging into business questions or problems.

Power View allows end users to explore data in new ways to uncover hidden insights and bring data to life with interactive visualization.

Power View is also available as a feature in SharePoint Server 2010 and SharePoint Server 2013 Enterprise Edition as part of the SQL Server 2012 Service Pack 1 Reporting Services Add-in.

You can download Power View Excel add-in from ‘Microsoft Power Query Preview for Excel’. You can learn more about Power View in this article,‘Power View: Explore, visualize, and present your data and here.         

Power Map

Power Map (code name for this feature was “Geo-Flow”) is the fourth Excel add-in under the Power BI umbrella which extends the capability of Power View by enabling end users to visualize data in 3D visualization format. It lets you plot geographical and temporal data visually, analyze it in 3D visualization format and create an interactive, guided cinematic tour to discover new insights by seeing your data in geographic space and seeing time-stamped data change over time (which you might not have seen in traditional 2D tables and charts) and to share it with others.

You can download Power Map Excel add-in, and learn more about Power Map at the Excel Blog and here.         

Microsoft Power BI for Office 365

We all are witnessing the potential of the cloud and to leverage this potential and to leverage the power of the cloud, Microsoft Power BI now integrates well with Office 365, which in turn is built on a scalable, manageable and trusted platform. This integration provides better self-service analytics in the cloud, better collaboration capabilities as users can now share reports they have created with other folks in the organization with the help of Office 365 online services.

These are different pillars of Microsoft Power BI for Office 365:

  • Share data and reports with others in the organization so that they can also get insights – A Power BI site can be easily and quickly created to share the reports. Users can interact with these reports directly in the browser, drilling-in further to learn more and get additional insight.
    With the help of the Data Management Gateway, data refresh schedule can be setup for a report deployed on a Power BI site, both to refresh data (either manual or scheduled data refresh) from on-premise sources or from data sources available online. A Power BI site allows you to manage and share datasets and monitor usages across your organization to optimize system investments.
  • Question and Answer – And here comes my favorite feature, you can ask questions in natural language and get back answers promptly, presented to you in different visualization options. This feature allows users to discover, explore, and visualize their own enterprise data using natural language; answers to questions are shown in the form of visualization and changes dynamically as you modify the question, creating a truly interactive experience for your data. Amir Netz has a good Power BI Demo on YouTube.
  • Connect from anywhere – Power BI for Office 365 introduces a mobile BI app that supports HTML 5 and allows you to view your Power View reports on any device supporting HTML5. This allows you to stay connected to your reports deployed on Power BI for Office 365 from wherever you go. You can explore reports (filtering, sorting and highlighting can be done in interactive manner) with the touch optimized experience and quickly share insights with colleagues, quickly tag reports as favorites to access later with one tap. Download the Windows BI app.

Power BI is in its preview stage right now. Register for the Power Bi preview to participate in the Power BI preview. Once you receive an invitation to participate, you can provision your Power BI site and get started; you can refer to this document or this video when provisioning your Power BI site.

Please note, features mentioned in this article might change in tghe final release of the product.


Microsoft Power BI is a familiar, intuitive and cloud based self-service BI solution for all your data needs in your very own Excel. It includes different tools for data discovery, analysis and visualization. In this article, I talked about these tools at a very high level; in my next articles I am going to demonstrate practically how these tools work. Please stay tuned.


Power BI demo video

Power BI for office 365

See all articles by Arshad Ali

Arshad Ali
Arshad Ali
Arshad Ali works with Microsoft India R&D Pvt Ltd. He has 8+ years of experience, mostly on Microsoft Technologies. Most recently, as a SQL Developer and BI Developer he has been working on a Data Warehousing project. Arshad is an MCSD, MCITP: Business Intelligence, MCITP: Database Developer 2008 and MCITP: Database Administrator 2008 certified and has presented at several technical events including SQL-School. On an educational front, he has an MCA (Master in Computer Applications) and MBA-IT. Disclaimer : I work for Microsoft and help people and businesses make better use of technology to realize their full potential. The opinions mentioned herein are solely mine and do not reflect those of my current employer or previous employers.

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