Balance control with agility in Power BI
We have been comparing features of SharePoint Office 365 Enterprise E4 plans with SharePoint Server Enterprise hosted environments at Fpweb.net. Earlier posts have examined the missing Developer features and the missing IT Pro features in Office 365.
In this post we’ll examine the Business Intelligence capabilities of Office 365 equipped with the Power Business Intelligence (BI) application. I’ll provide a high level overview of its capabilities and discuss some of the differences between Power BI and the BI capabilities of a private cloud at Fpweb.net.
What Is Power BI?
The Business Intelligence offerings in the initial offering of Office 365 was pretty limited. Essentially, it was limited to Excel and its BI features and the ability to view and share workbooks using SharePoint Online.
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced the general availability of Power BI for Office 365. This application for SharePoint extends the BI features of Office 365. There may be an additional cost associated with using this application.
Power BI provides the following capabilities (the following is taken from the Power BI Team blog):
- Quickly create collaborative BI sites – enable anyone to quickly create a collaborative BI site to share workbooks containing data and insights.
- Keep reports up to date with scheduled data refresh – reports that have been saved to the cloud can now connect back to on-premises data sources to refresh the data and stay up to date.
- Manage data queries for the team – share not only workbooks but also the data queries created in Power Query for Excel. Team members can now build and manage data queries for others to use when creating their own reports.
- Maintain a Data Catalog of searchable data – IT departments can now use the Data Catalog feature to make it easier for everyone to find and connect to corporate data by searching for it from within Excel.
- Ask questions of your data in natural language – with the Q&A features people can type questions they have of the data in natural language and the system will interpret the question and present answers in the form of interactive visualizations.
- Stay connected with mobile access to your reports – stay connected from anywhere with new HTML5 support and the Power BI windows app.
Power BI also extends the maximum size for a workbook to 250 MB. A welcomed change from the previous and confining 10 MB limit.
Additionally, the features that Microsoft defines as Self-Service BI in Excel are now all integrated into Excel and Power BI online services. These tools are:
- Power Query – connect to external data
- Power Pivot – create data models
- Power View – create reports
- Power Map – explore and navigate geospatial data
Rather than provide examples of Power BI in action, I suggest you have a look at the Getting Started guide provided by Microsoft. Follow Anna on her data adventure and you’ll see how the BI features of Excel and Power BI can be beneficial.
Although Power BI decreases the gap between SharePoint Online BI capabilities and a private cloud by Fpweb.net, there are still some major differences, both known and unknown. I mention that last bit because on the Power BI for Office 365 Service description page there is a somewhat cryptic and ominous statement: “There may be specific limits to Power BI for Office 365, the details of which will be available in the future.”
Take from that what you will.
On to the known limitations. The following features are all unavailable to SharePoint Online Customers:
- PerformancePoint Services – create interactive dashboards to display key performance indicators and data virtualizations.
- PerformancePoint Services Dashboard Migration – Copy complete dashboards with dependencies.
- Scorecards and Dashboards – Shows at a glance whether performance is on target for one or more KPIs. A dashboard is a collection of views that can include scorecards and other reportrs.
These missing features are important when analyzing data to make sound business decisions. In Microsoft’s own words “PerformancePoint Services in SharePoint Server 2013 is a performance management service that you can use to monitor and analyze your business. By providing flexible, easy-to-use tools for building dashboards, scorecards, and key performance indicators (KPIs), PerformancePoint Services can help individuals across an organization make informed business decisions that align with company-wide objectives and strategy.”
Honestly, these features may be too involved or require more work than benefit for some customers. But for enterprise level customers, PerformancePoint can be a go-to tool for data analysis.
Looking for full functionality? Look again.
Power BI expands on the BI features of SharePoint online and may suffice for some customers. However, for the most robust BI capabilities SharePoint has to offer, you would have to look elsewhere. Large organizations or those organizations who rely on in depth data analysis may find Power BI too limiting. In this case, consider a private cloud at Fpweb.net where you are provided the entire SharePoint 2013 feature set.