by Rob Collie

Power BI, Definition #1: An Umbrella Term for all of the Power Tools

Power BI, Definition #1:  An “Umbrella” Term for all of the “Power *” Tools
(Click for Full-Size Version)

An Overdue Treatment

I’ve posted before about Power Pivot vs. Power View and then later I added Power Query and other technologies to the explanation, but I’ve never just straight-on tackled the question of “What is Power BI?”  So let’s get that off the list…

…And clean up my prior visuals while we are at it.  (Can you believe that Power Query doesn’t have an icon/logo yet?  Well, boom – I just gave it one.  You’re welcome, Microsoft – although really it was just from one of the buttons already in PQ.)

Unofficial Definition = “Umbrella Term for the ‘Power *’ Tools”

#1, Power BI is an “umbrella” term that is used to describe all of the various “Power” data tools that Microsoft offers us.  This is NOT the definition that you will typically hear from Microsoft, but colloquially, when someone says “Power BI,” there’s a good chance this is what they mean.

Official Definition = “The Cloud Publish & Manage Service from MS”

But I think Microsoft would say, more officially, that Power BI is their paid cloud service for publishing, sharing, managing, and consuming the results of those tools pictured above.

For instance, Microsoft sales reps today are measured, in part, by their customers’ adoption of precisely that online subscription service.  They are NOT measured by how many of their customers are simply using the “free” desktop tools included in the Power BI “umbrella” term.

So… Why Do You Need a Publish & Manage Service?

Everything you do with Power Pivot and its “Power Cousins” gets saved into a workbook:

Excel Workbooks are the Storage Format for Power Pivot and Power BI

Excel Workbooks are the Storage Format for all of the Power Tools –
So How Do You Share The Workbooks?

Hey, it’s a file!  And email is humanity’s “go-to” method for sharing and publishing files.  So, naturally, that’s where we start.  But…

…Email Sucks as a Delivery Vehicle for Our Awesome Work!

Email is a passable sharing/publishing mechanism for some things, but there are definite drawbacks that become apparent over time:

email delivery of power pivot or power bi workbooks is non ideal

Analogy:  YouTube

I’m going to put on my “grumpy old man hat” (I got it for my 40th birthday this summer!) and take you back to the 1990’s.

Back then, if you wanted to share a video file with someone, it was VERY difficult.  The files were too big for email (usually), but even when you circumvented that obstacle, the person receiving the video had at BEST a 50% chance of being able to view it.  For instance, if the video was produced on a Mac and the viewer only had a PC, they very often had to go track down and install additional software.  Even if it was PC to PC, though, you often lacked the right codec.

So only the most dedicated nerds managed to share video files.  I remember crowding into someone office at Microsoft in the late 90’s to watch The Spirit of Christmas:  Jesus vs. Santa with about five coworkers.  Despite being the underground prequel to the cartoon series South Park, no one outside of technology circles ever saw it.  (And before you ask, no, I am not really a South Park fan, even though I did laugh my ass off at the prequel).

Eventually You Need the Equivalent of YouTube for Your Power Pivot Workbooks

Eventually, You Will Need/Want the Equivalent of YouTube
For Your Power Pivot Workbooks

You see where this is going:  YouTube changed all of that.  No more sending large files.  No more worrying about what the technology installed on the viewers’ desktops.  Video sharing EXPLODED.

Guess what?  Power Pivot / Power BI Workbooks benefit from cloud/server sharing even MORE than video!  Security and hands-free automatic data refresh are NOT things that typically matter for video.  But oh boy, do they matter for reports, dashboards, and data models.

There are few things cooler than uploading a 100 MB workbook and then sending a link to a colleague who can suddenly start interacting with your report/dashboard – clicking slicers etc. – on their iPad, without downloading anything!

Back to the “Official” Definition of Power BI

So, Microsoft wants you to equate “Power BI” with their paid “YouTube for Workbooks” cloud service.  (OK, they would never allow themselves to use a Google property in official communications, but it’s their cloud sharing service that they want you to pay for).  That cloud service is the whole reason why the “Power BI” name even exists.

So is that Power BI service a good thing?  Absolutely, although I am not certain Microsoft is targeting the right crowd with it.  It seems like an awkward fit for large enterprises, which is where MS makes most of its money.  Targeting smaller companies and/or departments within enterprises would yield better results IMO.  (As a side note, PowerPivotPro is not a recognized MS partner/reseller for things like Power BI, because Microsoft’s certifications are still stuck in 2005 and require us to pass tests that are completely irrelevant to today’s landscape.  They will straighten that out eventually.)

Are there alternatives to Power BI?  Absolutely, including installing your own SharePoint servers, but this is a topic for another day.  I’ve been working on a flowchart to help people navigate the transition from email to cloud/server delivery, but it’s not done yet.  Stay tuned.

Fancy Flowchart Preview


Stay Tuned for the FlowChart 🙂