As with many Microsoft products, naming conventions make finding the best solution a challenge. Power BI Desktop is no exception. The product was first released in 2014 as part of SQL. Less than a year later, Power BI was released as a stand-alone product. In 2018, Power BI became part of Microsoft’s Power Platform, and the stand-alone solution was renamed Power BI Desktop.
Power BI Desktop is a business intelligence (BI) solution that includes the following five components:
- Power Query.
- Power Pivot.
- Power View.
- Power Map.
- Power Q&A.
With these five applications, users can connect to multiple data sources to extract business insights. The tools allow non-technical individuals to display results on a dashboard or in a report.
Because data exists in various formats such as CSV or RTF files, the information must be converted into a standard form for analysis. Power Query is the tool within Power BI Desktop that connects to different data sources. Power Query extracts the required data and converts it into a shared format that other Power BI tools access.
Users do not need programming skills to set up a single source of truth for data processing. With Power Query, users can:
- Connect to data sources. Users identify the data to be extracted from each data source.
- Merge tables. Large databases can become unwieldy. Power Query combines smaller tables for faster processing.
- Update tables. Source data may be updated at regular intervals and that requires that Power BI databases be updated with the latest information.
- Automate updates. Rather than manually update all data, users can let Power Query record their keystrokes. When it’s time for data updates, Power Query can execute the recorded commands.
Power Query provides the first step in data analytics. It collects data from designated sources, standardizes formats, and creates a single source of truth.
Although Power Pivot can import data from various databases, its primary use is data modeling. It is designed to compress data for faster calculations and complex data analysis. Users can realize Power Pivot’s full capabilities when they:
- Use Power Query to create a single source for Power Pivot to access for comprehensive analysis.
- Link tables to create a Data Model for faster report building.
- Add calculations using Power Pivot internal programming language.
Power Pivot has no restrictions on table size and compresses data for modeling. These capabilities enable non-technical users to deliver powerful insights without involving data analysts or programmers.
Power Query and Power Pivot may be the workhorses of Power BI, but Power View makes the information come alive. It is the tool that allows users to turn their insights into stunning charts, graphs, and other visuals.
Power View offers visualizations to display on dashboards, use in presentations, or include in reports. Among the supported charts and graphs are:
With Power View, pie charts can be interactive. Pie slices can be subdivided, so viewers can drill down to see more details. They can be linked to other charts. For example, display a pie and column chart on the dashboard. When a column is selected, the corresponding slice of the pie can be highlighted.
Bar charts simplify displaying numerous data points. The data can be grouped into categories and compared. Bar charts can be stacked or clustered and linked to other visuals for more information.
Line charts can show the rise and fall of data over time. For example, line charts can show the number of incoming calls per week for three months. Adding more lines that track outgoing calls or hold times for the same period can provide insights for call centers. The visual display is easier to see than columns of numbers on a report.
Power View lets you display table rows as a series of index cards. The view allows key fields to be highlighted for greater visibility.
Power Map is a tool for displaying data on maps taken from Bing. The application supports four map types:
- Basic. Use basic maps to show locations related to data points such as the number of visitors to each National Park.
- Filled. As the name implies, filled maps shade specific areas on a map with different colors to show different data points
- ArcGIS. These maps rely on the geographic information system to display advanced information about locations such as traffic clusters or heat signatures.
- Shape. Information may not follow geopolitical boundaries. This may require creating shapes on a map to accurately reflect the data.
The built-in capability that Power Map provides makes it easier to display location-based insights.
Getting answers from databases doesn’t mean writing SQL queries or coding lengthy calculations. With Power Q&A, users can just ask questions using natural language. Power BI will use its toolbox to provide answers that can be turned into dashboard visuals or shared reports.