Microsoft Power BI Pros and Cons
Data visualization and data science are hot topics in businesses across America. Every company wants to turn data into a meaningful tableau of information. Power BI from Microsoft is a free or low-cost tool that many companies and individuals are turning to. You can also check out the Pros and Cons of Tableau. You may also want to see How Power Compares to Data Studio.
What are the pros and cons of Power BI?
First, let’s look at some pros. As mentioned, Power BI is inexpensive. It is free to use if you want to build reports for yourself. One person could create datasets, dashboards, and reports in Power BI and give the Power BI files to co-workers to use for their analysis. Each person would have their own version of Power BI and would need to maintain the data and reports independently. If everyone in a group needs to share the same reports and data, Microsoft offers cloud or on-premise hosting. There is a small fee per user for this but it is relatively inexpensive.
Power BI Desktop–$0.00
Power BI Cloud Service –$9.99 Monthly
Tableau Cloud Service –$35 Monthly
PRO: Learning Curve
Second, Power BI is easy to use. It’s basically Excel pivot tables with Excel’s data visualization tools taken to the next level. Once you get data into a Power BI dataset, making charts, graphs, and tables that make sense of the data is not that complex. Anyone with average Excel skills can figure it out. Power BI reports can have slicers to focus reports on data from a specific timeframe or data that meets certain criteria. One report can compare sales by a person for one product line for the last month and then, with a few clicks, show sales by month to one customer. I think you can become a power user in six months or less. Check out Power BI for Data Science Online Class. This is an affiliate link in which I do receive a small commission that supports the website.
PRO: Constant Updates and Innovations
The third pro on the list of pros and cons is frequent updates. Microsoft releases updates to Power BI monthly. Plus, and more importantly, Microsoft listens to the user community. It is easy to submit suggestions for improvements. People can rank the suggestions as well, making it more likely that common requests make it into the next release. Updating is also effortless. When you open Power BI, it will notify you if there is a pending update. Just click the link to download and install the latest version. You check out the Power BI Blog
PRO: Data Sources
Next, Power BI connects to hundreds of data sources. Power BI can read data from Microsoft Excel and text files like XML and JSON. Power BI connects to SQL servers and other databases. It can read data stored in the cloud, from Azure sources, and from online services like Google Analytics and Facebook. Data can be pulled from one or more sources and stored in datasets for offline analysis. Alternately, direct queries can pull data in real-time to provide up to the second views. Microsoft is adding more sources. Chances are, if Power BI can see the data source, it can read it in.
PRO: Excel Integration
Another nice feature of Power BI is the ability to save data to Excel. No matter how great a data visualization tool is, people still want to put the data in Excel to do their own analysis. Power BI makes this extremely easy. First, one uses the slicer tools in a report to focus on a specific set of data. For example, all manufacturing data at one plant for the past three months. Then, a few simple clicks open a dialog box to save the data in Excel. You can now open Excel and see the raw data behind the visualization.
Power BI can be used on multiple devices. It is a web-based tool and can be accessed from any browser. There is a desktop version that can be used off-line to develop visualizations and analyze data. There are versions of Power BI that run on mobile devices. Managers can see how their team or business is running anytime from anywhere.
PRO: Custom Visualizations
Finally, when it comes to creating that tableau of information mentioned earlier, Power BI is chock full of tools, and widgets that make the data come alive. Visualization helps turn data science into business decisions. Just like Excel, Power BI has many types of graphs and charts. In addition, data can be transformed into information using geographic maps or by displaying data in gauges. There is a KPI visualization and one called “R script visualization” (presumably for data science applications). One report can have multiple visualizations. Reports have title boxes and cards to enhance the experience. Slicers can affect all reports in a dashboard or only one report. One can click on data to drill down to a more detailed report. All of this makes Power BI a powerful data analytics tool.
Update: Microsoft has instituted in their preview features a Python Visual Integration. This is a great addition that will not only allow you access to the visual gallery such as Seaborn and Matplotlib. You can also use packages to preprocess data.
CONS: The User Interface:
Power Bi has a very bulky user interface. The side par and formula help windows can often block the view of vital. Making scrolling dashboard can require some effort but it would be nice if this was a native feature.
CONS: Rigid Formulas
Power BI does have some shortcomings. It does allow you to create new data with formulas but there are limitations. Also, there is a concatenate statement but it only combines two elements. If you want to combine multiple elements, you need to nest the concatenate statements. Once reports move beyond simple visualizations, Power BI gets more difficult to work with. The DAX language is not the most flexible of languages but it does allow you to have a multitude of custom calculations. However, the outcome of these cant always be translated well visually
CONS: Data Handling Capacity for Free Versions
Another con is the ability to work with huge amounts of data. Power BI has a limit on the amount of data it can ingest. (I think is about 2GB). After the data hit the limit, you have to upgrade to the paid version of Power BI. Also, ingesting millions of rows of data takes a long time. This is not necessarily Power BI’s problem but it can be frustrating if you are making datasets with huge amounts of data. The free version also will sample data will exporting it in large amounts.
Update: Microsoft has a beta version of composite models that allow many to many relationships in Power BI.
CONS: Visuals Configurability
Although the native visuals and to a large part the custom visuals are not configurable. There is often a desire to optimize a visual but there are limitations in what can actually be changed.
CONS: Table Relationships
Finally, Power BI is fairly rigid in how it handles relationships between tables. It does not like it when there are two ways to join a pair of tables. In some cases, you have to make unique fields in tables specifically for the purpose of joining tables together. Ideally, Power BI would let you choose multiple fields from a table to join it to another table.
Overall, Power BI is a great tool for doing data analysis. The pros outweigh the cons. Anyone who does pivot tables, charts, and simple formulas in Excel can start using Power BI to quickly turn data into information.