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Power BI Update

“Power BI is a compelling new offering with advanced collaborative BI capabilities –including mobile cross-platform reporting– to Office 365 SharePoint Online users.    But that’s not all.  Power BI also encompasses new tools in Excel 2013 that support streamlined self-service reporting and analytics.    Find out how you can leverage the hot new self-service BI features coming soon via Office 365 and SharePoint Online!”
Power BII gave a webinar to that point this week from a completely frozen-over Atlanta.  I was very happy to see the attendance.  It reflects some real interest in the Power BI platform and what it offers.  I’m not going to repeat the content of that webinar here because it was recorded!    In fact, our own Taylor Rhyne gives a pretty good overview of it here.
So instead, based on the questions I saw from webinar attendees, I wanted to cover a few high-level points around which there seems to be some confusion:
First, Power BI is not one single tool or feature.  Power BI consists of a set of Excel-based tools and an app available for Office 365 SharePoint Online that can leverage those tools.  The “Power BI” name is more of a branding exercise than a specific entity.  So, on the Excel side, we have the “Power” tools: Power Query, Power Pivot, Power View, and Power Map.  These tools can be used collectively to gather and model data, and then do sophisticated reporting from it.  On the O365 side, we have the Power BI Sites app for SharePoint Online.  It provides collaborative functionality (and more) for the BI artifacts you create with the Excel tools.  The Excel-based tools provide a full self-service BI ecosystem on their own.  And if you own Excel (esp. 2013 Pro Plus, or Office 365 ProPlus), you can take advantage of that for free.  For mid-level to advanced users, these tools can unlock some amazing BI capabilities in Excel.  When you add the Power BI Sites app for SharePoint Online, you can share your data with mobile users, do natural language querying against it, etc.
Second, the cost works out pretty reasonably (IMO).   When it comes to buying Power BI, it’s a per month/per user licensing fee.  Pricing details are available here, but value-wise, you are in the best position if you already have an Office 365 E3 or E4 plan going.  That said, there are plans to accommodate people who are already Office 2013 owners/subscribers, and those who have no Office at all.  But as I mentioned previously, anybody with Excel can take advantage of the “Power” tools — which are either free downloads or come with Excel.  Basically, as I saw Chris Webb point out on his blog, it amounts to about half the cost of Tableau.  Which isn’t bad.  Of course, as Chris also points out, it’s a tough thing to narrow down the cost element like that because the overarching (and largely corporate-level) decision to use Office 365 kind of overshadows it….
Third, you will ideally want to be on Office 2013, or on an Office 365 plan, but Excel 2010 users are not left completely out in the cold.  You can download the Power Pivot for Excel 2010 add-in right here.
And finally, as of this time, during the Power BI preview, Data Gateway Management only works against SQL Server data sources.  This is bound to change over time, but for early adopters trying to build Power Pivot against DB2 and have it refresh on schedule in Power BI, you are jumping the gun just a tad.  🙂

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