How Power BI is cutting data modelling, visual analytics costs for businesses

Issued by Cloud Essentials
Johannesburg, Oct 29, 2018

One of the most enjoyable parts of our work here at Cloud Essentials is helping our clients get full functionality from their Microsoft Office 365 and Azure licences. We're constantly astounded by the number of organisations paying top dollar to third-party providers for tools and services they already have built into their Microsoft subscriptions.

Business intelligence and visual analytics tools are a great example, which have been coming up more and more frequently in client discussions. We work with a lot of organisations who are migrating workloads to Microsoft Azure, and yet very few of them have considered how that transition could be leveraged to cut costs (and gain functionality) from a BI perspective.

Microsoft Power BI

If you work in the BI space, chances are you've heard of Power BI, Microsoft's self-service analytics and dashboarding tool. What you may not have heard is that Power BI Pro is included in the Microsoft Office 365 Enterprise E5 licence.

That's right, if you're on an Office 365 E5 licence, you already have a powerful BI and visual analytics tool at your disposal... so why are you still paying for a (probably expensive) third-party solution?

Power(BI)ful benefits

One of the biggest hurdles for Power BI adoption tends to be the strong feelings of organisation analytics/modelling teams. Once a Qlik-er (for example), always a Qlik-er, seems to be a common theme. Contrary to what those teams might believe, however, Power BI has some powerful benefits that make it a real contender in the space.


We've already established that cost is a big benefit for Power BI users; it's tough to beat "free" as a price point. Even businesses on lower-tier Microsoft licences can subscribe to Power BI Pro for $9.99 per user (dramatically less than most third-party alternatives) and Power BI Desktop is free for anyone to use.


As we all know, affordability and functionality don't always go hand-in-hand when it comes to software. Thankfully, in the case of Power BI, they're not mutually exclusive. In fact, Power BI's integration into the greater Microsoft environment offers some very useful value-adds that other services can't deliver.

These include:

* AI and computer learning via Microsoft Azure; * Direct Query to Azure-based resources (eg, Azure SQL Server or Analysis Services); * Live update and/or data ingestion capabilities using Azure Stream Analytics; * Easy integration into project management and collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams; and * Simple internal and external sharing, no need to provision servers, Web servers or DMZs.

Ongoing development

One of the more common concerns we hear from analysts is whether Power BI can match the functionality they're used to from their existing dashboarding solutions. In typical Microsoft style, this may have been an issue early in the product's release, but constant improvement has rapidly closed the gaps.

In fact, with their monthly release cycle for Power BI (as opposed to competitors' typically biannual updates), we expect to see Microsoft surpassing other solutions in the same space very soon.

Potential challenges

It's important to acknowledge that every solution has its challenges, and Power BI is no exception. It is, however, exceptional for its unusually user-friendly and intuitive interfaces that make it easier to get to grips with than a lot of its competitors.

Challenges common to all BI and visual analytics platforms

Getting usable insights out of business data is an intricate process, no matter what tool suite you choose to use. BI and dashboarding is an art that takes some experience to completely master. These are a few of the common challenges that are par for the course:

* Accurately cleansing, formatting and normalising data for ingestion can be fiddly and time-consuming; * Mapping and relating data in logical ways to build trustworthy and useful data sets often requires iterative processes; and * Creating dashboards that leverage those data sets to provide the desired insights at a glance takes some practice.

No solution removes these challenges completely, but Power BI does make it easier than some.

Cloud Essentials can also do the heavy lifting for you, so you can skip the data-wrangling challenges and dive straight into the insights. Find out more.

Challenges migrating from another platform to Power BI

Swapping from a third-party BI and visual analytics platform to Power BI has challenges as well, it's not always as simple as flipping a switch and enjoying the cost savings. Change management is important, particularly if your current solution is deeply entrenched in your processes and environment.

Possible migration challenges include:

* User adoption: no matter how intuitive Power BI is, old habits are hard to break, and users often need a bit of retraining to embrace their new tools. (Ask us about our customisable training programmes and cloud workshops.) * Matching existing outputs on a 1:1 basis: different dashboard tools have different functionality and you may need to use different methods to achieve the same results.

Benefits of using a Power BI deployment partner

While Power BI deployments are possible to DIY, particularly if you have an experienced data analytics/modelling team, it's often faster and smoother to use a partner like Cloud Essentials to do the heavy lifting and environment set-up for you.

Areas in which we can be particularly useful include:

* Deploying Power BI as part of bigger changes like Office 365 and/or Azure migrations; * Integrating Power BI into an existing Office 365 and/or Azure environment; * Doing data and dashboard preparation in sensitive, complicated or time-pressured situations, including: - Cleaning and preparing data for ingestion; - Relating data accurately and ensuring data model integrity for trustworthy insights; and - Building intuitive dashboards to provide at-a-glance insights with detailed drill-down potential.

To find out more about leveraging your Office 365 licensing for cost-effective and powerful data modelling and analytics, get in touch with the Cloud Essentials team.