The information below is our own words. We want to share out own thoughts and experiences with you rather than those of others, and we certainly want to avoid buzz words and sales talk.
Power BI is a tool used for readying data for reporting, and then creating visually interesting and interactive reports and dashboards. It’s a tool for small, medium and large organisations/teams; So whether you’re a one person band, or heading up a mutli-national, Power BI will be allow you to present your data and explore it in ways you’ve probably never done before.
And it doesn’t have to be expensive. Based on pricing at the time of writing, a company/team of 10 people can access most of the features and benefits of Power BI for less than £100 per month.
Most content is created in the Power BI Desktop tool – which as the name suggests in installed on a users/developers desktop or laptop. Data-Sets (which are data cubes) and Reports are created in the Desktop tool. When these are ready to be shared with others, they are usually either published to the Power BI Service (which runs in the Microsoft cloud) or saved to a Power BI Report Server (which is installed on an on-premises server).
Content is published to Workspaces in the Power BI Service and to Folders in Power BI Report Server. Access and user permissions are set and controlled at the Workspace/Folder level.
Dashboards can be created in the Power BI Service. These provide a nice and very mobile friendly summary of one or more reports, and other features such as user alerts can be applied to these. Mobile views can also be added to Reports which means these can be consumed on Mobile devices too.
5 key considerations for Power BI
- Single version of the truth for each functional area/measure
- Consistently developed and intuitive data sets, report and dashboards
- Correct use of connection and data source options supporting data refresh requirements
- Making full and best use of the powerful data analysis expressions DAX
- Logically stored content with correct access and permissions
SQL has a number of different engines including Database, Analysis Services, Integration Services and Reporting Services.
SQL itself usually runs on a server, and is most often accessed through SQL Server Management Studio – an application which can be installed on a users/developers/DBA’s desktop or laptop.
SQL can installed and run on-premises (on a server on an organisations internal network) or can be run in the Microsoft Azure cloud. The cloud option is becoming more and more propular due to the lower set up and maintenance costs and reduced overheads.
The Database engine should be self explanatory, but the others less so perhaps.
- Analysis Services hosts Analysis Services cubes, which can be developed in either tabular or multi-diemsional form
- Integration Service hosts SSIS packages, which extract (from a source), transform and load data (into a target). SSIS packages are often used to load Data Warehouse databases
- Reporting Services hosts SSRS report, or as they are now called Paginated reports. They are now called such because SSRS report are often designed to fit perfectly on a single page, often with a repeating structure – the same table for every customer with each customer on a separate page for example.
5 key considerations for SQL
- On-premises vs Azure
- Best practice and efficient database design
- Tabular or Multidimensional cubes
- Paginated vs other reporting options
- Governance and change control procedures
Office 365 is a suite of Microsoft products, some of which most of us are familiar with – if not completely aware of the powers and capabilities of each. The products include:
Outlook is for accessing emails and calendars, OneDrive for accessing documents and other artefacts stored in the Microsoft cloud, Word, Excel and PowerPoint are everyday tools for most PC users and OneNote is a place to create and store meeting and other notes.
That leave SharePoint and Teams, which will be less familiar to some; However, the Coronavirus outbreak of 2020, and the resulting need to work from home, has thrust Teams into the limelight somewhat.
SharePoint is a web/browser technology and can be used to host an organisations intranet and/or intranet – particularly in the new Modern mode. SharePoint is also a great place to manage and store organisational artefacts, including policies, procedures and project/product documents.
Teams is a tool we can use to work better and more efficiently as (not surprisingly!) a team – whether that be a permanent team or a temporary project team. Teams is a great please to store and access team artefacts, to chat with and call other team members, and to basically access anything (including other tools and apps) that the team uses regularly.
5 key considerations for O365
- How best to use and configure Teams for current and future use
- Where best to store and how best to access Office documents
- How to prevent SharePoint, Teams and OneNote becoming an disorganised & unsearchable free-for-all
- SharePoint classic vs SharePoint modern
- OneDrive vs SharePoint for file storage
We can’t end this page without mentioning giving a specific call out to Excel – its in our name after all. Excel is a fantastic and very versatile tool that can be used for so many things. However, even within the Microsoft product stack Excel is not always the best tool for some things – we still love it though!
One use of Excel we’ve seen is to collate data entered by multiple users across multiple teams. Even within the Microsoft product stack there are better solutions for this. These include using Power Apps, Forms and Power Automate (previously called Flow). These can capture and write data to a back-end database, which reporting tools can then connect to – a quicker, slicker solution with fewer slips and trips along the way.