Getting to know Microsoft Power BI 

Menlo Technlogies spent this past Tuesday at Microsoft’s San Francisco office with a hands-on deep dive into Power BI, it’s updated features, and their new product Power BI Embedded.  

What is Power BI?

Power BI is a suite of business analytics tools to analyze data and share insights. Power BI dashboards provide a 360-degree view for business users with their most important metrics in one place, updated in real time, and available on all of their devices. With one click, users can explore the data behind their dashboard using intuitive tools that make finding answers easy.

Creating a dashboard is simple thanks to over 50 connections to popular business applications, complete with pre-built dashboards crafted by experts that help you get up and running quickly. And you can access your data and reports from anywhere with the Power BI Mobile apps, which update automatically with any changes to your data.

If you are a data analyst delivering reporting and analytics to your organization, Power BI lets you be productive and creative with what you build. Power BI Desktop is a feature-rich data mashup and report authoring tool. Combine data from disparate databases, files, and web services with visual tools that help you understand and fix data quality and formatting issues automatically. With over 20 built-in visuals and a vibrant community of custom visualizations, create stunning reports that communicate your message effectively. With the Power BI service, publish reports securely to your organization and setup automatic data refresh so everyone has the latest information.

Power BI can unify all of your organization’s data, whether in the cloud or on-premises. Using the Power BI gateways, you can connect SQL Server databases, Analysis Services models, and many other data sources to your same dashboards in Power BI.

What is Power BI Embedded?

Power BI Embedded is a new Azure service that provides fully interactive, stunning, and always-up-to-date data visualizations in customer-facing apps, without requiring the time and expense of having to build them from the ground up.  Developers can choose from Power BI’s out-of-the box visuals, or build custom ones to meet your application’s unique needs:

  • Extend Power BI with content packs and custom visuals. Give your users instant insights with Power BI content packs. Create customized solutions that enable millions of users to analyze your app’s data in seconds from within Power BI.
  • Create custom visual experiences that meet your users’ needs and match your app’s design. Get started quickly with Microsoft’s open-sourced, production-quality visualization code in GitHub.
  • Connect to Power BI through your app. Embedded’s powerful REST APIs enable users to easily pull tiles, dashboards, and reports directly into your app, make changes, and then push data back into Power BI, all without ever leaving your application.

Power BI’s new and updated features

Power BI’s new features focus on 3 things:

  1. Enterprise readiness: Role level security for cloud models means that users can now better understand their overall Power BI usage, and author and manage a single dashboard with customized views of the data unique to individuals.
  1. Deepened integration with Excel: Also now Generally Available is the ability to pin from Excel. This enables access to data what was loaded and modeled in Power PI, and means that insights can be taken directly from the Excel desktop to Power BI Dashboard.
  1. Intelligent data exploration: As part of the new features, in April, a new natural Q & A language interface will also be available to make the service easier to use. New Query capabilities that help users find data and create visuals on the fly can now be used with direct query.

7 reasons Menlo is betting on Power BI:

  1. Power BI is a part of the Microsoft Data Platform that allows you to implement versatile solutions and use Power BI as a presentation layer. You can:
    •  Implement a real-time dashboard from data streams. Azure Stream Analytics and IoT integrates Power BI.
    • Show reports on the desktop from natural questions. Cortana lets you do it by typing questions or voice.
    • Implement smart reports with predicted results. Power BI can integrate with Azure Machine Learning
    • Publish SSRS and Excel reports. Expect this strength to increase as Cortana Analytics Suite and prepackaged solutions evolve.
  2. Power BI Desktop is free, Power BI Mobile apps are free, Power BI Service is mostly free. If you need the Power BI Pro features, Power BI is packaged with the Office 365 E5 plan.
  3. Power BI is a cloud service, allowing Microsoft to push out new features much faster than other Business Intelligence Platforms. Power BI Service is updated on a weekly basis while Power BI Desktop is on a monthly release cadence.
  4. Content packs and Get Data: Basic data analytics needs can be met in Power BI without modeling. For example, if the user is interested in analyzing data from Salesforce, they can use the Salesforce content pack and get predefined reports and dashboards. The use can also create their own reports from the dataset included in the content pack. 
  5. Productivity features:  Power BI has several features that resonate very well with business users. Q&A allows users to ask natural questions, such as “sales last year by country”. Power BI interprets the question and shows the most suitable visualization which the user can change if needed. Within 20 seconds, Quick Insights applies machine learning algorithms that help business users perform root cause analysis and to get insights that aren’t easily discernible by slicing and dicing, such as to find why profit is significantly lower in December.
  6. Data shaping and transformations: Source data is rarely clean. Excel Power Query and Power BI Desktop queries allow the data analysts to perform a variety of basic and advanced data transformations.
  7. Sophisticated data models:  Power BI offers much more advanced modeling experience where a data analyst can build a self-service model on a par with semantic models implemented by BI pros. Powerful programming language – Tableau’s formula language is nowhere near the Data Analysis Expressions (DAX).

Our favorite new feature?

Q&A question box

One way to explore your data is to ask a question and let Power BI Q&A give you an answer, in the form of a visualization. Q&A cannot be used to add content to a report — only to add content, in the form of tiles, to dashboards.

Q&A looks for an answer in the dataset(s) connected to the dashboard.  A connected dataset is one that has at least one tile pinned to that dashboard.


As soon as you start to type your question, Q&A takes you to the Q&A page. As you type, Q&A helps you ask the right question and find the best answer with rephrasings, autofill, suggestions, and more. When you have a visualization (answer) you like, pin it to your dashboard. For more information, see Q&A in Power BI.

Contact Menlo Technologies to learn more about Power BI.