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Power BI Suites - Which One Do I Use?

I'm presuming you've seen the god-like feature set of Power BI.  I reckon you've probably even opened up browser edition and had a quick play.  Then you've come to the realisation that yeah it is just as awesome as that presenter advised!  But how does it fit together with the rest of the Office 365 suite, and why are there so many different ways to use it!?

Here's a quick historical view of the product and a brief introduction into the pros/cons of each option to help you choose a path based on what your business requirements are.  Truth is, you'll probably want all options available to you, however each new solution might require a certain platform.

If you take ANYTHING away from this post, remember there are three ways you can use the Power BI suite:  Excel Add-Ins, Power BI Online App, Power BI Desktop App...

Excel Power BI Suite (PowerPivot, PowerQuery, PowerMap, PowerView)

Before Power BI became an entity of its own, it was initially birthed as separate add-on's to Excel.  The add-ons are explained in detail below:
  • PowerPivot allowed users to easily pivot millions of rows of data in excel without delays
  • PowerQuery was then introduced to gave users a powerful tool to manipulate & relate data in a repeatable way.  This meant after spending hours cleaning up a dataset, you could now refresh data from a Data Source and it would automatically run the cleanup/washing steps that you had previously performed.  Saving the user having to wash the data every time you needed the latest information.  Power Query also lets your search the internet for public datasets and connect them up with your own private data.
  • PowerMap allowed you display your data on a map.  geographical representing your information
  • PowerView adds additional ways to visualise & interact with your data.  You can even record your interactions for time-based visualisations!

When should I use the Excels Power BI Suite?
  • If you need to display reports in a SharePoint environment, then using excel and displaying on a SharePoint page through an Excel Web Part is the only method at this point.  Currently, Power BI Reports cannot be displayed outside the Power BI platform.
  • If your organisation doesn't have Office 365

Power BI Online Application

This is where Power BI really shines.  If you already have Office365 then you can sign up to the online version of Power BI here:

Easily pull in existing datasets from On Premises or the cloud.  Create reports & dashboards using a plethora of ways to display the data.  Share your results to anyone within your organisation.

When should I use the Power BI Online?
If you already have clean datasets you can easily use and connect to, then use the online edition.  You can't manipulate or wash data so if you need clean your data first then read on.  If you would like to use pre-developed dashboards connected to popular services like Google Analytics, Dynamics CRM, Bing Search, then that can also be done using the Online version.

Power BI Desktop Application

For me, most of my work is done in the Desktop Application.  It is where you go if you need to do some serious development & manipulation of Data & Visualisations.  This is where the Super-User/Data Analyst would spend most of their time.  After you've done the hard work in the Desktop Application, you can still publish the end-result up to the cloud for sharing within the organisation.

When should I use the Power BI Desktop?

  • If you need to be able to wash/manipulate & build relationships on your data before building a nice functional dataset. 
  • If you would like to use some of the custom open-source visualisations available online
  • If you want to use all the features available

Other Consideration (Free or Pro)

Now you know which application to use there's the question of whether you require the features that come with Power BI Pro, or whether you can achieve what you need with the free version.  Below is a feature comparison between the two options (


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