How to use Microsoft Power BI for dashboards and more

Power BI brings intuitive data analysis to both the executive level as well as Microsoft Office power users who have a penchant for number crunching, data slicing and dicing, and reporting.

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Microsoft Power BI, short for business intelligence, is a relative newcomer to Microsoft's portfolio of products aimed at business users. Employees can use Power BI to analyze all types of data, such as sales, inventory and customer engagements, to name a few. It comes in three main forms -- Power BI service (the online Software as a Service version), Power BI Desktop (which runs on the Windows desktop) and Power BI for Mobile (for Windows Phone and Windows-based tablets, as well as Android and iOS devices). Information may flow between all three versions, so a report created in Power BI Desktop, for example, can be shared with the Power BI service as well as with Power BI Mobile.

Although many Power BI functions are also available in Microsoft Excel with the add-on Power Pivot, Power Query, Power View and Power Map tools, Power BI is easier to use and more intuitive. It walks you through the steps required to produce dashboards, reports and charts, transform data, create visualizations and run models.

Getting data

With Power BI, you can pull from many different local and cloud data sources, such as your own Excel or CSV files, Microsoft Azure, comScore, Adobe Analytics, Google Analytics, Salesforce, QuickBooks and lots more. The Power BI service main screen lets you choose to open content packs or import or connect to data from files and databases.

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