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What Is Power BI? - Everything You Need To Know

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Organizations are capable of better decision-making when employees at all levels use data on a daily basis--not just executives making high-level decisions. As we witness data-driven organizations growing faster than traditional ones in the marketplace, it's clear that the data imperative is greater than ever for companies in every industry.

This is in no doubt largely due to continued economic uncertainty and the increasing pace of business, demanding companies to be more agile and forward thinking, thinking about strategy for both the present and the future. 

To accomplish this, companies need a way to make data accessible and usable to people in every department and at every level of the organization. This guide will cover one of the top tools on the market that companies are using to do it: Microsoft's Power BI.

First, we'll explore what Power BI does and who uses it. Then, we'll dive into features, apps and versions of the software that meet different business needs. Finally, we'll cover the relationship between Power BI and Excel as well as how it integrates with other tools and platforms (such as Vena) to deliver more value.

Key Takeaways:

  • Power BI is comprehensive business intelligence software that enables data-driven decision making across the organization. Its user-friendly interface is designed for all levels of experience.
  • Multiple versions of Power BI and apps within the software are available, offering ample options to meet varied business needs.
  • Power BI is not a replacement for Excel. The tools are most valuable when they're used together.

What Is Power BI?

Power BI is  full-scale business intelligence software that provides business teams and professionals with the tools and capabilities they need to leverage data in their everyday work.

Developed by Microsoft, Power BI has comprehensive integration capabilities with the brand's other products (such as Office 365) as well as important third-party tools (such as our own Vena platform and many leading CRM systems).

Power BI is known for its compelling visualizations that help users translate data into insights that drive business knowledge and strategic action. Its intuitive interface allows for easy internal adoption as it's designed for users at all levels of experience.

Features such as interactive dashboards and business intelligence report templates allow for high levels of shareability that drive collaboration across the business.

What Is Business Intelligence?

To realize the full value of Power BI, it's critical to first understand business intelligence and why it's important for every organization.

By definition, business intelligence is the strategic use of data--analytics, mining, reporting and more--to make decisions. It enables organization-wide data literacy, or the ability to put raw data into context and use it to make decisions.

This is a critical capability for modern businesses. A survey of 1200+ C-level finance and banking executives found that 85% of respondents believe those without data literacy skills are at risk of being left behind in the future workplace.

Business intelligence creates the type of organization that can keep up with today's rapid pace of business. Enabled by software  such as Power BI that has the technology to collect, mine and analyze vast amounts of data, companies can maintain real-time views of their data and a shared, single source of truth to drive strategy.

Why Use Power BI? What Are the Benefits?

Power BI is far from the only business intelligence tool, but it is the most popular choice. It owns more than a third of the current market on BI tools and rated the clear leader by Gartner in its most recent Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms.

What sets Power BI apart from the pack is their hyperfocus on the user experience, which allows for the platform to be seamlessly implemented, shortens time to value and makes it easy for employees to start using Power BI in meaningful ways without extensive training.

When you're using Power BI, you can:

  • Save time by making direct queries on oversized datasets
  • Use machine learning to make predictions and detect trends
  • Automate KPI tracking with update notifications and alerts
  • Build personalized BI dashboards to pull insights from multiple sources
  • Benefit from high-end processing power and up-to-date algorithms

Integrating Power BI with other platforms maximizes the ROI you'll get from using the software. Vena's Power BI Connector, for example, helps finance teams to enhance their core FP&A processes with visual data analytics and interactive reporting by integrating with Vena and other business critical databases. While Vena with Power BI Embedded enables connected decision making and shared insights at every level of the business (vs. siloed attempts to leverage data by individuals or teams).

Who Uses Power BI?

One of the ways Power BI is so valuable is that it's built for a wide range of purposes and functions. From operations to marketing to finance to senior leadership, Power BI can be customized to deliver the exact insights needed in any particular role.

For example, if you're a financial analyst, you might use Power BI to run a variety of reports and analyze predictive insights to set goals. If you're an operations manager, you might use the platform to monitor productivity KPIs and look for ways to improve. Sales managers might use the software to track sales rep performance and progress toward annual quotas. Executives might use it to track high-level metrics and gain a holistic view of the company.

The point is that Power BI is designed flexibly to meet the needs of the individual. It means employees in vastly different roles within your organization can all get the same value from Power BI by tailoring the experience around their own work.

What Components Make Up Power BI? 

One of the ways you can customize your experience with Power BI is with apps--packaged content that makes it easier to share data and collaborate on the platform. Apps can pull multiple dashboards, spreadsheets, reports, visualizations and data sets into one place so you can access everything you need in a single workspace.

Commonly used Power BI apps include:

Power Query 

This no-code data preparation tool allows you to access data from hundreds of different sources and manipulate it to meet the needs of your role or project. There are more than 300 AI-based transformations in the Power Query tool that can be used to shape data.

Power Pivot

Power Pivot is an Excel add-in you can use to combine large volumes of data from multiple sources, analyze the data and create advanced data models that can be directly imported to Power BI. 

Pivot works seamlessly with Excel, but its data analysis capabilities are more sophisticated. They include:

  • Renaming columns and tables while importing data
  • Tables organized by individual tabbed pages
  • Advanced formula writing with Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) language
  • Defining hierarchies and perspectives for better control of data view
  • Create KPIs to use in PivotTables and reports

Power View 

Power View was formerly available in Microsoft 365 and Excel, but is now an exclusive Power BI feature. This data visualization app enables you to make data compelling with interactive charts, graphs, maps and other visuals.

Power Map

Power Map is a 3D visualization tool you can use to plot data on a map and track changes over time and/or create visual tours. The Map app integrates directly with Bing maps--Bing is sent the geo data it needs and Bing encodes it to create the map visualization.

Power Q&A

Power Q&A uses natural language technology to deliver data to you based on specific inquiries. For example, in the video below, it delivers a graph based on a user inquiry for "products by manufacturer."


The Power Q&A app allows you to get to the data you need more quickly by asking for it directly (rather than having to filter or build a report or visual yourself).

What Versions of Power BI Are Available?

There are several versions of Power BI users can choose from to suit their usability and budget needs. They include:

  • Desktop -- Free version of Power BI that can be installed on your own computer.
  • Service -- Full version of Power BI hosted in the cloud on Azure.
  • Pro -- Has the same features as Desktop, but allows for sharing with others who also have a Pro license.
  • Premium -- An alternative way to access Power BI by paying for space and processing capacity rather than licenses. This version is designed for enterprise-level businesses.
  • Mobile -- Mobile app designed for use on Windows, iOS and Android devices.
  • Embedded -- Allows software vendors to embed Power BI functionality into their own apps.
  • Report Server -- On-premise server that comes with Power BI Premium.

Is Power BI a Replacement for Excel?

Power BI is not meant to replace Excel for businesses, but rather to enhance it. In fact, you can use both tools in complementary ways to increase efficiency, improve data insights and power collaboration across your teams. 

While Excel is a powerful tool for manipulating and analyzing data in different ways, Power BI is unquestionably the best tool for turning data into compelling, visual, shareable insights.

Fortunately, the two tools integrate easily so you can access benefits such as:

  • Transferring Excel data to Power BI to create visual, interactive dashboards
  • Viewing multiple Excel workbooks in a single Power BI interface
  • Connecting Excel data models to Power BI to create visuals and reports

How Can Finance Teams Benefit From Power BI?

Today's economic landscape is faster paced than ever, unpredictable and always changing --and finance teams are leading the way in helping their companies navigate it. As a finance leader, you need a way to be proactive about making decisions, with the right tools to not only make real-time decisions, but also to see what's next on the horizon.

For Vena users, Power BI enables new levels of business intelligence that power better strategic decisions, drive operational alignment and help future-proof your planning with powerful data insights. 

Supercharge Your Visual Analytics Strategies With Vena and Power BI Embedded

Vena's Complete Planning Platform with Power BI Embedded gives you the capabilities and tools you need to run a smart, agile and resilient business. Request a Demo of Vena today to explore firsthand how we can help you optimize your data strategy.

Did you find this Power BI overview helpful? If so, you'll also enjoy this related content:

Learn More About Vena's Power BI Connector

Optimize your data strategy by adopting tools that give you sophisticated, real-time insights. Vena Complete Planning with Power BI Embedded future-proofs your planning with powerful data capabilities.

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About the Author

Nicole Diceman, Director, Product Marketing, Vena

Nicole Diceman is Director, Product Marketing at Vena. With a proven track record of driving product strategy and direction, she is heavily involved in driving new product ideas and development efforts and is closely aligned with customer needs and requirements. With her extensive knowledge and experience in product marketing, FP&A and the Vena platform itself, Nicole is a regular contributor to the Vena blog and often speaks at virtual and in-person events to share her ideas. A powerful advocate for product marketing innovation, Nicole is always on the lookout for creative new ways to bring additional value to Vena customers.

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