Power BI 1: Self-Service BI in the cloud

This is the first post in a series on Power BI that I have planned for some time. The most important reason for delaying it has been the constant change and rapid amendments of functionalities to the authoring tools from Microsoft’s side. This first post is a high-level introduction to Power BI. Later on in upcoming posts we will dig deeper into specific topics that are only briefly mentioned here.

What is Power BI?

If I use the strict definition, then Power BI is a self-service intelligence service in the cloud in the form of a specialized site in Office 365.  In a broader sense many will also include the Office tools needed to create the reports as part of the definition. Using familiar everyday applications like Excel and Office 365 you can search, discover, model, analyze, visualize and share information and insights based on merged data both from the outside world and from within your own organization.  People can view highly interactive reports based on tables, graphs and 3D maps, query them using a natural’ish language, collaborate with others on them and access them from wherever they may be located as long as they have an Internet connection.

Reports that you create in Excel can be uploaded to the Power BI site in Office 365 and shared with others in your organization.  One great thing with this new site is the possibility to view the reports using the same interactivity in the browser that you created using PowerView and Excel without any particular drop in performance. Another nice feature is the ability to highlight specific reports as favourites and make them stand out on the site.


Currently, Power BI is available as an online service in Office 365 in three plans:

  • A standalone service for existing users of Office 365 ProPlus or Office 2013 Professional Plus.
  • A standalone plan that includes Office 365 ProPlus.
  • An add-on for existing Office 365 E3 and E4 Subscriptions.

Like the rest of Office 365, all plans listed above are priced on a monthly subscription basis.

Power BI Authoring Tools

One great aspect of Power BI is the fact that you really don’t need to learn anything new in order to start creating models and reports for your Power BI site. You can utilize your existing Excel skills and the following add-ons:

  • PowerPivot:  PowerPivot for Excel provides similar data model authoring capabilities as tabular data modelling tools available in SQL Server Analysis Services. You can upload Excel workbooks containing PowerPivot data models to Power BI for Office 365.
  • Power Query: Power Query is an Excel add-in that makes it easier to search and find data in multiple Sources tangin from flat files, data bases, Hadoop clusters and even Facebook. Power Query also includes graphical tools to define queries that shape and transform the data according to your requirements.  When completed building your query you can save it for other users to reuse.
  • Power View: Power View is a data visualization tool where users can create dynamic and interactive graphical representations of data in Excel workbooks and PowerPivot data models and share them with others on the Power BI site.
  • Power Map: Power Map visualizes your data model on a 3D map, giving lots of opportunities for data Insights from different perspectives as data values change over time.
  • Q&A: Power BI Q&A is a feature on the Power BI site that makes it possible to query your published workbooks using a human language. The Foundation for a great Query experience is laid in proper modelling of your data in PowerPivot.

Power BI Sites

At the very heart of the Power BI offering is the Power BI Site. This is a SharePoint Online site that is tailored to provide enhanced views of Excel workbooks residing in SharePoint document libraries. If you delete the workbook from your Power BI site, you also delete it from the associated document library.

Self-Service BI

Power BI Site displaying featured Excel reports at the top


An Excel workbook stored in a Power BI site can have a maximum size of 250 mb. The reason for this is that workbooks containing PowerPivot models can be larger than ordinary Excel spreadsheets.  A workbook without a data model can have a Maximum size of 10 mb in order to be displayed in Excel Online.

Power BI Reports

Uploaded workbooks are displayed as thumbnail images and can be opened and viewed using Excel Online. You can also mark a report as featured which means it will be displayed at the top of the Power BI site, making it more prominent and easier to promote.

In addition, you can add a report as a favourite, making it easy accessible by using the link at the top of the Power BI site.

The Power BI Windows Store App

There is also a mobile client app for Windows 8 and Windows RT available in Windows Store, enabling users to connect to their Power BI sites and view content from the workbooks, shared in Power BI.

When you open the report in the app, each sheet in the workbook will be shown in its own page. You can then view charts, tables, Pivot tables and Power View visualizations that you can interact with in the same fashion as you would do on the parent Power BI site.  You can also look up specific reports easier by marking them as favourites.

Self-Service BI

Power BI Windows Store App



Power BI as Microsoft’s self-service BI offering complements the bigger enterprise BI solutions that have traditionally taken the main bulk of an organization’s BI resources. With the emerge of new tools like Power Query, Power View and the new Power BI for Office 365 site, information workers can make use of their existing skills to create and share customized reports with accurate data models and stunning interactivity.

In the next post in this series I will do a deep dive into PowerPivot and create data models that will make your internal SSAS expert sleepless.  Until then, enjoy publishing and sharing your Excel reports!

About Bjoern:

Hello, I’m Bjoern H Rapp. I have been working with SharePoint mainly as a developer and architect since 2009, but my programming career goes as far back as 1999 working with languages and tools like Java, C++, .NET and Oracle. I’m also a former Air Force officer.

Self-Service BI by Bjoern H Rapp

Bjoern H Rapp

Currently I work for Steria AS in Oslo, a small but highly competitive consulting house focusing on delivering solutions based on SharePoint (including O365) and MS Dynamics CRM. My focus is on development and creating business value for my customers. I love working with apps in SharePoint 2013 and I also regard myself a specialist in the workflow department. I also love working with jQuery and all the new features that HTML5 provides.

I’m an active SharePoint Community player. Last year I received the Microsoft Community Contributor Award (MCC) for supporting the SharePoing Community on the MSDN Forums and Technet. I’m also a moderator on the MSDN SharePoint forums and I have written a number of technical articles for Technet.  In February 2013 I was awarded the top Norwegian SharePoint influencer at the European SharePoint Conference.

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