Getting Started with Power BI

Microsoft Power BI is a powerful data modelling and visualisation tool. If you’re a developer taking your first look at Power BI, here are the first 3 steps on your journey from data zero to data hero.

Step 1. Get the developer tools in Microsoft Power BI Desktop

Firstly, you need the right tools. So…

Download and install Microsoft Power BI Desktop. You can either:

1. Install the app from the Microsoft Store if you’re a Windows 10 user

This version will automatically update itself which is super useful as Microsoft release new updates and features almost much every month

*Alternatively, you can download the Power BI Desktop from the Microsoft website and install it in the conventional manner.

[See https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=58494]

3. If you’re a Mac user…

Unfortunately, the Power BI Desktop isn’t available for Mac OS so you’ll need a slightly different solution…

Our favourite option is Microsoft’s ‘Windows 365 Business Cloud PC’. This gives you a remote Windows PC that you can access from any device through a web browser or the Microsoft Remote Desktop client, available for IOS, MacOS and Android.

Alternatively, a virtual machine like Parallels Desktop could work (see https://www.parallels.com/uk/products/desktop). Or you could use a remote desktop to a Windows computer.

No Microsoft licensing required so get experimenting!

The nice thing is, you don’t need a license to use Power BI Desktop – so you can play and experiment without any upfront investment.

Step 2. Connect your data

Of course, every Dashboard needs data, so the next step is to get some.

(How you go about choosing and structuring your data to get valuable answers is a whole other subject – see here – but for this guide, we’ll focus on the practical steps)

The ‘Power’ in Power BI – the ‘Connectors’

Now, the great thing about Power BI is that it connects directly to your data through built-in ‘Connectors’. There are connectors for almost every data source imaginable, available ready to go.

Connecting your first spreadsheet

Let’s face it, every organisation holds some key information in a spreadsheet. So, let’s start with that…

1. Click ‘Get Data’
2. Choose ‘Excel Workbook’
3. Select the file path to your spreadsheet
4. Select the sheet you want and…
5. Voila, you’re connected. All the columns in that spreadsheet are now available to use in your Power BI report

Refresh and automate

Now you’ve made this connection you can refresh your data at the push of a button. And, once you publish a report you can even automate this, so you never have to download and import the data ever again!

Step 3. Create your first visual dashboard

Power BI isn’t just about pretty graphs and visuals but, if you want to get people in your business interested, business data presented in an attractive, easy-to-read manner is a great way to impress.

Experiment with different visuals to find the clearest method

You can play around with the huge range of options that Power BI gives you. Let’s walk through a quick example so you know how to get started…

An example – a simple sales dashboard

We’re going to take our sales data and show it on a bar chart.
1. We pick a bar chart visual from the Visualisations panel here…
2. Then drag the sales figure field into it, like this.

Split your data

We want to show the sales figure split by our different products. Drag your Product Type field into the Legend box… and it’s done.

Then apply a filter

Finally, let’s whittle that down to just show the last full calendar year– drag the *date* field into the Filters tab, pick Relative Date, and state that you only want the last Calendar Year.

In three simple steps, you have for first report for your dashboard

And… you’ve created your first visual – and it’s already far more interesting a spreadsheet arriving in your colleagues’ inbox!

One last tip… Less is (definitely) more!

With Power BI Desktop, you can experiment and learn as you go.

1. Try connecting to different data sources
2. Explore the variety of visualisations
3. Experiment with ways to ‘chop up’ your data…

You’ll be amazed how fast you can pull together a slick report.

With great power comes great responsibility. The best dashboards are easy to understand, simple, devoid of unnecessary noise. When you’re choosing what and how to present your data, discernment and restraint are your watchwords. Don’t get carried away with all the options.

Now go and create!

Remember, Power BI is just a tool – success lies in the execution

Getting the most from Power BI requires quality thinking, a good understanding of what you need to KNOW, a plan for the data – as well as the technical skills to put it all into practice.

Explore your ideas with us, we’re here to help

If you want to explore how you can implement Power BI in a way that adds real value to your organisation, book a 1-hour, free consultation with a Power BI expert here.

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