How to Use Power BI: A Beginner's Guide to Data Visualization
by Christian Ofori-Boateng on Oct 1, 2023 12:45:00 AM
Power BI is a storytelling tool. It bridges the gap between raw data and enhanced visuals to explain concepts to colleagues.
Data visualization is essential in corporate analysis and decision-making. Pie and bar charts, maps, gauges, funnels, and other representations are vital for proper understanding. Everyone from C-suite executives to analysts can evaluate them and use them to make decisions.
But how does Power BI work? This post explains. We explore how to get started with the visualization tool and present a step-by-step guide for beginners. We then explore some essential tips and tricks to use Power BI like a pro before covering more advantages, techniques, and best practices.
Power BI 101: Getting Started with Microsoft's Data Visualization Tool
Power BI is a Microsoft tool that, as discussed, makes it easier to make fast and informed decisions based on data. Several licensing options are available, each with various features. These include:
- Desktop (free)
Which you choose depends on your business’s requirements. The free version provides standard features, including the ability to export reports to PowerPoint, Excel, and PDF, store data in the cloud, and clean and prep data with various modeling tools. However, you don’t get app workspaces (for collaboration with colleagues), API embedding, or email subscriptions. You also can’t share created reports easily.
Power BI Pro remedies these issues. It licenses per individual user. As such, you pay each user’s subscription to continue using your accounts.
Power BI Premium is a high-capacity version of Power BI Pro. Formerly, it only charged by capacity per month, but now it also allows per-user per-month pricing for enterprise-level clients.
You can sign up for Power BI by following Microsoft’s help page instructions. Signing up involves acquiring a license to use the software. If you work for an enterprise, you may already have a Power BI license as part of your Office 365 subscription.
This service enables you to share data visualizations via the cloud.
To do this:
- Go to the Power BI Report advanced download options page and select the version you require, either PBIDesktopRS.msi (the 32-bit version) or PBIDesktopRS_x64.msi (the 64-bit version), depending on your PC.
- Download the Power BI Desktop Setup Wizard and follow the instructions.
- Click Start Power BI Desktop now when the installation finishes.
Step-by-Step Guide to Using Power BI Desktop for Beginners
You are ready to start once you have Power BI on your system. Here’s how to use the basic features.
To import data:
In Power BI, click Get Data.
- Navigate to the Import or Connect to Data panel on the Get Data tab and click Get under files.
- On the next screen, click the location of your file, either saved on your computer, on your business or personal OneDrive, or via SharePoint.
- Clicking Local File, choose the type of file you want to import or upload by clicking Import or Upload. Importing will connect data in your workbook, allowing you to create Power BI reports via the dashboard while uploading your files will let you interact with them in Power BI, just as you would in the native app.
- View the message Your file has been imported, or Your file has been uploaded for confirmation.
Once you download Power BI onto your desktop, you can install the Power BI Report Server. To do this:
- Click Get Data and then Analysis Services
- Fill in the Server and optional Database fields
- Choose the location to save your report.
As you will see, you have various data import options. Power BI uses all of them in the same way as the basis for subsequent analysis.
Building Your First Report
The fun part is building your report using the available data. Power BI provides numerous options for this purpose, so choose the visualization that best fits your requirements.
To build a report:
- Open Power BI and click Visualizations
- Select the visualization you want, for example, Funnel Chart
- View the various quantities in the fields from your imported data. You can select to drag and drop these into the Values tab on the left-hand side. If values are not numeric, Power BI will automatically create a Count of the value.
- Drag values onto the Group tab if you want them to appear together in your report.
- Power BI will produce an adjacent visualization of your data in real time. Adjust values and groups until you express your information in the desired format.
- If you have a report server activated, save your report by going to File >> Save as >> Power BI Report Server. Other users can now view the report via the shared web portal.
To make report distribution easier, you can connect your output to a report scheduler. These tools automatically send reports to relevant stakeholders according to your timetable.
Data modeling in Power BI offers numerous benefits, including creating a shared structure for your team to collaborate on data, reducing errors, and increasing data retrieval speed.
The idea behind data modeling is to describe the data and the relationships that exist between it. As such, modeling can help your business better understand its data requirements.
Various forms of data modeling exist.
- Conceptual data modeling
Conceptual data modeling is about defining the overarching structure of business data. Enterprises use this tool to categorize and label data according to its purpose. For instance, you might have one data bucket for users, another for employees, and a final one for product data. These characteristics are part of your data model.
- Logical data modeling
Logical data modeling refers to building specific attributes of data in each category and the relationships between them. For example, you might track how customer A likes to buy service B from worker C. Logical data modeling is the most technical. Data engineers and architects use it to decide what type of physical model your business requires.
- Physical data modeling
Physical data modeling takes the abstract logical data model and maps it into specific tools and storage systems. Engineers attempt to match the theory with various data connectors that serve information in a practical, feasible way. When choosing a data modeling approach, pick one that is intuitive. Ensure that your regular colleagues and users can understand it for everyday visualization. Also, consider the performance of the modeling in terms of speed and efficiency. Creating obscure models that clash with the underlying hardware could slow access speed and regular analytics.
Data modeling involves the relationship between multiple tables. You can see these relationships by clicking Model View in Power BI. The flow chart displays what Power BI believes is the relationship between tables. If the program does not detect conflicts, it shows the relationship as a solid line from the originating table to the output table. By contrast, conflicting relationships have a dashed line.
You can change these relationships using the editor. The tool will automatically tell you whether the system of relationships between all tables is valid or if you need to return to your data tables to resolve conflicting values. You can change data mappings and relationships between tables as you see fit by clicking on the relationships and editing the relevant values.
Creating Interactive Dashboards
Interactive dashboards make it easier for users to drill down into the data and gain further insights. Because of this, they facilitate collaborations. Colleagues can use them to work together more seamlessly.
Various interactive dashboard types exist in Power BI. These include interactive dashboards, paginated dashboards, KPI dashboards, and scorecards. The one you choose depends on your data visualization requirements. This section will focus on interactive dashboards, which are best for exploring data and identifying trends.
To create an interactive dashboard:
- Connect your data source (as described above)
- Open the relevant report
- Select More Options (...) from the top toolbar and click Edit. This functionality will let you interact with existing visualizations in more ways.
- Hover over a visualization and click the pin icon.
- You can then choose whether to pin the selected output to an Existing dashboard from a drop-down menu or add it to a New dashboard.
- Then, choose the theme. Click either Use destination theme, the theme of the dashboard, or Keep current theme to keep the report’s theme.
- After selecting the pin, Power BI will create a new dashboard in the current workspace. Click Go to Dashboard after you receive the “Pinned to dashboard” message. Then click Save.
- Upon clicking Save, Power BI will open your new dashboard with the pinned visualization. You can then add additional pinned objects to your Existing dashboard.
Sharing And Collaborating
Microsoft BI offers multiple ways to share and collaborate, including in the workspace, via Microsoft Teams, reports and dashboards, and other methods.
Collaborating in the workspace means teams share the ownership and management of their data assets, including reports, datasets, and dashboards. Workspaces give administrators the ability to set roles and permissions for each coworker, determining who can see, manage, and edit content.
Workspaces are superior to My Workspace because they enable co-ownership of content. Teams can easily give access to new members and make updates, which isn’t possible on the other product.
Collaborating in Microsoft Teams is possible via the built-in Chat in Teams button for reports. When you add a Power BI report tab in Microsoft Teams, the application automatically creates a conversation tab in the report. All invited parties can then see and discuss the conversation.
You can also share ready-made reports or dashboards if you and your recipients have a Power BI Pro license or Premium equivalent. In Power BI’s workspace, click Share, and click the users you want to share it with. Select various permissions, allowing them to edit or make a copy of the report as they see fit.
For other sharing methods, see the Power BI website.
Unleashing the Potential of Power BI: Advanced Techniques and Best Practices
Once you master the basics of Power BI, you will inevitably want to move on to more advanced techniques and best practices. These increase the accuracy of your work while reducing errors and clutter.
Remove Unnecessary Interactions Between Data
If your Power BI performance starts lagging, check the number of interactions between data tables via the modeling tab. Power BI will interrelate these automatically by default, so you must monitor it for optimal performance. Remove unnecessary relationships where possible.
Enable Row-Level Security
You might also want to implement row-level security. Here, you can define data users can see granularly based on their characteristics. Hiding rows can also increase performance by reducing the number of data points available.
Don’t Use Hierarchical Filters
Hierarchical filters are an advanced feature that enables custom visuals. It displays multiple category values in an expandable tree view to present filtering nodes.
Unfortunately, this approach can slow Power BI down, increasing loading times and reducing productivity. To prevent this, remove hierarchical filters and use individual filter categories for each item in the list.
Limit Tiles To 10 Per Dashboard
Try limiting the number of tiles, widget visuals, and grids to ten, eight, and one respectively. Too many can slow performance significantly.
Use Slicers Minimally
Slicers help users navigate data, but they reduce performance by multiplying the number of queries for fetching data and selection details. If you have too many filters, you can remove them via the Filter pane.
Ensure Reports And Data Sources Are In The Same Region
Keeping data sources and reports in the same region reduces latency. It also helps coworkers execute queries and data transfer faster.
Reduce The Use Of Bi-Directional And Many-To-Many Relationships Against High Cardinality Columns
These pathways require Power BI to check more data points. As such, reports can be slower to load.
Now You Are Ready To Use Power BI
Getting to grips with Power BI can seem daunting at first, but once you understand the basic concepts outlined here, it gets significantly easier. Start by creating basic visuals and then move on to a more advanced understanding of data modeling and collaboration.
Unlock the Full Potential of Power BI with PBRS
The advantages and applications of Power BI are extensive, and they will continue to expand as data sets grow larger. For businesses that heavily depend on effectively managing data from every perspective, Power BI's benefits can be maximized to their fullest potential.
Power BI is a powerful tool for understanding your data, but when you combine it with PBRS, our SSRS and Power BI Reporter Scheduler, you gain even more control over your insights. PBRS offers a range of capabilities, such as routine reporting, report merging, automatic distribution, and event-triggered reporting, that make managing and delivering insights easier than ever. With PBRS, you can access the insights you need, when you need them, with minimal effort required on your part.
No matter if you're utilizing Power BI to establish key performance indicators, streamline collaborations, or monitor targeted marketing campaigns, the consistent scheduling, updates, and valuable insights made possible with PBRS will ensure you stay on top of your game, maintain a professional edge, and stay informed.
Simply download your free trial today to see how PBRS can take your Power BI journey from strength to strength.
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