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Data analytics have drastically changed the nature of competition across multiple industries, according to 47% of respondents in a recent McKinsey Global Survey. Companies leveraging analytics saw the most overall revenue growth in the survey.

Most of us are aware of the power of data. Businesses gain insights that help them improve their bottom line, better understand their customers, reduce unnecessary expenses and even detect production issues as they arise in real time. According to a Forbes report, these reasons make analytics more than worthwhile and give companies a competitive edge in their industry.

Though business leaders know this conceptually, they get stuck when taking the first step and putting data to work in their operations. They first need a strategy around their data, to determine how they will use to it to make better decisions. First, get the data from across your organization and systems into one place. And then layer a tool such as Power BI on top so that you can easily ask questions of data. Even if they already have an analytics tool ready to go, getting started can be intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be.

With high-performing, intuitive platforms like Power BI, you don’t need a dedicated analyst to get started and make the most of the tool. You can get started right away—and try it for free—using data and skills you already have.

What is Microsoft Power BI?

Microsoft Power BI is a software suite designed for processing data, performing analytics and visually displaying insights for faster and easier decision-making. The user dashboards within Power BI make it easy to manipulate and display data to suit every need. And you can easily share your reports and those visuals with others.

Power BI has three components: Power BI Desktop, Power BI service and Power BI mobile apps. Depending on your role, you might use one more than the other.

Power BI Desktop is where you build reports and visuals that you can then share.

Power BI service is where you can view published reports and maintain a personal dashboard for keeping track of data and analytics. Here, you can also collaborate in workspaces, generate quick insights and drill down into data.

Power BI Mobile apps allows users access to their dashboards and relevant reports from anywhere.

How to get started with Power BI

Getting started with Microsoft Power BI is easier than it seems. Power BI software is user-friendly, and if you’re used to working in Excel, it’ll be especially familiar. If you don’t already have the software, try Power BI for free to see if it suits your needs. You don’t need a license until you want to share your visuals and reports with others or perform higher-level tasks. Here, we’ll outline the basics for using Power BI.

What you need to use Power BI Desktop

To use Power BI Desktop, you need to download Power BI Desktop and have data ready to pull in for processing. If you don’t want to work with your own data just yet, use the sample Excel workbook in Microsoft’s Quickstart guide for connecting to data. Otherwise, Power BI can pull data from a variety of data sources including Excel, Comma-Separated Value (.csv) files, and both on-premise and cloud-based databases.

How to pull data into Power BI Desktop

When you’ve launched Power BI Desktop, you’ll start with “Get Data.” Select the data source you want to pull from, whether that’s an Excel file, an online database or another compatible source. You can even pull data from a webpage as Microsoft demonstrates in one guide. Connect with this data source, open the file you want to pull from and select the data you want to import. Then, click “Load” to pull it into Power BI.

Do you need to adjust or transform the data? To manipulate the data or combine it with other data source material, see Microsoft’s tutorial on shaping and combining data. Using Power Query Editor, you can shape your data so that only the relevant and adjusted information comes through each time you pull it.

How to make Power BI visuals and reports

With your data loaded, go to Report view. Report view is one of three views in Desktop: Report, Data and Model. Report view is your canvas for making visuals and then designing reports with those visuals.

Making a visual is as easy as dragging a field over into the canvas and selecting the type of visual you want to use. There are several options for visuals, including line, gauge, column and scatter charts, as well as a selection of maps. Power BI may even suggest a visual based on its understanding of the data. If needed, customize the visuals and reformat your data in the Visualization pane.

In Power BI, a report is a compilation of relevant visuals either on a single page or multiple pages that you save as a file. Make a report in the Report view by clicking elsewhere on the canvas and building a new visual on the same page. Or add a new page using either the pages bar or the Home tab. If you’re an Excel user, these actions should be familiar. You can also add other elements to your report, like text and images, from the Home tab.

When you’ve finished, simply save your file.

How to share your work to Power BI service

If you’re already a licensed Power BI user, sharing reports with your company is simple. Just “Publish” from the Home tab and choose where to share the reports in the Power BI service. You might choose to share the report to a specific workspace. Workspaces are set up to group users so that they have access to the reports and dashboards most relevant to them, enabling focused collaboration within the software.

How to create and use dashboards in Power BI service

Dashboards are compilations of visuals on one page, or canvas, where you view and share information. You can build your dashboard with charts and graphs from different reports and datasets, as well as insights you’ve developed otherwise. These dashboards are viewable on both Power BI service and Mobile.

Build your dashboard by pinning the visuals, or tiles, you want to observe or analyze. To do this, hover over each visual to prompt a pin icon to appear. When you select the pin, you’ll have to assign the visual to an existing dashboard or create a new one. Existing and new dashboards will show up in the left panel. Once you’ve pinned your visuals, resize and move those visuals (or tiles) within the dashboard according to your preferences.

To share your dashboard, simply select the “Share” link and enter the appropriate email addresses or distribution lists.

How to use quick insights in Power BI service

Generate instant insights from your data to see what the numbers and information can tell you with the capabilities of Power BI. You can do such quick insights on large datasets, individual visuals or insights themselves.

To get quick insights on a full dataset, select the “Datasets” tab in Power BI service and click on the ellipses (…) next to the dataset you want to analyze. Select “Get quick insights” from the menu that appears. Power BI will automatically generate insights using advanced algorithms and display them in a Quick Insights canvas. Choose the insights that are most relevant, expand them to observe and manipulate them, and pin them to a dashboard.

To get quick insights on a visual, hover over the tile in your dashboard and choose “View insights” from the ellipses (…) menu. Insights will appear to the right of the visual and you can select, analyze and pin them as needed.

How to use Power BI to drill down into your data

Find deeper insights in your data by drilling down into visuals and insights. Simply follow the directions for quick insights as described above or expand the individual tile (visual or insight) and select “Get Insights” from the top bar. You can drill down as deep as your data will allow to discover trends and insights within.

How to use the Q&A feature in Power BI

The Q&A feature in Power BI enables the user to ask a question of their data to get straight to specific insights. It’s built to understand natural language so you can ask Power BI casual questions in English and it will populate results (other languages are in development). This feature is in both dashboards and reports. Power BI can also suggest questions for you to ask based on what it understands about the data, and it can suggest optimal visuals.

With just these basics, you can accomplish a lot with Power BI. Watch real-time data in your dashboard, share insights with your colleagues, find hidden trends with insights and ask questions for immediate visuals. This is a great launching point for implementing a useful analytics strategy at your organization. However, as you advance your knowledge and skill with the software, the possibilities expand even further. Curious to learn more? Get in touch with us today to discuss how you can use Power BI in your business. 

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