Here’s Joanthan’s top five tips on getting started and working with Power BI:-
1. Simple to use, difficult to master
Getting started with Power BI is actually fairly straightforward. The user interface is friendly and by experimenting and clicking buttons it’s possible to figure a lot of stuff out. However, to complete more complicated tasks you need to understand two new programming languages “M” and “DAX” which both have their own syntax and rules.
2. Performance can be affected
Following from the previous point, getting a model up and running is often not that difficult, however getting strong performance is always hard. In particular, “Power Query” (the tool used to import data) can be extremely slow if you’re performing power intensive operations such as joining data tables. I’ve learnt the hard way that time invested at the start of projects, ensuring tables are related sensibly, can have huge impacts on performance in the long run.
3. When to use Power BI in Excel vs Power BI Desktop
In Excel 2013 onwards there’s in built capabilities to use the Power BI tools “Power Query” and “Power Pivot”. At first, it seems tempting to go for the flashier option of Power BI Desktop as it allows more impressive visualisations. However, there are considerable advantages to working in Excel, in particular just being familiar with the environment. For me, the big advantage to Excel is having access to writing VBA macros, which allow more control over the user’s experience.
4. You can’t know everything
The world of Power BI is very large, with all sorts of features available and potential integration with other software/languages. On top of that, every month Power BI releases updates that add or update new features. In my experience, at the start you just need to accept there’s a lot you don’t know and focus on learning a bit at a time. And with the updates, from time to time it’s certainly worth reading up on the new features but it’s realistically not possible to keep track of every change.
5. It’s really good!
Despite the challenges, the work I’ve completed since adopting Power BI has felt more meaningful and satisfying than previous projects. The biggest benefit I’ve enjoyed is the flexibility you can give to the user when viewing reports. It’s possible to include all sorts of slicers and drill down that allow the user to go from high level summary information right down into the line level details.
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