Thursday, September 17, 2015

Power BI 2.0 - Desktop or Online Portal for File Loads

This article continues in our exploration on how users can benefit from the free version of Power BI.  Perhaps as a way to demonstrate how Power BI can benefit your organization and to justify an upgrade to the Pro version. Or, you just need to make the most of a free tool. This post focuses on the single table limitation placed on reports built using the Online Portal Report Builder.

Analysts spend endless hours creating and maintaining Excel files to build custom reports for management. And as good as Power BI is, that will not change soon. Excel is an excellent tool to explore and manipulate the data. If an analyst can imagine a way to manipulate data, it almost always can be done in Excel. This free-form ability of Excel works as a great compliment to the free version of Power BI.

Getting started - which tool:  Power BI Desktop or the Online Portal Builder

Since data sources for the free tool are limited, the main determinate is:  can you get the final data set down to a single table? ( see Is the Free version of Power BI 2.0Worth Using?)

        Multiple Data Files as a source?

Power BI Desktop
Online Portal Report Builder
Single Excel File
Multiple Excel Files

Using the free Online Portal Report Builder for Power BI, the design framework expects, and really only supports a single two-dimensional Excel table. Conversely, the Power BI Desktop allows you to work with data from multiple local databases and file sets.  If you can use all the tools in Excel to build out to a single sheet (table) in Excel, the Online Portal is fine. If not, consider the Power BI Desktop.

Viewing the data?

Using the Power BI Desktop, once data has been loaded into the Online Portal, as of Sept 16, 2105, there were no tools available to review the data you just uploaded. If you are the type that needs to see the data, then the Online Portal will be a bit of a hassle. Fortunately, if you use the Power BI Desktop, you can not only have multiple data sources, you can view, and review the data. Including tools to filter the data.

Using Excel Data: Format as Table

Using the Online Portal to import an Excel file from your OneDrive, Power BI looks for a sheet where the style has been setup using Format as Table.  Desktop does not have this limitation. You can have additional supporting pages, with sheet references. You just need the primary/final sheet to be setup as a table using the Format as Table command. On the Home tab of the Excel ribbon bar, before you can use your Excel file in Power BI, you will need to update the "style" of file to a "table."

Over time, you'll find that while the Online Portal is quick, the Desktop is the best way to build out reports for Power BI. 

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