PowerBI – Major Licensing Changes

powerbi-getting-startedPowerBI is a fantastic visualisation and reporting tool that I’ve written about extensively on this blog already, as well as having created numerous screencasts and blogs in an educational context from my time at St Andrew’s College.

Last week, Microsoft announced some major changes to the licensing of PowerBI which will come into effect on June 1st 2017 with some potential ramifications for schools that are currently exploring the functionality in the free version. If you’re unfamiliar with the product in general, then PowerBI.com is the best place to start for an overview, and the key changes from the announcement on 3rd of May can be found on this blog post from PowerBI.com.

My take on these changes is as follows:

  • PowerBI Free = still available, you can download the free PowerBI Desktop app here, and you can still publish reports/dashboards to PowerBI.com in the cloud but you can no longer share these with other users in the free version (this will require a Pro license – see below). Perhaps a better way of looking at this would be “PowerBI Personal” – i.e. for your own data explorations and visualizations in situations where you have no intention to share or collaborate with others. The update is there is some increased functionality around frequency of data refresh rates using the Data Gateway, along with increased volumes of data.
  • PowerBI Pro = Very similar to what was previously being delivered with this paid for license (academic pricing is generally available in most countries) but it appears this is increasingly becoming the “default” license if you’re wanting to share or collaborate on reports, or have your data automatically refreshing using the Personal Data Gateways from a wider range of data sources. The best link to understand what constitutes content requiring a PowerBI Pro license can be found here and I would encourage you to check this out. From my quick scan, the features which have moved out of the “free” and into the “Pro” license appear to be:
    • Data from a dataset that connects to on-premises data using the Power BI Gateway – Personal or the On-premises Data Gateway, and for which a scheduled refresh is set.
    • A dashboard or report that’s installed from an app or an organizational content pack.
    • Export to CSV/Excel
    • Peer to Peer dashboard sharing
  • PowerBI Premium = The newest feature, all details can be seen here, this is intended for large scale deployment of dashboards and reports across your organisation, including the ability to share content with users who are not necessarily licensed in the traditional way as an individual user. It has a higher financial entry point, with a fixed monthly cost and I don’t see much application at a K-12 level (outside of a school investing in sharing PowerBI reporting with parents too). However this could be a game changer at HighEd / Tertiary institutions that are wanting to enable their entire staff and students to make better data-driven decision making.
    • Importantly, it appears that the embedding of dashboards into web apps and web pages is now a feature reserved for Premium usage, so this will have consequences for third party developers / ISVs wanting to use PowerBI as the reporting engine in their software.
PowerBI Dashboard.png

Example K-12 Education dashboard made in PowerBI

It is going to take a bit for for me to fully understand how these changes will ultimately affect schools. For those that have invested in PowerBI Pro licenses for staff/students, not much will change I suspect and it will be business as usual. For those schools that have been experimenting with PowerBI and the free licenses I think the major implications are likely to be:

  • No ability to share content that has been refreshed automatically using the Personal Data Gateway, or has come from any sort of database / web source.
  • Restricted to sharing content that has been manually populated into PowerBI.com from limited data sources such as either PowerBI Desktop, Excel or CSV.

Given most schools want to move towards a “set and forget” approach when it comes to data configuration, it would appear that using PowerBI Pro licenses is the way forward for most schools.

For an external view of these changes have a read of this interesting summary from Matt Allington in Australia where he highlights five different user scenarios and identifies how the changes benefit them. He picks up on the value add for large organisations and the ability to deploy easily across users, splitting users between content creators (who will still need a PowerBI Pro license) and consumers (who will be covered by organisational PowerBI Premium consumption licenses).


Consolidating Data Reporting With SQL2016 & PowerBI


This afternoon I read a really interesting case study from the University of Tennessee on how they transformed their business reporting and compliance through consolidating their data onto SQL2016 & PowerBI.

Read the full case study here.

It’s worth reading the entire article (about 5mins) as the University has five campuses and two institutes which previously had individual reporting and analytics tools. To resolve this, a three pointed focus was created around:

  1. Consolidated repository
  2. Report verification process
  3. Data access and stewardship process

As the University was already using Office365, the decision to use PowerBI and SQL2016 as the backbone of their new BI solution made a lot of sense. Some impressive gains were made from this digital transformation project:

  • Data verification time decreased from 45minutes to 10 seconds (a 99% reduction)
  • This allowed the organisation to do multiple validations a day, rather than waiting until the close of business to perform a single audit.
  • The University is a USD$1.2 billion dollar enterprise and yet despite their size they are able to support their BI with a team of just six staff.
UoT by Degree

Click the above to view some sample reports of real data. Note that you can scroll through five different reports using the arrows at the bottom of the report (visible once you’ve clicked above).

For larger HigherEd / Tertiary institutions the above is likely a compelling story in data transformation and reporting.


Embed A PowerBI Dashboard In Your Application

I read the following blog post this afternoon that demonstrated how to embed a PowerBI Dashboard directly into a web application. It’s worth watching the 14min video if you’re a developer as there are a lot of tools and sample code that you can explore straight away to test this out:

I see this as particularly useful for schools that allow students to log into their Learning Management System (LMS) or for parents who may have a portal into the school’s Student Management System (SMS). To be able to build dashboard reporting of a student’s learning and display it visually and interactively is a great step forward compared to much of the reporting that students and parents currently receive.

Yes, currently it is quite technical to achieve this, however some schools have internal resources that could build a web app and incorporate this type of reporting, whilst others would be looking for their IT partners to build this in.

In the past, I’ve worked to embed open source reporting graphs into LMS such as Moodle (you can see an example here), however using PowerBI embedded dashboards would definitely take this kind of reporting to the next level!

Quick Insights Into Big Data With PowerBI & Machine Learning

UPDATE: I see on LinkedIn that Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics Magic Quadrant 2017 has been released recently showing Microsoft continues to be the leader in terms of vision and ability to execute. I do encourage you to read the full report here but the one specific take away is here:

Microsoft is recognized for the constant and fast development of Microsoft Power BI. This is the 10th consecutive year that Microsoft has been positioned as a leader.

powerbiFollowing on from my last post that referenced how the Cortana Intelligence Suite was powering Sticky Notes into the 21st Century through the use of machine learning, I’ve just seen a relatively new feature in PowerBI that is doing the same thing. It’s called Quick Insights and you can read all about it on the following link:

Quick Insights With PowerBI

The basic overview is that after you’ve published your data set from PowerBI Desktop to PowerBi in the Azure cloud, you can either start to manually build some reports for your data and analyse it with questions you may have OR you can use Quick Insights. As per the website:

The Quick Insights feature is built on a growing set of advanced analytical algorithms developed in conjunction with Microsoft Research that we’ll continue to use to allow more people to find insights in their data in new and intuitive ways.

To see this in action, watch the following video showing some examples:

The reality is I think the ability of advanced analytical algorithms to find trends or outliers “hidden” in data will probably exceed the abilities of amateur “data scientists” who are doing their best to pick these out. I recall a post on LinkedIn from Dr Joe Sweeney where he talked about the real value in big data being in the algorithms and the companies that can develop those the fastest/best will be in a strong position.

It will be interesting to see how smart these Quick Insights end up being when end users, particularly schools who typically don’t have full time data scientists working for them, start to use them to interrogate their data.

Talking of examining data, this is a good example from Microsoft’s Ray Fleming showing how the natural language Q&A feature can drill down deep into your data and auto-magically format it for you:

This example is not using machine learning, but instead leveraging well named fields in the data’s table structures to quickly locate and visualise data.

How To Keep Your Data FRESH With PowerBI Personal Gateway

powerbi-getting-startedOne of the biggest challenges to using any data analytics tool is keeping the data fresh and up to date with the minimum of effort. When you’re getting serious, you usually opt for the ETL process and data warehousing of some sort, but for the smaller users who do not have access to high level technical skills, what are the best options to use?

Enter: PowerBI Data Gateway

This product has undergone a few name changes over the last year or so (Personal Gateway, Enterprise Gateway etc) but now it is nice and simple and consolidated into one tool which you can use on your own laptop/desktop or install on your server to keep your data synchronised with PowerBi:

With the on-premises gateways, you can keep your data fresh by connecting to your on-premises data sources without the need to move the data. Query large datasets and benefit from your existing investments. The gateways provide the flexibility you need to meet individual needs, and the needs of your organization.

Why is this a game changer for schools? Well many schools will be storing their data in simple Excel or CSV documents, perhaps even an Access database and will be making regular changes and updates to these files. In other products, users would need to re-import the modified file back into the data tool analysis tool to refresh the data set and visualise the changes.

Here is a tutorial showing you how you can set this up in 5 minutes:

A couple of things to note:

  1. You need to have installed the PowerBI Data Gateway first and that it has permissions to go through any firewall restrictions you may have in place.
  2. Take care where you store your original data source file (the Excel spreadsheet in this case). Once you have published the report to PowerBI.com from PowerBI Desktop, I’ve not found a way of changing the path to the source file for the scheduled refresh through the Data Gateway.
  3. The default time for the data refresh is midnight so you may want to add another time/times for this refresh to take place (PowerBI free can only be refreshed daily, PowerBI Pro is hourly – see here for more info). This can be easily done as below for 9am:



This is an awesome way to keep things simple for schools and assists them in avoiding the dreaded manual reloading of data.


Get The Most From Office365 With PowerBI Usage Reports

Many schools are using Office365 to drive learning outcomes and effectively enable faculty and students to communicate and collaborate more efficiently. Increasingly, organisations are asking “how do we know this investment is working?” and, with the recent preview release of Office365 adoption content pack for PowerBI, schools are able to accurately measure usage and uptake.

Even though this is still in limited preview release, schools can sign up to trial this free content pack for PowerBI by emailing O365usagePowerBIPreview@service.microsoft.com and getting access to the rich visualisations on usage within their organisation:


Sample dashboard of the new Office365 Adoption content pack for PowerBI

From my perspective, these reports now enable schools to actively ask questions of how is Office365 being used within their organisation and then see if the data assists in providing valuable insights for action e.g.

  • Are staff using OneDrive to store and share resources as they have been trained to do?
  • Are students using Skype for instant messaging and video chats for after-school revision sessions?
  • Are staff and students using the desktop application of OneNote or are most still using the web browser version?
  • Are we getting swamped by email and is the volume increasing or decreasing?

The last question is particularly pertinent as email can be one of the biggest time consumers for staff as they read/reply to emails from fellow staff, students or parents:

ContentPack 2.png

The Communication Report showing email and and yammer posts

This new level of analysis also provides schools with focused, actionable insights such as:

  • Areas identified which clearly need further training to increase adoption e.g. if a school is trying to push all non-urgent communications onto an internal Yammer site, these reports will show if adoption is happening through the volume of posts.
  • Return on the investment: with Office Pro Plus available for faculty and students providing a rich desktop environment with deeply integrated cloud storage and connectivity in the back end, are users downloading and activating this on their devices?
  • If the mobile platform is showing as the predominant client for reading emails or other communications, is the school ensuring all emails (and websites for that matter) are mobile friendly to read with responsive designed layouts?

The full range of reports available in this adoption pack can be seen on this link, but the main ones are:

  • Yammer Usage report—Useful for organizations that are in the process of rolling out Yammer or are focused on increasing usage. The report provides helpful information about how various parts of your organization adopt Yammer as a form or communication including how many people post messages, how many consume content by liking or reading a message and how new user activation has changed over time.
  • Skype for Business Usage report—Provides a consolidated view of Skype activity as well as with details about how many users leverage Skype to connect with others through peer-to-peer messages and how many communicate their ideas by participating or organizing video conferences.
  • OneDrive for Business Usage report—Shows admins how users leverage OneDrive to collaborate with others in new ways. They can easily see how many users use OneDrive to share files and how many utilize it mostly for file storage. The report also includes information about how many OneDrive accounts are actively being used, and how many files are stored on average.
  • SharePoint Usage report—Shows how SharePoint team sites and groups sites are being used to store files and for collaboration. The report also includes information about how many SharePoint sites are actively being used, and how many files are stored on average.
  • Office 365 Top User report—Enables admins to identify Office 365 power users and the individual products they are using. Power users can often help to drive product usage by sharing their experience about how they use the products to get their work done faster and more efficiently.

In an earlier post I wrote about how professional development in Office365 for teachers can be tracked and measured using the MIE Educator Platform, and this new content pack for Office365 administrators seems like a similarly useful tool for schools to utilize. One of the many strengths of PowerBI is that the reports are easy to comprehend and digest meaning these could, and should, be shared with school leaders and not just be reviewed by the ICT administrators from a technical perspective. All schools want to know and prove that their investments into technology are paying off through adoption by staff and students. This new reporting tool is a great asset for schools to start that analysis and sharpen their focus and expectations around the usage of ICT in education.

Why your school NEEDS to try PowerBI (even if it’s just a little bit)

powerbi-getting-startedThis week I’ve been experimenting with data sets in PowerBI to try and identify a range of schools in New Zealand. In former roles I’ve managed a BI team that has done considerable work with PowerBI but I have not been the primary constructor of dashboards and manipulating data sets. I say this because I want to emphasize how relatively easy it is to quickly build some useful visualizations for interacting.

In my case, I grabbed some publicly available data on NZ schools and downloaded it as a CSV file (Excel would be fine as well) and then used one of the many  data import options into PowerBI Desktop to “Get Data”:


There is a huge range of options for importing data into PowerBI

The nice part about the Get Data process is that, if the import file is formatted or separated in anyway, then the data is automatically placed into columns during the preview stage of the import:


School details are split into columns based on the comma separation in the CSV file

What PowerBI can’t do, of course, is easily identify or label the columns based on the data within them. This is important as otherwise when you start creating the visualisations you won’t easily know what the data is, they will simply be labeled “Column 1”, “Column 2” etc. Fortunately, it’s very easy to rename these:

Get Data Rename.png

A logical name for this column would be “School Name”

With the data now in PowerBI, the fun part begins – visualizing it and creating slicers for easy selection and drill down into the data you’re wanting to find. Here’s a dashboard I created with the above data, showing Christchurch secondary schools:


A quick PowerBI Dashboard utilizing publicly available data

There are a few things to note about the above: Continue reading