A handful of people have asked me why Microsoft’s Power BI has become so popular in the last year (and a few confidentially asked me what it is). In a nutshell, Power BI a data analytics tool that’s easy to use (especially for Excel users), relatively inexpensive, and allows you to quickly make sharp-looking reports from your browser.

That describes what it does, but to explain why a “pretty-looking graph” matters, we need to look at the bigger picture.

Data is the New Oil

Data has become part of our living environments. As noted by the Economist, the five most valuable listed companies – Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook – are all data-centric IT companies, and virtually unstoppable in their areas. Unlike other resources giants, this group provides massive volumes of their product for free through various free channels.

Some of this goodwill is to entice new users and Petabytes of data are never shared. But, after that, the core of open source development stems from an understanding that small, incremental improvements are the norm, and most improvements come from combining experience and insights. Experience has no substitute; however, we now have universally-accessible tools to foster insight.

Just as with these data driven behemoths, data is vital to the success of all companies whether they realize it or not. Without actioning this thinking many may get left behind while others drive forward.

At First, People Didn’t Know Why Oil was Valuable

Demand for tools, such as Power BI, are rapidly increasing as organizations realize the ease of which they can be set-up, manipulated and maintained with the flood of data now available. Once connected, Power BI can combine multiple feeds into a single population. There are limits to what the analytics tools can do, especially the free versions, which is where data analytic specialists such as Sierra Systems come into play.

Imagine if Microsoft Gave Everyone an Oil Refinery

From this population, reports that required a team of developers five years ago can now be built on-the-fly. Built with Microsoft’s standard look-and-feel, users who are familiar with Excel will feel right at home with Power BI. Creating graphs, vector-based images, or data mash-ups are easily made via drag-and-drop. Even non-technical people can create their own reports, changing data sets, layout, and focus on a whim.

What Would Be Different if Everyone Could Design Their Own Car

In User Experience development, even the best designers develop environments in tandem with industry experts. Ideally, this shifts the work beyond automating tedious tasks and finds new ways to look at the same goal. These conversations stimulate insight into the nature of the work itself.
With Power BI – and other modern analytic toolsets – accomplish is connect experts in every field, to the constantly-updated mountains of data in a friendly, and thought-provoking way. The reports are not a solution themselves, but bridge the difference between data and innovation. Understanding how to best act comes from people engaged on the day-to-day actions of their jobs, who can look at trends in a new light.