Overview of PowerBI.com and the Power BI Designer

Bottom line: Learn how Power BI, a brand new tool from Microsoft, will change how you visualize and share your data.  Plus, it's FREE!

Skill level: Beginner

Power BI Mammoth Mountain Dashboard

If part of your job is to create charts and dashboards, well your job just got a whole lot cooler! 🙂

I am really excited about this new tool from Microsoft.  Power BI allows you to create interactive charts and dashboards using the Power BI Designer application.

The best part, it's all completely 100% free!  I still can't believe this…

Power BI Overview Video

In the following video I explain PowerBI.com and the Power BI Designer.  You just have to see it in action!

Best viewed in Full Screen HD.

Power BI Explained

What exactly is Power BI?  You've probably heard of Power Query, Power Pivot, and Power View before, and know those as add-ins for Excel.

Well, Power BI is a new application that brings all these tools together in one place.

Power BI Designer Combines All Power Add-ins

The Power BI Designer is a separate application outside of Excel.  You basically use this one app to bring in your data and create all the charts and reports.

You can then publish the reports to PowerBI.com to create dashboards and share them with anyone.

Process Overview

Here is a high-level overview of how Power BI works.

Step 1 – Get the Data & Prepare it for Reporting

The first step is getting data.  You can bring data in from just about any source including Excel, databases, web pages, and much more.

The Power BI Designer basically uses Power Query to get data.  So if you have used Power Query before then you will feel right at home with the getting data in the Designer.

You can also transform your data just like you would in Power Query in Excel.  It's the exact same tool.

So processes like filtering, removing blanks, splitting columns, unpivoting, and merging data are very easy to do.  Power Query allows you to create a system and automated process.

Power BI Designer - Get Data with Power Query

In the video I bring data for Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort from three different sources.

  • Snowfall history from their webpage.
  • Facebook post data from their Facebook page.
  • California ski resort data from Wikipedia.

Checkout my Overview of Power Query to learn more about this incredible tool and all the places you can get data from.

Step 2 – Create Reports – Calculate & Visualize the Data

Once you have your data you can start creating reports.  This is somewhat similar to creating Pivot Charts in Excel.

The field list is on the right side of the Report window, and you can choose from quite a few different chart types to display your data.

Power BI Designer - Create Reports

You can also create relationships between your data tables and write DAX measures (formulas).  This is the same process you would do in Power Pivot, but it's all right here in the Power BI Designer.  This makes it an extremely powerful tool, and will allow you to create some very advanced analytics between data sets.

Step 3 – Share With Anyone

Once you have created your reports in the Power BI Designer, you can then upload them to PowerBI.com to share with anyone.

This is a fantastic feature because it instantly makes your reports consumable by anyone with an internet connection.  You can even get the Power BI app for iOS and view the reports on your iPad or iPhone.  Believe me, the boss will love this!

PowerBI_com Question and Answer Box

PowerBI.com is loaded with features:

  • Interactive (clickable) reports that filter the other reports on the page as you click.
  • Q&A Box that allows you to type questions about your data and get visual answers in the form of charts.
  • Dashboards that summarize all your reports in one place for quick viewing.
  • The ability to update and edit your charts.
  • The ability to refresh your data and schedule refreshes from your data sources.
  • Share your reports and dashboards with anyone.

Power BI is Amazing!

Power BI really is an amazing tool, and not just because it's free.  It brings a whole new way of visualizing and sharing your data.  And it might also help put an end to some boring Power Point presentations…

I will be sharing more about Power BI in the future, but I encourage you to head over to Powerbi.com to check it out.  You can download the Designer there (it's also free) and start creating dashboards.

I should also mention that Power BI is still in Preview.  So you might run into some bugs and errors.  However, I know that the team at Microsoft is working hard to add new features.  They are releasing new updates about once a month, and are very dedicated to improving this tool.  You can help them out by leaving feedback on the support page.

Please leave a comment below with any questions.  Thanks!

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Jon Acampora

Welcome to Excel Campus! I am excited you are here. My name is Jon and my goal is to help you learn Excel to save time with your job and advance in your career. I've been an avid Excel user and VBA developer for 10+ years. I am also a Microsoft MVP. I try to learn something new everyday, and want to share this knowledge with you to help you improve your skills. When I'm not looking at spreadsheets, I get outdoors and surf. :) more about me

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 9 comments
Jeff Weir - May 6, 2015

Wait a minute…requires Professional Plus versions, right? If so, then I’d hesitate to call this ‘free’. Because if that’s the case, I can’t rock up with my non premium version of Excel and say “Can I have your free PowerBI with this, please?”

Free to me means “It works on all versions of Excel, and not just the premium version”

    Jon Acampora - May 6, 2015

    Hi Jeff,
    In this case free means you don’t even need Excel. I know, it’s hard to believe.

    For powerbi.com all you need is an internet connection.

    For the Power BI Designer you currently need Windows. It is a free download. There is no Mac version yet.

    The Power BI Designer is NOT an add-in for Excel. It’s a standalone application that has Power Query and Power Pivot built into it. And it’s free!
    No Excel required. Can you believe it? 🙂

Excel Roundup 20150504 « Contextures Blog - May 3, 2015

[…] on the website will help you get started, and to learn more about it, before you register, read Jon Acampora's overview, and watch his video […]

Frank - May 2, 2015

Jon –

you cannot share Power BI reports with “anyone”, only with (paying) members of your organization. This product is not available/affordable for private customers.

    Jon Acampora - May 4, 2015

    Hi Frank,

    You are right that currently you can only share with people in your organization. However, you do not have to pay to create the dashboards, or have others view them. Here is a link to the pricing page with more details.


    Power BI is still in preview. I’m not sure how the sharing will work once it is out of preview. I agree that it would be nice to be able to share publicly. You can definitely cast your vote on the support page to help get these features added to the product. Thanks!


Paul - May 1, 2015

Hi Jon
Sorry to be a bit ‘anal’, but you have a typo in your heading “Power BI Desinger” you might want to correct 🙂

    Jon Acampora - May 4, 2015

    Thanks Paul! I really appreciate you letting me know! Have a great day 🙂

Dave Bruns - April 29, 2015

Great overview, Jon. It’s great to see these tools start to come together. Do you know if Microsoft intends to keep Power BI free indefinitely?

    Jon Acampora - May 4, 2015

    Thanks Dave. I believe there will always be a free version, but don’t quote me on that… 🙂


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