There are a plethora of tools available for doing all manners of reporting or business intelligence. So what makes PowerBI stand out from the others? This post will talk to the benefits (and some drawbacks) of using PowerBI as your project reporting tool of choice.
Ease of Use
PowerBI offers a very simple and intuitive user interface for building out your reports. Keep in mind that this does not include the effort needed to build your datasets – regardless of your tool of choice, building datasets can be a complex process requiring a fairly technical skillset. But once the datasets are done and working and exposed to PowerBI, the process for building a report is incredibly simple.
PowerBI focuses on the visual, dashboard-style components for building reports. You can still build out grids and tables to show the data however the real power in building an effective report is being able to convey to the reader in just a few seconds the “gist” of what they are looking at - is the project over budget?/are we over-allocated on resources?/are we behind schedule? These are all questions that a project manager is responsible for answering and the quicker those questions can be answered, the project manager can focus on the right problems to solve.
PowerBI offers intuitive drill-down features as well for users reading a report or dashboard. All components on a report, whether it’s a pie chart, a column graph or even a table of data are all related (provided the datasets are constructed with a relationship). This makes report design that much easier in that you can achieve all of your reporting needs with likely just a few reports. Say for example you have a pie chart of all hours spent on a project, grouped by team member and a table that shows the details of all the time entries. As a report viewer you can click on a slice of that pie chart for a specific team member and the table of timesheet entries will automatically filter based on your selection. I personally use this method for weekly timesheet reviews and it makes the process far more simplified.
PowerBI being Microsoft’s business intelligence tool obviously has some baked-in integrations that are simple to set up. Outside of the typical Microsoft enterprise suite, PowerBI does have a fairly robust integration catalog and using the Web API hooks, can get at a wide variety of data sources. One of the coolest integration hooks that PowerBI comes with is the ability to tap into SharePoint lists. SharePoint, as I’ve written here before, is a great project management tool when built and used effectively. Custom lists make it very scalable for almost any type of project. PowerBI adds that analytics layer to roll up data from your custom lists to present in a dashboard-style report – that (ironically or not) can be then linked back to a SharePoint page via the Media Content web part. So essentially, you can build SharePoint-data dashboards in PowerBI and share those PowerBI reports back to SharePoint.