Microsoft has a great new offering, Power BI Designer Preview, as part of the Power BI platform. It is a standalone Windows Desktop application that can be downloaded from the Power BI site. It is an optional Power BI content authoring option for users that are unable to upgrade to the latest version of Excel. The application combines Power Query, Power Pivot Data Model and Power View into a seamless experience that will allow users to build their Power BI dashboards and reports.
Getting Started Tutorial
Microsoft provides a great getting started with Power BI Designer tutorial here. It provides basic software installation instructions and how to start creating your first report. Additionally, when you first start Power BI Designer you’re presented a Getting Started screen with video tutorials on building reports.
Building Your First Report
Within Excel 2013, users could get confused on what the right approach is to getting data into Excel. There really isn’t a right or wrong answer but users could do this with the Excel Data Tab, Power Query or Power Pivot. It just depended on what you wanted to do with the data.
Within the Power BI Designer, there is one spot to get data from. This is from the Get Data Ribbon item. The first click reviles the Most Common data sources and clicking on the More… selection brings up the additional sources on the right. These include the standard flat files, Databases, Azure and Other.
Preparing Your Data Model
Once data is loaded, you can combine, transform and build calculated columns in Power BI Designer’s Query view. As you explore Power BI Designer, you will notice the deep functionality of Power Query has already been made available. Power Query functionality is laid out in the following three tabs:
· Add Column
Power BI Designer has Power Pivot automatic relationship detection and data blending cooked in with one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many relationship support across the wide array of available data sources. More detail on creating relationships between data sources is available on the Power BI support site.
After your data is loaded and prepared, you can begin building fully interactive dashboards and reports by dragging-and-dropping fields onto the canvas and filters. If you have ever worked with Power View, you will see a lot of similarities in the Power BI Designer Report user interface.
Limitations and Next Steps
This is a great start for Power BI Designer and I can’t wait to see what is next but realize that this is still a preview and not all features are in place with this application yet. One thing to note is that you don’t have full control over the Data Model. You cannot cross between Excel 2013 and the Power BI Designer and loading your designs up to your Power BI website is a manual data refresh process, except for Power BI new connector for SQL Server Analysis Services that allows customers to benefit from a cloud-based Power BI dashboard sharing site without having to move their data to the cloud.
Microsoft is focused on the monthly development and updates for Power BI Designer, so I look forward for the great things to come our way. The Add-ins for Excel 2013 and later are still available and customers can continue to use them to model their data and build reports but the updates will be less frequent.