Power BI: Where’s The Real Opportunity for Microsoft Dynamics Users and Partners?

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Power BI: Where’s The Real Opportunity for Microsoft Dynamics Users and Partners? – MSDynamicsWorld.com 

Power BI and Microsoft Dynamics AX
Microsoft Dynamics AX data in Power BI (source

Power BI went into general release in late July, though of course partners and some intrepid users have been test driving it for several months. Microsoft in December released a Power BI preview, and closed it down in mid June to put on a final coat of polish.

Initial response from early adopters indicates generally positive response to the capabilities offered for just $9.99/user/month and 10 GB of data (free if you can get by with just 1 GB). Of course, the paid version buys you more than 9 GB of cloud storage; it buys a more frequent and larger refresh of 1M rows/hour versus 10k, and an hourly versus daily refresh. It also buys you collaborative capabilities, like collaboration within Office 365 Groups, and shared data queries through the Data Catalogue (among other tools).

So Power BI (Power BI Pro if you spend ten bucks) is still shiny and showroom new, but how does it drive? Are Microsoft partners at all incented to recommend it to customers, and does its freemium/direct sales model create opportunities for partners or just threaten them?

Three experts from the partner channel who shared their thoughts with MSDynamicsWorld.com are:

MSDW: What work if any has your company done to prepare for recommending Power BI to clients?

Columbus: We have done webinars and training and have also sent email communications out to our clients with information on Power BI.

Arbela: We have been actively working with Power BI with Dynamics AX 2012 and recently as part of the TAP Program with AX 7. In addition we have been connecting our CRM 2015 environments to pull data into sales dashboards. We have setup several of our demo environments and production CRM system to leverage Power BI as the front end tool. Recently we have been experimenting with Power BI connected with various Azure big data services such as Azure Stream Analytics – preparing solutions for our [Internet of Things] IoT offerings as well as Social Media sentiment analysis.

The best opportunities for use with Dynamics GP, NAV, AX or CRM?

Columbus: Publishing/pushing [Dynamics] AX data to Power BI is second to none in terms of reporting tools – with the hosted solution provided by Office 365 it is no longer necessary to configure your SP site making the steps to creating your dashboards as simple as it gets.

The Data Management Gateway [a client agent that provides access to on-premises data sources] makes it even easier for clients to share data provided from AX because non AX users can access this info via Excel.

Arbela: Power BI is a great front-end visualization tool for small to mid-size data sets from CRM. We have been utilizing it internally for our CRM executive dashboards. This helps us quickly visualize content at an executive overview level without getting buried in the details. In addition, looking at larger stream analytics data to analyze sentiment across social media platforms in a near-real-time fashion which shows us results of our various CRM campaigns across social media.

Boyer: I worked with it on a limited basis because of the limitations on the data sources at the time. I liked the initial design of drill down process. In my opinion, the NAV database structures make the product more appealing to GP than NAV.

Are there any areas in which the product is limited or simply too early in?

Arbela: Power BI is a wonderful front end visualization tool. However it still lacks more robust security, data governance and non-tabular data set support. Its limit of 10GB with PowerBi.com will be a limiting factor for some larger customers with large data sets who want to compare historical data. One of the biggest challenges with business intelligence is always the creation and governance of the analytical data – where we still rely on solutions such as ZAP BI.

Boyer: The chart design options are a good start but not as robust as Excel or other BI tools. It feels to me like an early product, I can’t think of specific examples right now but there were some features I was looking for that were not in the product yet.

Do you see this as an SMB product, as some observers do?

Columbus: Reporting/Analytics is necessary for any size business. And Power BI is a great supporting tool for mobile workers, which I think is a very important aspect in the world of SMB. However, many SMBs may not have a strong IT person/department so it’s important to note that SMBs should make it a priority to connect with an expert who knows data and data sourcing.

Arbela: The product shows very well, but when it comes down to creating and managing data outside the live database – customers will still struggle with these challenges. AX7 will support NCCI technology but even that has its own limitations from a data aggregation perspective. We are looking forward to the continued investment of the product – right now it’s a great alternative front end visualization and report creation tool once your data sets are set.

Boyer: I can see it as an SMB product. It will create opportunities if it is as good as it looks like it could be. We like the embedded factor in NAV.

Is it enterprise ready?

Arbela: It may be enterprise ready for some limited cases such as stream analytics. However from a large BI perspective it’s still missing many of the key features such as a proper security framework, data governance, easy metric creation capabilities.

Does Power BI truly represent an opportunity for the VARs, when it’s available directly from Microsoft?

Columbus: Yes, I think so. We use it as a tool to show clients or potential clients how far the data they put into AX can go. When they see that we understand (on an expert level) their data and all of the routes the data needs to go, we position ourselves to be their trusted advisor.

Arbela: It does as long as you have the ability to create and manage the backend of a BI environment with internal resources or consulting resources. Power BI is an end-user enablement solution for easy report creation – the challenge with BI has always been the creation of the data on the back end where users can trust data across the enterprise in a consistent and validated way.

Boyer: We are not excited about it being offered directly, as Microsoft has not done this before.

About Dann Anthony Maurno

Dann Anthony Maurno is a seasoned business journalist who began his career as International Marketing Manager with Lilly Software, then moved on as a freelancer to write for such prestigious clients as CFO Magazine; Compliance Week;Manufacturing Business Technology; Decision Resources, Inc.; The Economist Intelligence Unit; and corporate clients such as Iron Mountain, Microsoft and SAP. He is the co-author of Thin Air: How Wireless Technology Supports Lean Initiatives(CRC/Productivity Press, 2010).

Dann can be reached at dmaurno@guidepointmedia.com.