Chris headshotThe following post is contributed by Chris Webb a trainer and consultant specialising in Power BI and SQL Server Analysis Services.

Sooner or later everyone who works in IT will need to build a report. Whether it’s for someone in the business (that guy in finance who wants to see up-to-date sales figures every morning at 9am) or for your own personal use (so you can keep track of the number of cups of coffee you’re drinking each day), anything that can be measured can be reported on.

Unsurprisingly, there are already thousands of tools out there for building reports and dashboards. What makes Power BI, Microsoft’s new set of tools for this purpose, different? Well, for a start it builds on a tool you already know – the number one tool for data analysis in the world – Excel. A series of new Excel add-ins and new features in Excel 2013 (Power Query, Power Pivot, Power View and Power Map) make it much easier to load data into Excel, slice and dice it, and build striking data visualisations. This means you don’t have to learn a new technology from scratch – instead you get to build on your existing skills while taking advantage of the increased speed and flexibility that these tools give you. There’s also a cloud-based service, Power BI for Office 365, which enables you to publish your reports to the cloud and even ask it questions using natural language querying.

Why is Power BI important for IT Professionals? Like everyone else nowadays, IT Professionals are drowning in data that is potentially useful but most often is left unanalysed. Log files, third-party application databases, web services, automatically-generated reports that don’t show quite what you need – the list is endless. Power BI will allow you to build reports from this data quickly and easily, with very little specialised knowledge, so you can start getting some value from it. Once you have worked out what the top cause of calls to the helpdesk is, or which employees are close to their mailbox size limit, or why that data load always fails at 9:36pm on a Tuesday night, you can take some action.

You can find out more about Power BI at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/powerbi. To get a quick idea of what you can do with Power BI there’s a demo video here that shows how to use it to analyse British road traffic accident data. There’s also a great hour-long presentation you can watch online here that describes how Microsoft’s own internal IT is using Power BI to monitor issues in Azure data centres.

SQLBItsNewLogoAn even better way to learn about Power BI is to attend the upcoming SQLBits conference that is taking place in Telford on July 17th-19th. SQLBits is Europe’s biggest SQL Server and Microsoft Business Intelligence conference: over 1000 people have already registered, and it will feature sessions from world-class experts. There are lots of Power BI-related sessions, including two preconference seminars, and the best part about SQLBits is that it’s free to attend on Saturday July 19th!

You can view the full conference agenda here and register for the conference here.

How PowerBI savvy are you? Are you 'drowning in data' and plan enhancing your skills? Let us know via @technetuk.