JAMISON WEST, strategic coach at ConnectStrat and former MSP, jokingly calls Microsoft Power BI “a gateway drug.” Why? “Give a little business intelligence to C-level executives, and they want more," he explains.
It’s no joke, however, that channel pros who use Power BI, a front-end data visualization tool, as the foundation for an application development and consulting practice can enjoy great margins and repeat business.
Whether you consider Power BI a better way to create graphics than using Excel tools, or a top-line business analytics program, you are correct. This self-service business intelligence tool reads data from well over 100 programs, including all Microsoft sources on premises and in the cloud. And it’s relatively easy for people without in-depth skills.
“Fire it up, connect to a data source, and get powerful visuals and reports," confirms Ross Ghiasi, an independent consultant in the Dallas area who teaches Power BI to companies and schools. "Even managers can do it," he quips. "Business intelligence sounds scary, but Power BI is popular because it simplifies the process."
In addition, many customers already have Microsoft products “and want an all-in-one BI for a single source," says Errin O'Connor, founder and chief architect at EPC Group in Houston, a 300-person IT consulting firm that includes an MSP practice. In addition, he believes COVID-19 increased the need for more business analytics, and Power BI benefitted.
Behind the Scenes
Channel pros who offer Power BI services fill a need for their clients, since "many applications don't have great reports, or [have] ones that aren't relevant to your needs," says West.
Be aware, however, that while coding in Power BI isn’t hard, there is a learning curve to implementing it. For example, West pulled live data from ConnectWise for Power BI reports but found that "slowed the server to a crawl." His solution? "We replicated the SQL data to another server." That allowed him to pull data from the secondary server without impacting the production unit.
In addition, he warns, you "must be extremely savvy at the cloud data play," and know where to access the data. He focused on Azure AD and ID management to access various cloud data sources' security. His developers used the proper authentication to interrogate data files of different applications, often using tricks learned using other BI tools. "It was all cloud work."
The real advantage of Power BI, says West, comes when you mix multiple data sources in reports. "We look at financial reports, and pull from all the Microsoft Dynamics programs, QuickBooks, sales, and ERP systems," he says. When your team extracts data from multiple back ends, or prepares raw data with a Power BI API script, you're moving into advanced business intelligence and providing value to customers that they can't easily get any other way.