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Power BI's SMB strengths and enterprise priorities: An Interview with Microsoft MVP Matt Allington

by MSCN Reporter
Staff Writer,

After several years of disruption brought on by Covid-19 in Australia, Microsoft MVP and Power BI trainer Matt Allington has welcomed the return of in-person technology training. To mark the start of 2023, MSDW caught up with Allington to learn about some of the big changes in Power BI over the past year. 

In addition to providing training and consulting, Allington is a prolific Power BI blogger on the Excelerator BI blog.

Increased maturity and integration

Allington focuses his business on small and medium business training and consulting, although he keeps up with enterprise capabilities, too. He says that SMB customers are increasingly looking to use Power BI and Power Pivot for Excel to do financial reporting. And improvements in Office integration, while seemingly minor, can open up a range of use cases for companies. He explained:

Power BI is now seven years old. The rapid growth of things means that gaps in the product are starting to diminish. New capabilities are coming in at a slower rate as it becomes a more mature product. Microsoft has spent a lot of time on the back-end, doing a lot of integration with PowerPoint, Teams, and Outlook. These are important improvements for Microsoft because it ties Power BI to the broader Office or corporate product suite they have on offer, and it is also important for business users.

Importantly, businesses can now integrate a Power BI report directly into PowerPoint and go straight into live interactions with that report. It seems like a small thing, but the benefit to business users is fairly high. On Microsoft’s development plan, they are planning to allow individual visuals to be embedded in PowerPoint, so instead of a live interactive report, you can take a single visual and embed it inside those PowerPoint documents because a lot of times people are presenting a table of numbers and every month they have to do an update on that presentation. If you can integrate a single Power BI visual, your PowerPoint document will update as well. [However, there are] not a lot of details on how that will work.

Increasingly, limitations on the supply of data can become the failure point for self-service BI. As part of its growing inventory of integrations, Microsoft is working to spin up datamarts directly from Power BI as a low code capability, but gaps still remain in this area for SMBs, he believes.

I’m assuming this is the first step of a longer process to make back-end databases available for business users for smaller businesses without professional database administrators on their staff… Microsoft to their credit has built ability to load data from spreadsheets, SharePoint, and CSV files. A business user can build a functioning Power BI report using those sources of data and that’s absolutely amazing. But as that data becomes more complex and the number of files gets over 1,000 or 10,000 files, that becomes a weak point in the reporting process and a source of failure. I think the new datamart feature will eventually allow self-service users to load from multiple files, put in a proper database, without hopefully needing SQL Server DBA, and have a more robust, multi-tiered reporting architecture. I’m seeing the signs that this has started, but it’s certainly too early to add value. I’m hoping they will continue to work on that this year.

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