Visualizing Data with Power BI

Have you ever wondered how Power BI visuals could make your business operations and data processing more effective? Let us track back a little bit.

The 3 Components

In the previous installments, we reviewed two of the three components of Power BI desktop.

The first component allows you to connect to a multitude of data sources to import your data into Power BI. Common data sources include a database connection or an Excel file. You can also connect to multiple data sources. In addition to that, you can import data from more than one source into a single PBI solution.

The second component is the data model. Once the data is imported into Power BI, we can construct the foundation for what our reports will be built on. The relationships formed in the data model are what allows us to pivot and slice data to view it from new and insightful angles. They let us view the data from a high-level view or drill down into the granular level and examine the details, and they’re the levers being pulled beneath the canvas when report building.

The third component is the report builder. When it comes to visualizing data, Power BI offers a full suite of chart types, metrics, and filters in which to view our data. Within one Power BI solution, you can build one report or a whole collection of reports, and within each report, you can include one or many Power BI visuals. But what’s the purpose of visualizing data and why should we take the time to build a report in Power BI in the first place?

Seeing is Believing Through Power BI Visuals

Although Power BI is a lightweight, easy-to-use, and powerful tool, it still takes time and resources to construct a Power BI solution. You have to import data, design a data model, and build a report. But these steps are an investment, and Power BI is a tool that will pay off in terms of saving time and providing value.

When looking at a table of words and numbers, you may have a trained eye to spot trends or key indicators. But the human eye is much more efficient at extracting information when seeing an actual line or columns stacked against each other. Power BI can present your data in a variety of ways to help you make sense of your business and quickly identify the important data points or trends. Let’s dive into the report builder and examine a sample report.

Pivoting to Power BI

Purposefully, Microsoft modeled Power BI’s report builder to be similar to Excel pivot tables. Whether you’re an analyst, a manager, or an executive, chances are you’re more familiar with Excel than Power BI, so we should be able to jump right into Power BI’s report builder with a minimal learning curve.

In this article, we will continue to use the Retail Analysis data in which we built a data model in the previous article Analyzing Data with Power BI. Let’s start with a blank report.

The report view, similar to an Excel pivot table, has a section on the left to visualize our data and a Fields pane on the right to add or remove data points from our visual. You’ll also notice there are a few extra tabs, one called Filters and the other called Visualizations.

To begin visualizing our data, we’ll start by navigating the Fields pane. We’ll drag-and-drop in This Year Sales by Store Number Name. Instantly, Power BI creates a column chart for us.

Focus by Slicing

Unlike traditional canned reports, Power BI reports are interactive. One way to interact with reports is Slicers. Slicers allow you to focus on a specific part of a chart and temporarily hide the other parts you’re not interested in. For example, let’s navigate to the Fields pane and drag-and-drop the District Manager field onto the report builder. Then, under the Visualizations pane, we’ll select the Slicer option. We know the District Manager field has been converted into a Slicer by the checkboxes appearing next to each manager’s name.

In our data model, we built a relationship between the District table and Store table to define one district manager can oversee many stores. Power BI’s report builder uses this relationship to slice our report. Let’s look at only Brad Sutton’s stores by selecting the checkbox next to his name.

As you can see, the report instantly changes to only show Brad Sutton’s stores. By simply unselecting the checkbox next to his name, the report will revert to its full view of all district managers.

Feel the Power of Power BI Visuals

Column charts are just one type of visual available in Power BI. Line charts, scatter plots, and donut charts are a small sample of the different ways to view your data. You can even write custom code in languages like Python should you have a need that isn’t available out of the box.

With Power BI, you get the ability to visualize your data in a clean and modern design that is easy on the eyes, so you can quickly gain insights from your business—even the ones you didn’t know were there.