A Few Thoughts on Power BI and the Future

This blog has been very silent over the past few months as all of my attention and free time was spent working with a small startup focused on delivering a commercial solution based on Power BI. I’ll probably share more details down the road, but suffice it to say, it was an amazing experience and I learned a ton about startups, life, and Power BI. Going forward, I’ll be focused on ramping the consulting business back up and sharing many of these newly learned lessons with you!

Most folks who’ve done any sort of work w/ startups in the past several years – or simply worked in the tech industry and have a heartbeat – have probably heard the terms: minimum viable product, Lean Startup, etc. Me too. But, it wasn’t until this summer that I actually sat down and read The Lean Startup and spent time digesting the concepts. As someone who’s been designing and delivering DW/BI solutions for the last 8 years, a field where 99% of the time the end-customer is “internal” (read: somewhat forced to use your “product”), many of the ideas and suggestions in this book felt strange and even uncomfortable at times. To be sure, having internal customers does not preclude the use of the strategies discussed in this book. But it does introduce some “special” challenges that help explain the strange/uncomfortable feelings.

Wait, how does this relate to Power BI?

One constantly recurring thought as I made my way through the book was: assuming this [Lean Startup] methodology is optimal, Microsoft and the Power BI group are on the right track to building an amazing product.  

That’s a very different tune than the one I was previously singing.

Asked me 1-2 years ago, and I would have told you that Power BI was just another flash-in-the-pan-shiny-new reporting tool and it doesn’t change a thing for folks like me. Companies will still need data warehouses. They’ll still need Analysis Services. Power BI does NOT change that.

Later on, when I heard (now that it’s public knowledge, we can discuss outside NDA) that Power BI is going to become the primary option for developing and delivering enterprise semantic models and reporting… What. The. Actual. F#&K!!

Why the Change in Tune

Well for starters – I’m a firm believer in the “adapt or die” approach to life and unfortunately, I still have quite a few working years ahead of me before retirement. If Analysis Services is taking a backseat to Power BI, I need to hop on the bus or find another bus.

The other (main) reason is because I now see how the evolution of Power BI as a product aligns with many of the strategies outlined in the Lean Startup (and I now believe that’s a good thing).

A Brief History of Time Power BI

Power BI started years ago… remember Power View? That was the first iteration. Despite a number of limitations and bare minimum features, the feedback was amazing, and Microsoft knew they were onto something. When the “Cloud Wars” began, Satya Nadella took the steering wheel and the “Cloud-first” development strategy was introduced throughout Microsoft (or at least throughout the Data Platform groups within MSFT). Around the same time, Power BI was born, the cloud-based version of Power View, bare-bones and lacking many “enterprise-features” that most of Microsoft’s customer base had come to expect. Early adopters were happy to use the product while Microsoft’s larger bread-and-butter-pay-the-bills customers were still just kicking the tires, holding out until Power BI could do things like print and <insert other antiquated “enterprise” capabilities>. The Power BI team then proceeded – for the next few years – to deliver a substantial number of new features every single month.

It’s quite incredible when you think about.

The point is this…

With Power BI, Microsoft released early, continues to release often, and has pivoted several times along the way. The Power BI product team is following an innovator’s strategy by working in small batches in order to rapidly iterate through the build-measure-learn cycles. And while this can be is super frustrating at times for customers and consultants, in the long run, i truly expect we’ll see Power BI going down as one of the great modeling & reporting platforms of its time.

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