Power BI: Part 3 – Deployment Scenarios

This is the final part of a 3 part series on Power BI.  Part 1 discussed the tenets of self-service analytics and how Power BI and be leveraged.  Part 2 provided a more in depth discussion of Power BI capabilities.  Part 3 will look at Power BI deployment scenarios.

Before deploying Power BI, you must clearly understand who your content creators and content consumers are.  The following personas typically exist within an organization:

Personas

The Executive needs information that is highly aggregated to give a high-level picture of the state of a business or functional area. Often presented in the form of a dashboard or scorecard, information for the executive is intended to spark questions and drive strategic decision making.

The Analytist needs raw or lightly summarized data to consume for the purpose of creating a detailed analysis of a specific business problem or opportunity. Analysts present data in the form of spreadsheets, presentations or ad hoc reports that have limited use beyond the specific problem they are tasked to solve.

The Manager needs information that provides a detailed analysis of a specific business area or function. Data for the manager is used in planning future activities or assessing past performance. It is at a level of detail that can help define specific actions, such as a territorial sales plan or marketing activities for a product launch. Data for the manager is generally provided as reports or detailed scorecards.

Operational users deal with data presented at a transactional level. Examples of an operational report may include invoice registers created by accounting or a daily production plan published by a production planner. Operational data has been traditionally presented in the form of reports. Increasingly, data for the operational user is being presented on-line via Intranets or mobile devices.

Consumption Modes

Desktop applications, Web Browsers, Smart Phone/Tablet Applications

The mix of personas, audiences and consumption modes along with core business requirements provides input into deciding on how best to deploy Power BI as a whole or its individual components.

Power BI - Power Maps screen shot

Deployment Scenario 1 : Desktop Excel 2013

This is the simplest scenario and can service the needs of individuals accessing local and remote data sources.  In this scenario an Analyst is typically trying to address a specific domain problem related to an assigned task.  The output of the solution may provide insights into a related issue or it may be a one-time solution.  At this level Power Pivot, Power View, Power Maps and/or Power Query may be leveraged to address the specific analysis.  One important characteristic of this scenario is that it may never venture far from the Analysts’ desk. Also, the content creators and consumers may be the same individual.  The consumption mode is generally at the desktop level using Excel.

Deployment Scenario 2 : Desktop Excel 2013 Power Pivot workbooks deployed via SharePoint

This scenario expands on deployment scenario 1.  This scenario also facilitates using multiple disparate data sources via Power Pivot and Power Query.  A specific domain problem has been identified but the value of the analysis is far more reaching than an individual analysts’ desk.  The problem may address a department need or the broader need of a functional area.  SharePoint is leveraged for the dissemination of information to a wider audience.  Data can be refreshed on a regular basis using Power Pivot refresh.  Since the data is stored in the Excel/Power Pivot workbook, it is possible to drilldown into the transactions that support the analysis.  This deployment scenario can support the operational, managerial, analytic and executive personas for domain specific problems.  Any limitations are related to managing the volume of data stored in an individual workbook as well as preventing duplication of effort within an organization.  The consumption mode is via desktop applications or Web Browsers.  This includes smartphone and tablet based web browsers.

Deployment Scenario 3 : Power View, Excel workbooks deployed via SharePoint Leveraging Tabular/Multidimensional mode Analysis Services

In this scenario,  the analysis can be much more detailed, and encompass much larger volumes of data.  The physical data is typically external  but may also be embedded in an Excel/Power Pivot workbook.  Disparate data sources have been integrated via a Tabular model or an Analysis Services cube.  Complex solutions can be deployed via Power View in SharePoint or Excel Services.  This deployment scenario supports all of the personas and provides a great deal of flexibility in how the solution can be processed and delivered as well as a rich interactive user experience. The consumption mode is via desktop applications or Web Browsers.  This includes smartphone and tablet based web browsers.

Deployment Scenario 4 :  Power BI via Office 365

Power BI via Office 365 provides the ability to service all of the above personas as well as all of the consumption modes.  As in deployment scenario 3, the analysis can be much more detailed, and encompass much larger volumes of data.  This includes full access to all of the Power BI components (Power Maps, Power Query, Power View, and Power Pivot).  Additional information consumption methods are available above and beyond the base interactive functionality.  For instance,  there may be a situation where a specific analyses does not exist.  Power BI via Office 365 provides a question and answer mode in which natural language queries may be executed against the associated Excel/Power Pivot workbook data source (e.g.  “Show total sales by product category”). A dictionary of business terms (synonyms) should be created to fully leverage this capability.  The synonyms map information consumer concepts to the underlying analytic model.  Information may also be consumed via a Power BI app available via the Windows App Store.  The Power BI app is linked to an Office 365 site supporting the deployed Excel/Power Pivot workbooks. One item to note is that Office 365 BI capabilities (question and answer) are cloud based as a component of the Office 365 subscription.  In deployment scenarios 2-3 on-premises or off-premises SharePoint can be used for information delivery.  This raises the additional question of should the deployment mechanism for an BI content be on or off premises.  This in itself is a complex topic and cannot be fully addressed without understanding an organizations specific requirements.

Summary

The above deployment scenarios by no means cover all of the possible options available for the deployment of Power BI, but they do represent the more common ones.  If you are considering using and deploying Power BI the above scenarios can be used as a starting point and modified as required to fit an organization’s specific requirements.