Data visualization can greatly simplify and amplify raw data, turning it into informative nuggets of actionable information for decision makers. In the Microsoft ecosystem of Windows 10, Office 365, and Azure, the default data visualization tool is Power BI, which is available for free as a web service or as part of one of the business editions of Office 365.
With a few mouse clicks or finger taps, Power BI can transform your raw data into a visual dashboard that informs the reader and reveals information that otherwise might have been shrouded by the white noise of enterprise data overload. This TechRepublic tutorial shows you how to gather data generated by a simple Excel workbook and transform it into a data visualization using Power BI tools.
The first thing you have to do when creating a dashboard with Power BI is access the data. For this example, we will get our data from an Excel workbook that we prepared for use with Power BI.
Load up Power BI inside Office 365 and then click the Get Data button located at the bottom of the left navigation pane, as shown in Figure A.
One of the choices will be Files. Click that button and proceed to the location where your Excel file is stored. Find your file, point to it, and click the Connect button, shown in Figure B. For this example, we will import the Excel workbook.
It will take a few moments to process, depending on the size of the workbook. Once it is finished, you will be presented with a blank Power BI workspace. On the left navigation pane, click the name of the dataset you just imported. The blank workspace will then change into an active dashboard creation tool. It should look something like Figure C.
Create your dashboard
Similar to a paint program, Power BI has icons that represent the various data visualization tools you can use for your dashboard. It also displays a Fields section, where you can choose what data you want to work with at any given point.
The example dataset is a fictional portfolio of stocks, so one useful visualization might be to show the market value of each stock in relation to the whole portfolio—and the most common way to do that is with a pie chart.
Click the checkbox for the stock name and the market value and then click the pie chart icon. Power BI will automatically create a pie chart, similar to the one shown in Figure D.
Another important visualization for our stock portfolio would be to see where we have a gain versus where we have a loss. A bar chart would work for this visualization. Click the checkbox for stock name and gain/loss and then click the bar chart icon to create a visualization of gains and losses (Figure E). Seems we are losing big on Twitter right now.
Click the Save icon in the toolbar to reserve this dashboard report for later viewing. By tying the dataset to an Excel workbook, our dashboard will change when the data changes. In other words, when we update Excel, we will automatically update our Power BI dashboard.
That's it. You have now created your first data visualization dashboard using Power BI tools.
The Power BI how-to series
This tutorial is second in a series of tips and tricks that will help you reap the benefits of Power BI and data visualization. The series also includes these topics:
- How to configure an Excel file for use in Power BI
- How to harness OneDrive to keep your Power BI dashboard fresh
- How to share your Power BI dashboards and reports
The entire series is available as a PDF ebook.
- Why dashboard design is critical to analytics success
- Microsoft wants to bring better data visualization to your enterprise
- Hiring kit: Microsoft Power BI developer (TechPro Research)
How do you prepare your data visualizations? What tools do you use? Share your thoughts and opinions with your peers at TechRepublic in the discussion thread below.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.