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Microsoft's Power BI Is Surprisingly Excel-Friendly

Since it introduced Power BI publisher for Excel, Microsoft has been working to enhance it with new features and to fix bugs highlighted by users.

Microsoft's cloud-based Power BI service just became considerably more Excel-friendly.

Last month, Microsoft enhanced its Power BI publisher for Excel with new features, including an ability to access Power BI shared reports as well as data in read-only group workspaces.

Sharing Excel Insights via "Snapshots"

This builds on an already strong start for that tool, which Microsoft made available earlier this year. Power BI publisher for Excel is a downloadable plugin that enables Excel users to quickly publish insights -- e.g., PivotTables, charts, ranges, and so on -- to Power BI dashboards.

Microsoft senior content developer David Iseminger likened this to sharing "snapshots" of Excel views. "You can take snapshots of your most important insights in Excel ... and pin them to dashboards in Power BI," Iseminger wrote on the Power BI blog.

"What can you pin? Just about anything in an Excel worksheet. You can select a range of cells from a simple sheet or table, a PivotTable or PivotChart, illustrations and images, text," he wrote.

The catch is that pinned elements don't refresh dynamically: they're snapshots, nothing more, of a state or view in Excel. The upshot, Iseminger acknowledged, is that "if you make a change to a PivotTable or chart you've already pinned, the dashboard tile in Power BI isn't updated automatically, but you can still update your pinned elements by using Pin Manager."

The August update doesn't change this. It does, however, extend the range of Power BI data sources (or resources) Excel users can connect to. For example, in addition to new support for accessing shared reports and read-only data resources, Power BI publisher for Excel now detects data that doesn't contain any measures. It won't automatically fix the problem for you, but it will point you in the right direction -- namely, to documentation that could explain how to resolve the issue.

Microsoft Responsive to Excel Users

Since introducing Power BI publisher for Excel, Microsoft has worked to enhance it with new features and to fix bugs (or repair feature/functionality shortcomings) highlighted by users.

For example, the problem of access to read-only groups was cited by at least one participant in Microsoft's Power BI Forum. This person bemoaned this shortcoming, along with several other issues (such as an inability to enforce security restrictions in Power BI Group Workspaces). "These issues are blowing my mind!" this person wrote. "How can anyone actually use [Power BI] on an enterprise level before these issues are resolved!!?"

However, most of these problems have now been fixed, this same person said in a separate post.

Excel and Power BI Integration Continues

It's worth noting that Microsoft has every incentive to make integration between Excel and Power BI as frictionless and frustration free as possible. The spreadsheet is still the most dominant business intelligence (BI) tool. It's also the most widely used data integration (DI) tool. It may be the most dominant data discovery, data prep, and advanced analytics tool, too.

Redmond is still wrestling with many Excel and Power BI integration problems. In the forum thread referenced above, for example, the same participant lamented that it's not possible to prevent users from making copies of Excel data sets that have been shared via Power BI publisher for Excel.

If history is any indication, Microsoft will come to grips with this problem in a future update, too.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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