Monitoring KPIs With Microsoft Power BI Dashboards

By Stoneridge Team | October 19, 2023

Your Business at a Glance: Microsoft Power BI Dashboards

In an increasingly digitized business world, companies collect and store a staggering amount of data. Microsoft alone has over 200 datacenters (and counting) in its Azure Cloud, linked to form a massive wide area network by more than 175,000 miles of fiber optic cables.

Your business has financial, sales, marketing, customer service, inventory, and human resources data—and perhaps supply chain and production data, too. Artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of things (IoT) collect data from sensors embedded in your factory’s equipment—in some cases, this is a real-time stream of data.

The mountains of information accumulating in your enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) software are like the pieces of a vast puzzle; but the image formed when you fit the pieces together constantly shifts. Assembling the data points into a usable image—or even part of an image—is what makes all this data collection worthwhile.

Ultimately, it’s not the business that collects the most data that gets ahead. It’s the business that makes the best use of the data it collects.

Power BI—one of the applications on Microsoft’s Power Platform—is a potent tool for turning raw data into the proverbial picture “worth a thousand words.” In this blog, we’ll present an overview of Power Platform and Power BI and show you how to use Power BI dashboards to capture snapshots of your company’s key performance indicators (KPIs).

What Is Microsoft Power Platform?

Microsoft Power Platform is a group of low-code business tools offered in a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) delivery model. Power Platform is part of Microsoft’s comprehensive computing solutions for businesses of all sizes, running on the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) Azure Cloud and connecting software-as-a-service (SaaS) Microsoft 365 productivity software and Dynamics 365 ERP and CRM software.

Like SaaS products, Power Platform apps are licensed per user via subscription.

Using preexisting software components and minimal coding, Power Platform users can create customized apps that extend the capabilities of their Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, or on-premises Dynamics solutions.

As you’ll see in the following summary of Power Platform products, you can reap significant benefits by enabling citizen creators to dive into what was formerly the exclusive domain of developers.

Power BI

Power BI is a business analytics tool that lets users create reports and dashboards that present your data in multiple compelling visual formats. We’ll discuss this in more detail below.

Power Apps

You hear it from multiple departments: “Can you make me an app that does this?” And of course, the timeline is not typically, “Oh, no hurry. Whenever you get to it.”

Development needs put significant pressure on your information technology (IT) teams. According to a Microsoft survey, 89% of IT executives see low-code tools as a way to increase their efficiency.

Power Apps is one such efficiency-boosting tool. With Power Apps, those closest to the problem or need can start the development process, even if they’re non-developers. Power Apps uses templates and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate app creation. A built-in AI copilot allows users to interact with the program using natural language commands.

The result? The apps you need—faster and at lower cost.

Power Automate

Businesses run on complex processes, and many of them require repetitive, (mostly) mindless data entry. With Power Automate, you can use low-code tools to create process automations that save your employees time, freeing them up to focus on more skilled tasks.

To help you increase efficiency even more, Microsoft recently introduced Power Automate Process Mining. Input business process data from your ERP or CRM into Power Automate, and the Process Mining capability analyzes the data, creates a process model, and reports back with suggestions for optimizing the process.

Power Virtual Agents

With Power Virtual Agents, you can use natural language commands to prompt the built-in generative AI to create chatbots to handle all sorts of service scenarios—outward- and inward-facing.

For example, create an inward-facing bot that helps human resources onboard new employees or ensures that expense reports are filled out accurately. Create outward-facing bots to answer questions from prospective customers or generate support tickets.

Power Pages

Much like Power Apps, Power Pages relieves the burden on your development teams by equipping citizen developers to generate secure, professional websites with a minimum of coding knowledge. Once again, this allows those closest to a need or issue to tackle—or at least start tackling—website creation without waiting for assistance from developers.

Microsoft Dataverse

The Microsoft Dataverse is the repository for your business data when you use Power Apps. With each Power Apps license, you’re allotted space in the Dataverse to store and manage the information you need. If you’re using a Dynamics 365 ERP or CRM solution or Microsoft 365, your data are already stored in the Microsoft Dataverse.

But you can import virtually any data into Microsoft Dataverse and use it with Power Platform tools, including:

  • SQL, NoSQL, JSON, BSON, and XML databases
  • Access, Excel, and CSV files
  • A data lake
  • Blockchain

You can even connect to data in non-Microsoft ERP or CRM systems, such as SAP or Salesforce. This wide array of data connections to Microsoft Dataverse allows you to use Power BI to create reports—for example—on information across your Microsoft Dynamics 365 ERP and other software systems, even software from other vendors.

What Is Microsoft Power BI?

Microsoft Power BI provides tools to analyze and visualize your business data to gain insight into your operations, monitor progress, processes, or KPIs, and make knowledge-based, data-driven decisions.

If you’re using a Microsoft Dynamics 365 ERP solution, your business systems are interconnected. Entries in one business area affect what you see in other areas. For example, a salesperson can trust that the stock levels in the system are accurate. The inventory system automatically updates to reflect each sale your staff makes.

This integration of business systems and data is important—but Power BI goes a step further. Using a familiar Microsoft Office–like interface and low-code commands, you can use Power BI to analyze your data and uncover recurring patterns, developing trends, and hidden relationships.

To present your findings, choose from dozens of visual displays, including:

  • Area, bar, column, line, and ribbon charts
  • Cards, which show one data point per row
  • Combination charts (e.g., a line chart with a column chart)
  • Decomposition trees, which allow drill-downs into multiple dimensions of data
  • Doughnut, funnel, gauge, and pie charts
  • Key influencers charts, which show factors that contribute to a particular result
  • KPIs, which visually indicate progress or another relationship with a particular goal
  • Maps, which display data or categories about location
  • Q&A visuals, which allow users to sort data via natural language prompts
  • Scatter plots
  • Slicers, which present selections for filtering other data on the page (e.g., category, date range)
  • Tables and matrixes
  • Treemaps
  • Waterfall charts, which illustrate multiple contributions to a total (e.g., quarterly earnings contributions to yearly earnings)

Power BI Components

Power BI has three basic components, each of which serves different functions. Your team members are likely to use different components of Power BI depending on their roles within your organization.

  1. Power BI Desktop: This free Windows desktop program is the primary workspace. Desktop is where you model your data—connect to one or more data sources, link and transform tables, and produce visuals. Analyze your data further using a collection of data analysis expressions (DAX) that sort, filter, and run formulas or calculations with your data. Combine multiple visuals into reports and share them with your teams via Power BI Service. Because Power BI Desktop is a low-code program, you don’t necessarily need to be trained as a data analyst to extract meaningful insights.
  2. Power BI Service: The online SaaS component of Power BI is where you share the reports you create in Power BI Desktop. You can use Power BI Service to control access to reports and dashboards—who sees them, what they see, whether they have access to the underlying datasets, and more. You can also edit reports and create dashboards in Power BI Service.
  3. Power BI Mobile: Mobile Windows, iOS, and Android apps allow team members with access to your Power BI dashboards and reports to view them on the go. For example, an executive might view a Power BI KPI dashboard on the iOS app to quickly examine vital company performance statistics. A salesperson might view a Power BI dashboard on the Android app to track their performance compared to colleagues' or company-wide goals.

Two other Power BI components may or may not be essential in your company’s analytics workflow:

  • Power BI Report Builder: This free Windows desktop program is used to create what Microsoft calls paginated reports. The primary difference between paginated reports created in Report Builder and reports created in Power BI Desktop or Power BI Service is that paginated reports can be printed. Design for the printed page using wizards, templates, or your own custom layout. If you embed a table in a paginated report, you can print the entire table, even if the report runs to hundreds of pages. You can also publish paginated reports to Power BI Service.
  • Power BI Report Server: This component allows you to publish Power BI dashboards and reports on-premises, if necessary.

Connecting Power BI to Dynamics 365

If you’re using a Dynamics 365–based ERP solution like Business Central, you already have a free license to Power BI that gives you access to the application’s central functions—creating, viewing, and sharing reports. With the free license, report sharing is limited; you’ll have to upgrade to a Pro license for unlimited sharing and additional features.

Connecting Power BI to cloud-based Dynamics 365 applications like Business Central is generally quite simple. Download and install Power BI Desktop, and then:

  • Open the program and select the “Get Data” option from the ribbon menu or the welcome screen.
  • Select “Online Services” from the list on the left, and then select “Dynamics 365 (online)” from the list that pops up.
  • Click “Connect,” and then follow the prompts to sign into your Dynamics 365 account and complete the connection.

Microsoft is in the process of rolling out Power BI integrations within Dynamics 365, giving you access to Power BI visualizations without leaving the Dynamics 365 environment.

What Are Microsoft Power BI Dashboards?

Like the dashboard in your car, Microsoft Power BI dashboards bring multiple visualizations together in one convenient location. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Power BI dashboards are designed to be one-page canvases that give at-a-glance insight into an area of your business. A well-constructed Power BI KPI dashboard can provide an instant overview of your entire business.
  • Create reports in Power BI Desktop; create dashboards in Power BI Service. Use Power BI Service to create a visualization from a report and pin it to a dashboard, making it a dashboard tile. Strategically combine multiple tiles (from multiple reports) into a cohesive dashboard.
  • Power BI dashboards are interactive—each tile is linked to its source report. Users can select any dashboard tile to access and explore the source report or dataset. Dashboards also update automatically as the data for the underlying reports changes. These features make Power BI dashboards a powerful tool for tracking essential business metrics.
  • There are several ways to share Power BI dashboards—online, in Power BI Mobile, or embedded in apps.

Power BI Dashboards vs. Reports

If you’re new to Power BI, you might wonder what the difference is between Power BI dashboards and reports.

Power BI reports are created in Power BI Desktop—they are the output of your analysis and manipulation of a single dataset. Reports can be any length—whatever suits your needs. You can drill into, filter, or sort report data in multiple ways.

Power BI dashboards are created in Power BI Service from one or more reports. Because they display information from multiple reports, dashboards can give insight into multiple datasets at once.

Dashboards are limited to one page. You can’t filter or sort the information in dashboard tiles, but you can drill down into a tile if it’s an embedded page from a report.

How to Create a Power BI Dashboard

Note that you can’t create a Power BI dashboard with a free license; to get started building dashboards, you need a Power BI Pro or Premium license.

To create a new dashboard, open a report in Power BI Service in edit mode. Choose a visualization from the report and click the pin icon. In the prompt that follows, select “New dashboard,” provide a dashboard name, and click “Pin.”

Visit Microsoft Learn for step-by-step instructions on how to finish setting up your new dashboard.

Power BI Dashboard Examples

The applications of Power BI dashboards are limited only by your creativity. Apply them to any set of metrics or areas of your business to track, monitor, inspire, or inform.

For example:

  • Compare sales and marketing data to see which marketing channels are most successful.
  • Motivate customer service representatives with dashboards that track their performance individually and compared to their associates.
  • Give your executive team a one-screen view of continuously updated financial KPIs.

Partner With Stoneridge Software

Stoneridge Software is a Microsoft Inner Circle Partner with extensive experience in implementing and supporting Microsoft Dynamics solutions. When you choose us as your implementation partner, we’re with you for the long haul—we provide consulting, training, and support to ensure you get the most out of your ERP or CRM.

We’re known for Dynamics 365 ERP and CRM solutions, but we provide services across the entire breadth of Microsoft’s business offerings, including Cloud Services like Azure, Microsoft 365, and Power Platform.

Join one of our Power Platform webinars to get started using Power BI in Dynamics 365 Business Central.

Contact us to learn more about our Power Platform services or for help with getting set up in Power BI and your Microsoft Dynamics solution.

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