One thing I find when working with my customers and meeting PowerPivot users is that a lot of people want to know how to access PowerPivot when they are mobile. Most frequently people want to access PowerPivot reports on iPad, however in many cases just presenting data for PC users in an ‘easy to consume’ and ‘easy to control’ manner is also important. Well there are 3 ways that you can set up to allow iPad (and PC users for that matter) to access PowerPivot reports from a web browser, and it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive if you do it the right way. The three options are:
- Microsoft Power BI in the Cloud
- An On Premise instance of SharePoint Enterprise Edition
- A Cloud based SharePoint Enterprise Service purchased as Software as a Service (SaaS).
I will cover each of these in turn leaving what I consider to be the best until last.
First of all, a definition of the term Power BI
I find the term Power BI a bit confusing because it refers to many different things. I like to refer to the different offerings as “Power BI on the Desktop” and “Power BI in the Cloud”. Power BI on the desktop consists of PowerPivot, Power Query, Power View and Power Map integrated with Excel (and PowerPoint for presentation purposes). PowerPivot and Power Query come as a free plug in for Office 2010, and the full suite of Power BI on the desktop (ie including Power View and Power Map) is bundled with Office 2013 Professional Plus (no plug in available for PowerPivot at least). Power BI on the desktop is the best thing to happen to Excel since Pivot Tables (particularly PowerPivot and Power Query). The fact that this product exists at all is the very reason for this post, because what normally happens is this.
- A user in Company X discovers Power BI on the Desktop (primarily PowerPivot)
- The user then learns PowerPivot and starts producing fabulous reports and insights that were never possible before (outside of expensive enterprise strength solutions that were expensive to install and needed specialised skills to build and maintain).
- Someone in the company then asks the obvious question “how can we share this with other people in the company who are mobile”? How can I get PowerPivot on my iPad?
The “how can we share…” question is equally valid across desk based users as it is for mobile users. You can use the tools in Power BI on the desktop all you want and then email spreadsheets to other desktop users, but if you want to put them on a server and consume them in a user friendly manner, then you will need to look at one of the following 3 options.
1. Microsoft Power BI in the Cloud
This is a relatively new offering by Microsoft and can only be purchased as a cloud based service (ie as of Sept 2014, there is no ‘on premise’ version of this). Power BI in the cloud essentially allows you to publish your reports to the Microsoft servers, and then have users log into Power BI and look at the reports. While this is a viable option for many companies, there are some reasons it is not good for everyone. The main reason I come across is that your company needs to first purchase Office 365 before having the right to purchase this additional add on at an additional fee. Many companies don’t have O365, and are not willing/not ready to make that change. The second major issue is that Microsoft has not yet released the iPad App to be able to consume the Power BI reports on the iPad (there is a Windows Mobile App however). MS has said the iPad version is coming, but it isn’t available as at Sept 2014. So if iPad is your need, then as of today, Power BI won’t do it for you. And finally, I am not a real fan of the Power BI in the cloud UI. I think there needs to be a way to present reports to users in a controlled “web browsing” fashion.
The Power BI in the cloud UI is fine for power users, but I don’t think it is a good fit for 90% of the people that need to consume reports – JMO.
2. SharePoint Enterprise Edition On Premise
This is a very good option for a) large companies, b) companies that already have a compatible version of SharePoint in their environment, or c) companies that are about to take the plunge and install SharePoint Enterprise. You need to install SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition at a minimum to make this approach work, and this can be a deal breaker for many companies because they only have Standard Edition. The cost of upgrading from Standard Edition to Enterprise Edition across the company can be very expensive. Another issue with this approach is the absolute size of the investment can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is a lot of money, particularly if you just want to put your toe in the water to see if it adds value.
So that brings me to my preferred option three…
3. SharePoint Enterprise Edition as a Service
For the reasons outlined above, this is the option that I think is the best fit for many organisations. There are service providers out there that specialise in providing SharePoint Enterprise Software as a Service at a fraction of the cost of deploying it internally, particularly for relatively small deployments. The advantages of this approach are:
- You can start with a small deployment with as few as 2 users (actually you can start with 1 user, but I don’t see why you would want to do that) and prove the concept and value internally before making larger investments.
- The ongoing costs of a fully operational solution can can be as low as AUD$35 per user per month, depending on requirements.
- If you have the skills in house to do the set up work, then there are no additional up front costs to get going.
- The exit costs (and hence risk) is very low, with a 60 day notice period to cease the service.