I am an enthusiastic sponsor of Microsoft BI. I have been fortunate enough to build a new career off the back of the great products Microsoft has developed, specifically Power BI, Power Pivot and Power Query. Having said that, I am definitely disappointed with the new licensing agreement changes have been released in the last week. Read on to find out why I believe Power BI Free has been a significant contributor to the problem we face today.
Firstly let me reflect on what Microsoft has done well. I think there is no doubt that there is now an affordable scalable offering for large corporates wanting to use Power BI. There is still a bit of work to be done to iron out the communication messages and licensing conflicts between the need for a Power BI Pro Licence to author to the Power BI Premium Server, however these are relatively small teething problems that can be easily sorted out.
There are 2 issues however that I am definitely not happy about. Firstly is a lack of a suitable pricing model for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and secondly is the decision to prevent free and premium users from using “Export to Excel”.
Affordable Pricing for SMEs
Stated simply, Microsoft has not catered for the affordability needs of SMEs that use BI to drive their business. Let’s face it, which company doesn’t need data and information to drive its business? Maybe in the past, BI solutions were only affordable for large corporations, but the expectation has now changed largely thanks to the software that Microsoft has developed. It’s too late to turn back on this now, the cat is out of the bag. Small to medium sized companies now expect that they can access affordable BI solutions to meet their business analytical needs.
I think the existence of the Power BI Free product has been the root of the problem here. The fact that you could do so much for free (including some sharing) really muddied the waters and has taken the focus away from acknowledging that there needs to be a two tier pricing model for users (free is not a pricing tier). Microsoft is addressing one part of the problem by making it clear that Power BI Free is for personal (non sharing) use. However it has not addressed the second part of the problem being the need for a lower priced offering for users that just consume data in a way I would describe as “low involvement”. Microsoft has taken away the “proxy for a low priced sharing tier” without providing a genuine low priced replacement – this had just made the situation worse, not better and it has upset a lot of people. Power BI Free has been a great product to “try before you buy” but unfortunately its existence prevented Microsoft from realising it was missing a price tier for 2 years! Power BI Free for personal use (no sharing) is an incredibly generous offering from Microsoft. It is a shame that it will need a backlash to fill the real gap – a lower priced tier.
I truly believe that most companies are willing to pay a fair price for the value they extract from software. But $120 per year for a user that looks at some numbers once per week is hardly fair value. It actually doesn’t matter what size company you are, the value proposition just doesn’t stack up for this type of user because it doesn’t scale. A small company with 300 of these users will pay $36,000 per year for people to read reports ($360,000 over 10 years). There is a pretty big incentive here to find another solution, and I could write an Excel based tool to email PDF reports for a fraction of this (one off cost)
In my view, the pricing for low involvement users needs to be around $2.00 to $2.50 per user per month. And I am not saying that the pricing model has to be per user per month. There are many other pricing models out there including “capacity” and “concurrent users” to name a few. Microsoft has addressed the need for a lower tier pricing model (including sharing) for large corporate via Power BI Premium, (capacity model) but the minimum price of $60,000 per year makes it prohibitive for SMEs. What Microsoft needs to do now is deliver a viable lower price sharing pricing model that works for SMEs.
Export to Excel – NOT!
I couldn’t sleep the night I heard this news. Microsoft will soon be the only BI vendor in the world that does not have an “export to Excel” button in its BI software (specifically Power BI Free and Premium). The crazy thing is that Export to Excel is hardly “way too much value for the price you pay”, so it is not like there is any real reason to prevent this.
I’m sorry, this is completely unacceptable that any vendor would allow you to load your data into their system, see a summarised chart on the screen, and then prevent you from extracting the summarised data to Excel. I totally get that free users and premium users should not be able to use Analyze in Excel. Analyze in Excel is a very powerful offering that leverages a cloud-based reporting server and I don’t think Analyze in Excel should be made available to the low-priced users. But export to Excel is not Analyze in Excel. Extracting your own data is a fundamental right. In my view, this is a mistake and the decision needs to be reversed.
Where to Now?
Unlike what you may think by this point in my post, I actually believe that Microsoft is trying to do the right thing here, and is trying to improve the offering to the market. But like many big corporate companies, I just think it failed to get it right this time. The good news is the world hasn’t come to an end, and Microsoft has an opportunity to reflect and improve on the decisions announced last week.
I encourage you all to share you views and opinions on this too (either in the comments here or in the Power BI forum), as it is strength in numbers that will get the most attention.