What is the Best Training for Business Analysts?

Updated Feb 2019.  This is an edited version of my original article which first appeared on my site in Feb 2016.

The rate of change in the tools available to a Business Analyst has never been faster than it is today.  The market is changing so quickly that many Business Analysts (BAs) are only just becoming aware of the great new tools that are available to help them succeed in their jobs and careers.  Regular readers of my blog will already know what is hot, but let me cover off a bit of background to what is happening for the benefit of others before I answer the question about what training a BA should be doing (jump directly to the bottom of the page if you can’t wait that long).

I am going to cover:

What’s Hot? Power BI is Hot – That’s What!

Power BI is the name Microsoft has given to a number of specific products as well as an unofficial umbrella term for its suite of Self Service Business Intelligence tools that come bundled with Microsoft Excel.

Specific Products

There are 3 specific products you need to know about.

Power BI Desktop

 

This is the free Power BI authoring tool that allows you to build your own data models with your own data, and then quickly and easily analyse the data to find insights. You can distribute your analysis for free to other people (just like an Excel workbook) or publish directly to the Power BI Service (PowerBI.com) with just a couple of clicks and share from there (with a pro licence).

Power BI Service (PowerBI.com)

This is the cloud version of Power BI that makes sharing live business analytics a snap. Here is a demo I built a few years back.  The Power BI Service makes sharing live interactive BI reports very easy. You can create dashboards, view the quick insights generated for you and even connect the Power BI Service to Excel and build thin Excel reports  on you PC without duplicating the data.

Power BI Mobile

This is the free mobile tool that allows you to consume any of the reports that are available to you in the Power BI Service.
There are versions of the software for all major tablets and smart phones.

Umbrella Products

There is a suite of underlying “products/technologies” that are part of the the Power BI ecosystem.  These products below are the supporting technologies sitting behind Microsoft’s Self Service BI Strategy (and also Enterprise BI in some cases).

Power Pivot

Power Pivot is a data modelling tool built using the Vertipaq engine – the same engine in Power BI and SSAS Tabular.  The language of Power Pivot is DAX (Data Analysis Expressions). If you want to be a successful Business Analyst and use the new suite of Microsoft Self Service tools, you really must start to Learn to Write DAX.

Power Query

Power Query is a data acquisition and transformation tool.  It helps business users grab data from anywhere it resides, then cleanse, reshape and prepare the data in ready for the analytics work to come – no IT guru needed any more.  The Power Query technology is deployed in Power BI, Microsoft Excel and also Power BI Dataflows.  If you learn it once, you can use it in all of these applications.

So why should you care?

Well the answer to that question is easy.  Either you are going to excel using these tools, or someone else will instead.  These tools come from Microsoft, and as you will read below, Gartner has already recognised the leading position Microsoft is in right now.  So get on board now – don’t wait.

Gartner Insights to the Market

Gartner has recently released its 2019 update to its Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms.  This document contains a very detailed review of Business Intelligence vendors and products, and you can download a copy yourself here if you are interested in this detail.  But let me call out the significant observations I made when reading this report.

Modern analytics and BI platforms are now mainstream purchases for which key differentiators are augmented analytics and support for Mode 1 reporting in a single platform. This Magic Quadrant will help data and analytics leaders complement their existing solutions or move to an entirely new vendor.

Microsoft offers data preparation, visual-based data discovery, interactive dashboards and augmented analytics via a single product, Power BI. It is available as a SaaS option running in the Azure cloud or as an on-premises option in Power BI Report Server. Power BI Desktop can be used as a stand-alone, free personal analysis tool. It is also required when power users are authoring complex data mashups involving on-premises data sources.

Although Power BI started out being used primarily as a self-service analytics and BI tool, Microsoft’s reference customers now use it mainly for decentralised analytics (61%) and agile, centralised BI provisioning (54%).

Microsoft is a Leader. It has a comprehensive and visionary product roadmap aimed at globalising and democratising Power BI for all analytics use cases. At the same time, it continues to demonstrate strong uptake and global adoption of Power BI, with high levels of customer satisfaction.

Gartner has succinctly stated the strengths of Microsoft Power BI space.

  • Low-priced incumbent with positive sales experience
  • Ease of use for complex types of analysis
  • Comprehensive product vision

Hallelujah – thank goodness someone has said it so well.  Gartner is not saying that companies should throw out their existing investments in Enterprise BI, but they also cannot/should not continue to ignore the Self Service revolution that is here already.

Microsoft the Undisputed Leader in this Space

Power BI is going through a tremendous growth.  Note how Microsoft has screamed past the pack in the area of “completeness of vision”.  This is enough to make anyone that has a Tableau investment shake in their socks.

Learning and Training for Business Analysts

Undoubtedly the skills of the future Business Analyst will increasingly include the skills of self service analytics.  Microsoft is not the only company selling self service analytics software, but there are lots of benefits of using the Microsoft tools, including

  • It is Microsoft, and Microsoft sees this as a strategic part of its future.
  • Microsoft has deep pockets.
  • Most BAs are already competent in Excel. The Power BI Umbrella Products (Power Pivot, Power Query) are already embedded in Excel ready to use.

Specific Skills and Tools to Learn

Skill Area Reason it Matters
Building Reports in Power BI As mentioned above, Power BI is hot and is just going to get hotter.  The fact that the technologies that support Power BI (Power Pivot, Power Query) are the same across similar tools, plus it is free for individual use) means adoption is huge.There are 2 main differences between Excel with Power Query/Power Pivot, and Power BI.
1. Power BI is easier to share data with others (try sharing a 300MB workbook with someone on a Mobile phone and you will know what I mean)
2. Power BI has improved visualisations.  Microsoft is investing big in an open source visualisation framework which mean that anything Microsoft doesn’t get to can be built by the community.  Take a look at the Power BI Visuals Gallery to see what is already available from the community.
Sharing Reports in Power BI Service The reports built in Power BI Desktop can be published Power BI Service and then share those those reports. Power BI Service facilitates creating dashboards and sharing them.
Power Query
Data Acquisition, Transformation & Cleansing Tool
The next problem BAs normally encounter when they go down the Data Modelling path is how to get the data where they need it.  Power Query will help you with the process of acquiring the data, reshaping it, cleansing it, and making the entire process repeatable with the minimum of effort   And Power Query is the same whether you are loading your data into Excel or Power Bi.
Data Modelling using Power Pivot (Vertipaq) Data modelling is the process of preparing data for analysis.  Raw data is seldom in the ideal structure for analysis.  In the past it would have been the IT department that prepared data for analysis (typically through a data mart or data warehouse).  Increasingly in the future (as we move to more and more self service analytics) it will be up to the Business Analyst to do this work.  Data Modelling through Power Pivot (Vertipaq) is well within reach of most competent Excel Business Analysts.  Vertipaq is essentially the same technology whether you use Excel, Power BI or SQL Server Tabular (normally used for Enterprise BI).

How You Can Learn from Me?

There are lots of different learning styles, and you can pick up any of these options based on your requirement and geographic location.

Live Training

I offer live Power Pivot/Power BI training in Australia.  You can attend a public training course, or if you have a large group or custom learning needs, contact me for In House Power BI Training.

Reading Books

I have written two books to learn how to write DAX – Supercharge Power BI and Supercharge Excel. Both the books teach you data modelling and the DAX language.   Supercharge Power BI uses Power BI Desktop as the tool whereas Supercharge Excel uses Excel 2016. The skills are entirely transferable between the two software products, the only difference being the UI that is used for illustrations.  If you buy the book from my shop (link above) you will get both versions included with your purchase.

Online Learning

If you are located outside Australia and want more guided learning of data modelling with DAX, checkout my Supercharge Online Training. I offer this course in semesters.

If you want a comprehensive lesson on how to use Power Query, checkout my training course https://exceleratorbi.com.au/product/power-query-excel-power-bi-online-training/

If you want to keep up with the latest tips, tricks and developments in Power BI, then I recommend you subscribe to my blog.

 

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Comments

  1. I’m hoping that the continued growth in PBI means it is increasingly harder for organisations to find people with even basic ‘drag-n-drop’ experience with it, let alone deeper knowledge such as the DAX data modelling or the PowerQuery data shaping languages. And I’m hoping that this quickly results in people hiring a whole lot of cheap resource to save money, only to find out that deep skills actually matter. And I’m hoping that translates to reward for the not insignificant effort and hours advanced users have put in in order to be advanced.
    I’ve been to a few job interviews recently where they are looking for people with PBI experience, but the hirer themselves is from “the business” but not “IT”, meaning they don’t know what competency in the tool even looks like. I ask them “How will you gauge if people are any good in the tool?” and they give me blank stares.
    Mind you, that’s not that different from Excel. How people know you are “advanced” at Excel is simple: it’s written on your CV. At worst, they might ask you “do you know VLOOKUPS and PivotTables” and if you answer the question (even if you struggle with these) then you meet the technical criteria.

  2. I wonder what your thoughts are on the other two components (besides Power BI) of Microsoft’s Power Platform, i.e, Microsoft Flow & PowerApps. How tightly integrated will these platforms become? Do your customers have any awareness of these products, interest in building ‘workflows’ & PowerApps web/mobile apps? Are there specific skills you’ve developed in Flow & PowerApps? Or should analysts concentrate primarily on the Power BI reporting & analytics ecosystem?

    • Dan N – if you just want reporting, then Power BI (or BI in Excel) will work, but as you look at more comprehensive solutions, Flow and PowerApps become must have tools, even if you only learn enough to enhance your Power BI experience. I’m really struggling with Flow though as its Function language is totally different from anything in Excel, PowerBI, or PowerApps. :-\

      Matt – great reference article, as usual!

  3. I agree Ed with everything you have said. I have sat in a MS presentation where the Power App presenter said “see, it’s just like Excel”….but it’s nothing like Excel. I haven’t even started on the Flow language.

  4. Hi Matt, … my primary task for today was to write a proposal to internal management to trial PowerBi Service for a specific PowerBI Desktop report I’ve created. I might now just include a hyperlink to here! However, separately, do you think your article should also mention the PowerBI On-premise option – doesn’t the on-prem option offset some of the data security concerns with cloud based products? Thanks

    • Glad this post helped. This article is about training. Yes the on-prem option offers relief from “perceived” security concerns vs cloud based products. I say perceived because in reality the Microsoft Cloud is probably more secure than the network of most companies. But wrt to training, there is no different training need for BA’s if they use the on-premise version other than to know you need to select “File\Save As in order to publish.

  5. Two-factor authentication using your mobile really improves the security component of the Power BI reporting solution.

  6. Besides, even if a Product Owner is dedicated to the product, he normally won’t write user stories and acceptance criteria, so it is where BA comes into the picture. BA will go to the lowest level of requirement such as getting details of field type and size, creating process flow diagram, doing sanity test.

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