Power BI: The latest Gartner report and what it means for accountants

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Published this week, the new “Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms” from Gartner makes for interesting reading for accountants in practice.

You can get access to the full copy of the report here, but to save you time I present my take on it from an accountant’s point of view. I have written this article from the context of an accountant in practice. It is equally relevant for an accountant in industry who needs to serve the rest of the company with powerful, insightful reports.​

Microsoft (Power BI) is clearly the overall market leader

According to Gartner, Microsoft is clearly the overall leader in terms of “Completeness of Vision” and “Ability to Execute”. So for any accountant looking at business intelligence it makes sense to include Power BI on the list of tools to consider seriously. This in itself is not a reason to select Power BI, but it is a good reason to consider it. The fact that Power BI is ranked so high on the “Completeness of Vision” score and that Microsoft is adding new capabilities at such a fast pace, I expect Microsoft to maintain this lead for a long time to come.

Price

“Power BI Desktop can be used as a stand-alone, free personal analysis tool and is also required when power users are authoring complex data mashups involving on-premises data sources. Microsoft Power BI Pro's list price is $9.99 per user per month, making it one of the lowest-priced solutions on the market today.”

That Power BI Desktop is free means that you have free access to an extremely powerful data modelling and analysis tool to author your clients’ reports. When it comes to distribution, $9.99 per user per month is great value.

Power BI fits so well with Excel

You are probably already a bit of a whizz with Excel. Maybe you are already using the Power features in Excel, such as Power Query (data querying and transformation), Power Pivot (data modelling) and Power View (visualisation)?

Well if you are, then you should feel very at home with Power BI Desktop which is in effect Power Pivot, Power Query and Power View bundled together in a new interface and some additional features (which are added to every month).

Not only do Excel Power Pivot and Power BI Desktop use the same DAX modelling language, but you can embed your Power Pivot reports into Power BI for distribution and pull your Power BI data into Excel for analysis. This YouTube video goes into all of this at some depth. You can also take a look at this recent article in AccountingWeb.

Even if you are not a DAX expert, you will soon realise that is bears a lot of resemblance to the standard functions that you would use every day in Excel to perform cell-based calculations.

Many of your clients already have Power BI (even if they don’t realise it)

“Many organizations own Microsoft Power BI, often through enterprise software agreements”

Any of your clients that have Office 365 will almost certainly already have at least one user licence for Power BI. Add to this that Sage 50c comes with a free Office 365 user, then your clients with Sage 50c will have a Power BI licence even if they don’t know it.

Ease of Use

“Microsoft's customer reference scores place it in the top quartile for ease of use”

If you are distributing dashboards and reports to your clients, the last thing you want is to be bombarded by support calls because your client cannot figure out how to navigate them. Power BI scores very well in this regard.

Breadth of Use (or lack of)

“The majority of Microsoft's reference customers (59%) mainly use Power BI's parameterized reports and dashboards, rather than using it for more complex tasks. This pattern of use suggests that the more advanced data preparation is performed outside Power BI and/or that IT is building common dashboards for many to consume. The average proportion of business users authoring their own content with Microsoft Power BI is 20%, in the bottom quartile of vendors for this Magic Quadrant.”

For accountants, I think that this is one of the most important points highlighted in the Gartner report. It is seen as a negative point by Gartner that most users of Power BI don’t tend to roll their sleeves up and “get dirty” with the data. This on the other hand is great for you accountants. It is an opportunity for you to take on the role of building the reports and dashboards that your clients will use and value. The fact that so many of your clients are essentially using the same underlying data model based on their accounting software (e.g. Sage 50) and that you are intimately familiar with this model puts you in a great position to add tremendous value.

Useful links

About Hugh Johnson

Hugh Johnson

I am a founder director of Accounting Insights Ltd, a specialist provider of Power BI reporting solutions to accountants in practice and in industry.   I help accountants to use Power BI to create intuitive, engaging reports from their accounting data.  I deliver management packs, sales reports & forecasts, liquidity & cash flow reports, stock reports, and accounts receivable analysis from Sage, Xero, Exchequer, Microsoft Business Central, Iris, and CCH.

I hold a Master of Engineering from City University London (awarded with commendation and the highest marks in my year) and a Post Graduate Diploma in International Selling from Dublin Institute of Technology (awarded with distinction and the highest marks in my year). 

My personal passions are high-performance Fireball dinghy racing and food.

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