How is Power BI different from traditional BI implementations?

Power BI is part of a new wave of next generation Business Intelligence (BI) tools. In comparing them to traditional BI implementations there are a number of differences, but the two key differences are: Cloud vs On-Premise and Self-Service vs Guided Analytics.

Power BI has been solely developed by Microsoft as a cloud-based offering often known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). This means that the Power BI Service is hosted on Microsoft’s Azure servers and accessed over the internet. The benefits over a traditional on-premise solution are that there are no upfront hardware or ongoing software upgrade costs, it has faster implementation, lower licencing costs, and is mobile and scalable.

Another feature of Power BI and other next generation BI tools is Self-Service functionality. This allows an end user to extend the existing reports and create their own visualisations based upon the data model in the report. Key benefits are lower costs and faster development cycles. Self-service tools also generally have a rich user experience which aids data discovery and tends to increase user adoption. Traditional BI tools are generally described as guided analytics which do not have any self-service features and must be changed by report developers.