What Is Power BI? What It Is, How It’s Used, and More

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Microsoft’s Power BI is a common business intelligence tool used by business analysts and professionals. Learn more about this important tool today.

[Featured Image] A business intelligence analyst works with the Microsoft Power Bi tool.

Microsoft Power BI is a data visualization and reporting platform that is used by businesses and professionals every day. While the platform is commonly used by business analysts, it is also designed to be easily accessible for those without any specialized data knowledge. 

In this article, you’ll learn more about Power BI, what modern businesses use it for, and the professionals who typically work with it. Toward the end, you’ll also explore some alternatives and explore resources on Coursera that can help you get started with this important business intelligence tool. 

Start advancing your data Power BI skills today

Learn how to use Microsoft's Power BI software and create data visualizations for your team. Pursue a career as a data analyst who is an expert in Power BI with the Microsoft Power BI Data Analyst Professional Certificate.


What is Microsoft Power BI?

Microsoft Power BI is a data visualization platform used primarily for business intelligence purposes. Designed to be used by business professionals with varying levels of data knowledge, Power BI’s dashboard is capable of reporting and visualizing data in a wide range of different styles, including graphs, maps, charts, scatter plots, and more. Power BI's "AI Insights" functionality, meanwhile, uses artificial intelligence to find insights within data sets for users.

Power BI itself is composed of several interrelated applications: Power BI Desktop, Pro, Premium, Mobile, Embedded, and Report Server. While some of these applications are free-to-use, paid subscriptions to the pro and premium versions provide greater analytics capabilities. 

Power BI is also a part of Microsoft’s Power Platform, which includes Power Apps, Power Pages, Power Automate, and Power Virtual Agents. Created as “low-code tools,” these applications help businesses analyze and visualize data, design business solutions, automate processes, and create no-code chatbots. 

Read more: 5 Business Intelligence Tools You Need to Know

What is Power BI used for?

Whether you’re a data pro or are just entering the business world,  Power BI is designed to empower you with data-driven insights. Some of the most common uses for the platform include: 

  • Creating reports and dashboards that present data sets in multiple ways using visuals 

  • Connecting various data sources, such as Excel sheets, onsite data warehouses, and cloud-based data storage, and then transforming them into business insights  

  • Turning data into a wide range of different visuals, including pie charts, decomposition trees, gauge charts, KPIs, combo charts, bar and column charts, and ribbon charts – among many other options 

  • Providing company-wide access to data, data visualization tools, and insights in order to create a data-driven work culture

Watch this video to learn about data visualization and enroll in Google's Data Analytics course:

Who uses Power BI? 

Power BI users aren’t limited to data professionals, such as data scientists or data engineers, and can include a wide range of different business users. In fact, the platform is intentionally designed so non-technical users can easily create reports, manipulate data, and perform in-depth data analysis operations.

Nonetheless, some of the most common analyst positions that use the platform on a daily basis include the following: 

Power BI in the real world 

As data becomes more and more important to the daily functioning of the goods and services that businesses provide, so too do business intelligence platforms capable of turning that data into insights, reports, and interactive visualizations. 

For example, a university attempting to optimize the efficiency of its buildings might set up a system (like a digital twin) to collect real-time data on critical building systems. Afterward, they might connect these data sources to Power BI and identify areas for improvement. 

An advertising company, meanwhile, running a digital marketing campaign might monitor its effectiveness by connecting various data sources to Power BI and generating a dashboard that highlights key figures. Here, marketers would be able to better understand what marketing channels are best for reaching their target market

Practice Power BI online

Want to learn more about Power BI but aren’t sure where to start? Coursera's Guided Projects offer step-by-step instructions on how to use the platform.

Learn the basics of Power BI with the interactive course Getting Started with Power BI Desktop:

In the free guided project Prepare, Clean, Transform, and Load Data using Power BI, you’ll learn practical ways for data cleaning and transformation on the platform:

Power BI alternatives 

While Microsoft’s Power BI is one of the most popular business intelligence platforms, it’s not the only one out there. As you’re exploring BI solutions for your workplace or future career, then, you might also consider exploring some common alternatives to Power BI, such as: 

Start advancing your Power BI skills today

Become an expert in Power BI and use it for data analysis and visualization. The Microsoft Power BI Data Analyst Professional Certificate is an excellent option for advancing your skill set. Start today with a free 7-day trial of Coursera Plus.

If you're interested in landing a position as a business analyst, you might consider boosting your resume with Microsoft credentials. You can gain hands-on experience with Power BI and Excel in just 1 month while earning an employer-recognized certificate from with the following flexible online program:

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