Considering Microsoft Power BI? Be Sure To Consider The Total Cost of Ownership

Microsoft Excel BIIf you’ve researched business intelligence (BI) software lately, you’ve probably stumbled across Microsoft Power BI.   Microsoft appears to be using the same playbook they used to bring Microsoft Word to the market back in the early 80’s.  Pour a ton of resources into building and marketing the solution and bundling it with other Microsoft software to overtake the competition.  That strategy was quite successful with MS Word, when was the last time you used Wordstar, WordPerfect or Lotus 1-2-3?  They tried the same thing with Microsoft System Center Service Manager (SCSM) to much less success, but we do still run across some companies using that since their Microsoft salesperson rolled it in their license contract for free.

Power BI is a very solid product, and Microsoft has changed quite a bit over the past decade,  so no doubt,  Power BI will be is a powerhouse in the BI industry. One thing is clear, Microsoft is applying the gas and pouring on the resources in the BI space.

Just in the past month, Microsoft has rolled out new features that are similar to several of Yurbi’s, including embedded BI and enhanced data level security.  From the beginning it seems they have had their target squarely on the back of Tableau and it also could be a large reason that Qlik is currently looking to be acquired.

However, even though Power BI is the current buzz word in the BI industry and is very affordable, buyers should be aware of the major pros and cons of Microsoft Power BI.

I’m waving the caution flag on Power BI

In my experience, I’ve discovered that there are two main cautions with Power BI for many businesses. The first drawback to Power BI is that it’s a cloud-based product, which requires companies to store data solely in the cloud (assuming you’re not just using the free desktop tool).  For some companies, storing data in the cloud isn’t a viable option. You can agree with their reasons or not, some just don’t want to do it, which is why the on-premise installation of Yurbi is an attractive option.

The second and what I think is the more concerning aspect of Microsoft Power BI that I’m not sure has been discovered yet (since it’s all shiny and new) is its total cost of ownership. Microsoft Power BI’s sticker price ranges from $0 to $9.99 per month and is incredibly attractive, but its sticker price is not indicative of the total cost of Power BI.

Microsoft and I go way back

You may be wondering, “You’re a competing vendor in the BI space, of course, you don’t have anything nice to say about Power BI.”  Quite the contrary, we actually recommend Power BI when it makes sense and fits a customer requirement better than Yurbi and we outlined some of those in our review of Power BI.  My specific concern about Power BI is more aligned with my 25-year history with Microsoft as well as the solid pulse on the market we have from customer feedback.

My entire career has been somewhat linked to Microsoft products. During my first corporate job right out of college, I was assigned an extensive project that revolved around the installation of Microsoft Windows NT 3.51, one of the early Microsoft server products. I went on to get Microsoft certifications and then founded an IT consulting firm in 1999 which was a Microsoft partner. Our largest contracts were providing Level 2 and Level 3 desktop support and server and database administration on Microsoft technology, primarily for the Federal Government.  As a Microsoft consultant, I learned that proper setup in the beginning is critical because poor Microsoft product architecture leads to major issues in the future that are usually best resolved by reinstalling the product altogether.

Most people aren’t aware, but Microsoft has a massive network of service partners and consultants that help boost sales, provide support, and offer training on its products.  Most companies that use Microsoft’s suite of products have a trained and experienced consultant on its payroll in some way, either full-time or via contract. And most larger companies have entire Microsoft support teams. This shows that the price of Microsoft products extend much further than the products’ price tags because Microsoft’s solutions can’t be deployed and maintained without help from support teams, which cost much more than the products themselves.

Power BI is Microsoft Software

Microsoft Power BI is no different. On the surface, Microsoft Power BI is a simple tool. However, similarly to Microsoft Excel, the deeper you get into the product, the more complex it becomes.  And just like all of Microsoft’s products, the more they develop and enhance the solution, the more complex it becomes.  Power BI already has a steep level of complexity for most small businesses with the Azure setup, security configuration, the Power BI Gateway for syncing on-premise data in the cloud and a long list of other tools with the label Power BI slapped on the front of their name.  There’s a lot of moving parts which must be architected and setup correctly for all but the basic use cases.

Often when companies come to us and are deciding between using Yurbi or Power BI for their business intelligence solution, the company’s IT consultants – not its end users – are the people evaluating both Yurbi and Microsoft Power BI for them. When potential customers decide to go with Power BI, it is generally because their consultants emphasized the low cost of Microsoft Power BI (however we concede, in some cases it’s just the better option).

However, by choosing Power BI, the company is inevitably committing to a continued contract with that consultant because of the tech support Power BI requires to both set up properly and maintain. Companies must not only shell out bucks for Power BI’s installation and deployment, the setup and configuration of dashboards and reports, but also its maintenance, which will require attention when new versions, new network configuration, new data sources, and new infrastructure changes occur.

The Bottom Line

We understand that the argument of “total cost of ownership” has been overused as a reason not to purchase cheap products, but in the BI space total cost of ownership should be an actual concern for buyers.

Historically, BI user adoption has been very low while costs have remained high, which is why cheaper solutions like Power BI are especially appealing. There’s a lot of hype surrounding Microsoft Power BI right now, which is similar to the hype surrounding Domo, but it’s important to remember that Power BI is certainly not the best solution for every company, especially when companies evaluate its true total cost of ownership.  If you currently have a Microsoft infrastructure,  including a Microsoft support infrastructure, then Power BI may be a good fit, but for companies who are looking simply at the low price and the marketing buzz, proceed with caution!

We put a comment section on our blogs for a reason,  if you have any thoughts for or against Power BI or this article,  leave a comment.  Tell us your perspective.

And if you’re in the market for business intelligence software check out our newest eBook, Business Intelligence Buyers Guide, Part 1, which outlines everything you should do before purchasing a new BI solution.





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  • Paulo Henrique

    Excellent article! I m myself stumbling around with the most flexible and complete BI tool BUT as a consultant not an end user. I’ve had checked on expensive Tableau, experienced (also expensive) bad project management with Qlik and beta, short-range analysis options from Google Data Studio. I am looking into Power BI and I must say that – as a consultant – it also appears a too-good-to-be-true offer. But I will give a shot. My clients are small businesses and cannot afford expensive fees or have already found low cost providers (and very competitive) for online analytics. If everything goes wrong we switch back to good, ol’ Excel…

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