Power BI and Power Automate are both components of the Microsoft Power Platform that help business users automate processes and reporting. Both tools are incredibly useful but serve different intended purposes. We’ll explain what each one of these pieces of automation software does and highlight how they can be used on their own or together to save your business time and money.
Power Automate and Power BI are both widely used business tools published by Microsoft as part of the Power Platform.
Let’s Jump in and look at exactly what each of these tools does.
Table of Contents
What is the Microsoft Power Platform?
The Microsoft Power Platform is a set of low-code tools that enables businesses to achieve more with less through the power of process automation and enabling self-service analytics. It’s made up of four primary components that are aimed at helping different businesses needs and can be easily and quickly deployed at small, medium, or large organizations.
The primary components of the Microsoft Power Platform include:
- Power BI – Self-service reporting and analytics. Live reporting dashboards that users can drill into and explore.
- Power Automate – Process Automation software to eliminate repetitive tasks like invoice data entry.
- Power Apps – Low code business applications such as custom forms for PTO requests or Quoting Prices.
- Power Virtual Agents – Custom AI Chat Bots for customer service, sales leads, and internal questions.
Each one of these products are extremely useful on their own, and are relatively approachable for novice users when compared to some of the other software packages on the market today.
Today we will focus on Power BI and Power Automate
What is Power BI?
Power BI is a business intelligence platform that allows developers to create interactive reports that are published to a website that allows them to be easily shared among other business users. A report can be opened up, and the components of the report are interactive allowing the report viewer to choose different date ranges, see financial results by month, quarter, year, perform custom comparisons etc.
Reports and dashboards can be published a wide range of styles that range from simple tables, to highlighting key performance indicators (KPIs) or highly graphical representations with interactive images and maps.
The best way to experience what Power BI can do is to check out the Microsoft Data Stories Gallery. It’s a collection of example Power BI reports that you can click through and interact with. A screenshot of some of the reports available to explore on the data stories gallery is below.
In a typical business deployment, reports like these are published to workspaces that can be shared with specific people or teams and there are many capabilities for controlling who has access to each specific report within your organization.
The other big benefit of Power BI over other reporting solutions like Microsoft Excel is the ability to connect to live datasets like accounting software, and setup live connections to the data which ensures that people will always see up to date information eliminating the need for staff to manually prepare recurring reports.
Power BI lets you connect to data, blend it, and present it to business users.
What is Power Automate?
Power Automate is Microsoft’s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solution. RPA tools are designed to automate recurring business processes by mimicking the way that humans interact with business software. There are two versions of the software, one designed to work on a Windows Desktop computer (Power Automate Desktop) and another that interacts with popular cloud software solutions (Power Automate Flows). Between the two systems almost any digital business process can be automated.
Take the following scenario as an example of what Power Automate could do.
An Accounts Payable Clerk typically downloads copies of invoices, prints them, and types key information into accounting software such as invoice date, quantity purchased, amount etc.
Power Automate can be used to re-create this process by watching an e-mail inbox, converting attached invoices into text, detecting important parts of the invoice like the date, quantity, amount and uploads the information directly into your accounting software.
The following video gives an example of how businesses can put process automation workflows together using Power Automate.
Automations can have a wide range of use cases and are not tied to accounts payable, receivable or document processing. Think about any repetitive task being done at your business and imagine replacing a person with an automated bot that performs the steps.
Power Automate lets you automate recurring tasks that would otherwise have to be done by a human.
What’s the Difference Between Power BI and Power Automate?
Power BI and Power Automate are both parts of the Microsoft Power Platform but perform two very different functions. Power BI is used for reporting and presenting information to business users that they can interact with to explore and make business decisions. Power Automate is a process automation tool that replaces work traditionally done by humans on a computer by recording a series of steps and letting a bot perform them instead of a person.
Choosing the Right Tool for Your Business
If you’re looking to find efficiencies and costs savings through automation, both Power BI and Power Automate should be considered for different use cases.
Power BI is a great tool if you find that employees at your company spend a significant amount of time pulling data together from different spreadsheets, databases or systems only to compile it into another spreadsheet for review by others.
Power Automate can be a great tool if you have a number of employees that perform repetitive clerical tasks, such as data entry, data validation, or work with outdated systems to manually run reports and perform various processes.
Both solutions perform different purposes but are not mutually exclusive. In fact, both of these technologies can be used together to automate different parts of your digital workflow.
Using Power Automate and Power BI Together
Power Automate and Power BI are exceptional tools in their own right but are even better when used together. Each one can be used for different parts of your digital process. Imagine a company that uses an outdated accounting system that requires users to login, press F5, F12, page down, and Print Screen to run a report with no other way to connect to the data.
Power Automate can be setup to push the buttons, perform the tasks, and save the data to a folder or database. Power BI can use the data in the folder or database to create interactive reports and KPI’s that managers can use to make decisions without waiting for a reporting team to put spreadsheets together.
Rather than thinning about Power BI vs Power Automate is thinking about how to use Power BI and Power Automate to streamline different parts of your business. When evaluating potential processes to automate, be aware that setting up automations and reports can take a significant amount of effort and specialized development skillsets.
The amount of effort it takes to automate various processes widely depends on how complex they are, and the return on investment is largely dependent on the amount of time saved which means that automation has the highest return on investment with projects that either don’t that long but occur often, or occasional processes that take a very long time to complete.