Power BI Project Costs

Power BI Project Costs Image

Are you looking to get started on a Power BI project but not sure how to estimate project costs? This guide will help you understand many of the factors involved in the cost of a Power BI project and give you tips on how to mitigate some of those costs.

Factor 1 - Data Complexity

When business people think about Power BI projects, they tend to think that most of the work involved is in creating pretty charts and graphs.However, when Power BI experts think about Power BI projects they know that most of the work involves data massaging and formatting and a relatively small fraction actually goes into working within the Power BI interface.

While it is indeed possible to do data consolidation and manipulation within Power BI, doing so significantly raises the complexity of the reporting logic within Power BI. As a result, seasoned Power BI professionals prefer to work with data sets that are already “pre-digested” for consumption by the analytics tool.

Many projects that are called “Power BI projects” in name are, in reality, data warehousing / data mart projects where Power BI is simply the visualization tool placed on top of the data warehouse. This means that a substantial portion of the cost of the project will not be related to Power BI itself, but rather the process of extracting, transforming, and loading a data warehouse and massaging the data into a format that is easily consumed by the Power BI frontend.

Are all your data sources consolidated into one data warehouse, or are they scattered across databases, spreadsheets, and source systems? The least complex projects have all their data already integrated into one centralized data warehouse, and the role of the Power BI developer is to create views on top of that data store. Most organizations, however, turn to Power BI out of frustration regarding the availability of data, and come to realize that there are many more steps to traverse before they can even use Power BI in an effective way.

One data source
You have one data source that drives your reports - could be an excel spreadsheet, SQL database, data warehouse, etc.
Multiple data sources
You have multiple data sources, possibly of different types.
Multiple data sources with ETL manipulations done in Power Query
Your data comes from multiple sources and needs to be merged/manipulated in Power Query before you can report on it in Power BI.
Microsoft Fabric Data Mart
Data/ETL transformations will take place in a Microsoft Fabric Data Mart and report will point to the data mart to pull data.
Build new data warehouse from scratch.
Sometimes Power BI is just one part of an overall data strategy and long term planning requires the construction of a brand new data warehouse.

Factor 2 - Industry Complexity

If you need to create Power BI dashboards, chances are that you are seeking to solve a particular business problem. These business problems are often very industry specific and require the knowledge of business processes and terminology that might not be clear to the average Power BI developer. Though the Power BI developer/team might not need to know every aspect of the business processes, it helps for the developer to know basic terminology and the methodology and reasoning behind certain calculations. The complexity of this knowledge transfer might take additional time and meetings back and forth for clarification.

One factor related to the industry complexity is the regulatory complexity. Some industries are more tightly regulated than others and in those industries data accuracy is paramount. While it might be OK in some industries to approximate and mock up dashboards, highly regulated industries require far more attention to detail from the intial project plan.

Factor 3 - Dashboard/Report Complexity

It is very easy to create simple reports in Power BI based on existing, pre-calculated data. Counts, averages, sums, even simple statistical measures are all built into Power BI for basic field data. Complications arise however if you want to create reports where calculations are based on multiple fields, and especially calculations based on multiple levels of aggregation. In these cases it is often preferable to run and store the results of your calculation in the backend data store rather than in Power BI. If it is absolutely not possible to perform these calculations ahead of time, be prepared for extra time and cost for these calculations to be performed in the tool itself.

Simple List Displays
These type of reports generally involve pulling data from one data source and displaying it unfiltered as a Power BI table.
Filtered List Displays
These reports are similar to the above, but might include a few slicers to determine what data to display in the table.
Chart/Graph Displays With Table
Reports that include some charts/graphs along with a supporting detail table to display data.
Multiple Interacting Slicers/Filters
In these reports data elements filter/inform other data elements - i.e., clicking on one table informs the slicers and data display in another table.
Complex DAX Calculations
In general it is better to do data calculations in ETL processes. However, DAX can be used to do calculations on the fly within a report. The more complex these calculations are, the more time must be spent creating and checking calculation results.

Factor 4 - Report Distribution Complexity

The fourth factor that goes into determining a Power BI project pricing is where the solution will be hosted and how the resulting reports will be distributed.

Power BI Desktop - FREE

The simplest hosting/distribution model for a developer is to create the reports locally and then export those reports to PDF, Excel, Powerpoint, or other file formats that the target audience can open on their local machines. This approach is common in small organizations where there might be one data analyst who is producing and distributing reports to a relatively small number of people.

Unlike some other data visualization software packages, Power BI is FREE to use in a desktop environment. This means that you can download Power BI and start working with it right away - for free! You can also "share" your reports with others who download Power BI desktop - simply save the .PBIX file and transfer it to the other user and the other user can open the report on their desktop.

Microsoft Fabric Distribution

If you want to share your reports with others in an online environment there are several approaches - Per User and Per Capacity.

Per User

Per User accounts allow you to publish and view reports in Power BI online. The per user option is best for small organizations who have limited reports that do not take significant compute resources to generate. Within this umbrella there are two options:

Power BI Professional License - $10/month. This license allows you to publish reports to Microsoft Fabric and to view reports that have been shared. Note that BOTH the report creator and the report viewer must have a Power BI Professional license.

Power BI Premium License - $20/month. This license is more geared toward report developers as it unlocks additional features such as dataflows, datamarts, and other AI options. The end consumer of a report does not need to have this license to have access to a report created by a Power BI Premium user. In this case it makes sense to have a small development team utilizing Power BI Premium licenses while other report viewers get by with Power BI Professional licenses for viewing the reports.

Power BI Per User licenses make sense for small organizations, but they break down at a certain point for larger organizations for the following reasons:

1. The organization has many users that need to access the reports and paying even $10/month/user ceases to be economical.

2. At least one of the organization's models exceeds 100GB in size.

At this point it makes sense to consider the next tier - Power BI Premium per capacity.

Power BI Premium Per Capacity

When your model size or your compute requirements grow past a certain point, the Per User licensing model breaks down. Either your model will be beyond the max size, or, more likely, your ETL processes will become slow enough that you will want dedicated capacity. At this point Power BI offers dedicated capacity starting at around $5000/month.

The benefits of premium capacity are as follows:

1. No individual Power BI Per User licenses required for report viewing (they are still required for report authoring).

2. Larger models - greater than 100GB.

3. Better performance - you can buy increments of "compute" based on the amount you need to process your reports in a timely manner.

Learn more about the options here.

Power BI Report Server

Each Power BI Premium Per Capacity licenses includes a license for Power BI Report Server - Power BI Report Server allows organizations to self-host their Power BI reports instead of storing them in Microsoft Fabric. This is particularly appealing for organizations that have strict data security protocols and do not wish to store data in a shared cloud such as Azure.

Embedded Power BI Reports

Sometimes organizations wish to take advantage of the richness of Power BI reporting within the context of other systems. Power BI provides the ability to display Power BI reports within the context of other web and desktop applications. The Power BI architecture allows one to host a report online but "embed" it inside an application. This requires you to purchase compute capacity from Azure to host and run the report whenever it is referenced. When a Power BI report is displayed inside the interface it is hosted in a frame which is rendered from a remote server.

Check here for more information on Power BI Embedded pricing.

For Power BI Beginners

Are you just starting to work with Power BI for the first time? Check out this article on tips for Power BI beginners.

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