Power BI vs MicroStrategy

After almost 4 years of work as a MicroStrategy consultant, from the beginning of this year, I changed my career path a bit and started working with Power BI as the main tool for data visualization.


Because I could not find articles describing the differences between Power BI and MicroStrategy, I decided to write my own. I will compare two products based on my own opinion.

Let’s start with a brief historical background: MicroStrategy has been on the market since the early 90ies, the product has evolved for almost 20 years, but its main functions are still the same: the SQL engine and the rich metadata repository. Power BI was released in 2015, built on Power View and PowerPivot, this tool product has become one of the best BI tools on the market.

In this article, I will focus on development, visualization and self-service.


MicroStrategy: semantic layer – sets of dimensions, hierarchies, metrics are mainly developed separately from the final dashboard / report. This means that several people can work on the same report at the same time. In addition, once developed object remains forever in the system and can be used many times in different dashboards. In this way, saving time and money for future projects. A huge disadvantage of MicroStrategy is the development environment – if you want to go back in time to the 90s, all you need to do is open MicroStrategy Developer. I know that the company is trying to release MicroStrategy Workstation with a modern UI, but so far Workstation is not replacing Developer.

Picture: MicroStrategy Developer- very rich in different features, yet obsolete dev environment

Power BI: an exceptionally well-designed user interface – everyone familiar with Office products will quickly learn how to navigate the tool. All options, parameters are placed and ordered in a very intuitive way, which makes the development process very pleasant. Coming from the world of MicroStrategy, it was hard to believe that the user interface could be so good. The biggest disadvantage in the development of Power BI is DAX. DAX is a semi-programming language that you need to know to write more complex measures in Power BI. Because the Power BI (.pbx) file is a standalone environment, currently a group of developers cannot work simultaneously on the same report.

Picture: Power BI- modern, Office-like user interface

Visualizations and Self-Service

MicroStrategy: the product offers two ways to develop reports – classic and new called “Dossier” – fancy French word meaning simply “Folder” – less sexy, isn’t it? (“Dossier” was once called Visual Insights) Classic are outdated – you can even say that they are ugly and non-functional, but the product itself is very flexible and you can definitely make great dashboards – the problem is that it will take some time and expertise (and money) to create these wonders. Dossiers are more user-friendly – you can simply drag and drop attributes and metrics to the grid and choose the one that best suits your needs. This allows for much faster development. There is also a powerful metric wizard, you can create new KPIs without coding anything – a good solution for business users. Unfortunately, the library of visuals is small – it has only 10 built-in and a few other custom ones – Vitara https://www.vitara.co/ seems to provide some good ones. Due to the fact that the community is limited to the official MicroStrategy forum, and people do not share knowledge, sometimes it may be difficult to find answers to your problems.

PowerBI – more than 20 built-in visualizations, the ability to script your own in R, dozens of free and paid visualizations on the market (and they are very easy to integrate, just a minute and a few clicks – is all you need to install them), plus some additional visuals, such as those offered by Zebra BI https://zebrabi.com/pbi/, can be downloaded from third parties. This gives many opportunities to present data in the best way. Thanks to Power BI, you can quickly create a dashboard with good-looking visuals, and that will be a pleasure. Even if you simply stick with the default settings, the dashboard will be very aesthetic. The problem with self-service begins when more complex measures need to be applied. There is a metric wizard, but this solution is very limited. Fortunately, the Power BI community is huge, and on Google you can find answers to the most common problems related to the DAX language. Even if Power BI is a very good product, there is still one thing to do – a good metric wizard that can turn Power BI into an almost perfect self-service BI Tool.

If you want to share your opinion or ask a question, do not hesitate.

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