Choosing the right tool for the job

Important: This post was written and published in 2019, and the content below may no longer represent the current capabilities of Power BI. Please consider this post to be an historical record and not a technical resource. All content on this site is the personal output of the author and not an official resource from Microsoft.

A few weeks back[1] I got this comment on my Power BI dataflows overview post:

choosing tool comment

This morning I started to reply to the comment, and by the time I was done I realized that it should be a blog post on its own. So here we go… but before I continue I feel compelled to share this blurb from my blog bio:

I’m a program manager on the Power BI team at Microsoft. This is my personal blog, and all posts and opinions are mine and mine alone, and if you believe my teenage children they are not shared by anyone else in the entire world, because I’m weird and embarrassing.

So… There are a few capabilities that make dataflows “pop” for me. This shouldn’t be taken as a comprehensive list, and isn’t intended to say that dataflows are better than any other data prep tool, but hopefully it will be useful:

  • Power BI dataflows build on the Power Query experience many users are already familiar with. If you know how to use Power Query in one tool, you know how to use it in another.
  • Power BI dataflows are integrated into the end-to-end Power BI service and experience. You’re not pushing data into a CSV file. You don’t need to provision and manage a database. You get strongly typed “tables” of data that can be reused by you or by other users, and it’s all in one seamless experience.
  • Power BI dataflows and CDM folders provide capabilities for bridging the low-code/no-code world of self-service BI with managed central corporate BI in Azure.
  • Power BI dataflows enable Excel-like composition of ETL processes with linked and computed entities.
  • Power BI dataflows can scale beyond the desktop and leverage the power of the cloud to become part of an end-to-end BI application.

But… This is just a list of features.

The right tool for a job depends largely on the context of that job. If you’re trying to say that one tool is better than another, you need to have project/selection/evaluation criteria that everyone[2] agrees on. Only then you can compare multiple tools against those criteria. If you can’t do that, you’re probably just having a popularity contest.

This is one of the reasons why analysts like Gartner and and Forrester play the role that they do – they define and document their criteria, and then do exhaustive research to evaluate tools against those criteria. They take great pains to make sure that their criteria align well with the needs of the industry. They evolve the criteria as the market evolves, and they update their analyses as products evolve.

If you take this type of approach, you’ll probably end up choosing the tool that’s right for the job at hand – even if it’s not the tool you had in mind when you started. It’s not always easy to convince everyone to step back and look at the big picture before making what may feel like a small decision, but when choosing tools and platforms it’s often a good way to save time and effort in the long run.

[1] July has been kicking my butt, even more so than usual this year. Not only have I not been blogging consistently, I’ve basically put everything on hold that wasn’t vitally important and critically urgent. Ugh.

[2] For a given value of “everyone.” Identifying the necessary and appropriate stakeholders is a big enough problem on its own…

4 thoughts on “Choosing the right tool for the job

  1. Pingback: Power Bi Dataflows and the Right Tool for the Job – Curated SQL

  2. Pingback: A new look for Power BI, notifications, Tooltips and more... (July 29, 2019) | Guy in a Cube

  3. shaquille o'key

    Hi Mathew,
    In Power BI Desktop July 2019 updates last month, there is a new feature to Get Data directly to ADLS Gen2 which is still in Preview mode.

    How is this feature effected the Dataflow process in PBIS ( which also can add entity from ADLSg2 ?

    Is that a different approach, in which it does not need to setup PBIS dataflow instead ? I cannot find any documentation on how to use that new feature, can I have some advice on that ?

    Thanks in advance,


    1. Hi Shaq – thanks for the question.

      I don’t have any specific information to share on the new ADLSg2 connector, but hopefully this will be helpful.

      Power BI dataflows are one application that can store data in ADLSg2. Dataflows store data in the CDM folder format. Power BI has a dedicated analyst-friendly experience for dataflows.

      ADLSg2 can store files from many different sources (applications, services, processes) in many different format. The ADLSg2 connector lets Power BI connect to the files in ADLSg2 similar to how the HDFS connector lets Power BI connect to files stored in HDFS.

      I hope this helps…


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