By Chris du Toit, Chief Technology Officer at Stellar

The recent announcement of Power BI Premium heralds significant changes to the Power BI Free tier:

“Going forward, we will improve the free service to have the same functionality as Power BI Pro, but will limit sharing and collaboration features to only Power BI Pro users. Users of the free Power BI service will benefit from access to all data sources, increased workspace storage limits, and higher refresh and streaming rates.”

Making the Free tier more like the Pro tier sounds great, but don’t underestimate the impact of having sharing and collaboration features available only for Pro users – especially if you have a large number of active users on the Free tier.

The Power BI community has generally not been pleased by this change, with comments like these:

“This is a very sad change by Microsoft.”

“…very upsetting and quite frankly the only reason I currently use and promote the use of Power BI. I will no longer be advocating that others use this product (either Free version or Pro).”

“Yes, this is a huge, huge deal!”

“The largest mistake here is Microsoft not understanding how Small to Medium businesses use and recommend there products and will form the backbone of increasing its adoption rate. Free users are essentially your trial users. They in turn advertise your product. Ideally everyone should start to use Power BI and this adoption rate should feed to a growth of Pro users. Free definitely needs limitations, but viewing created reports shouldn’t be one of them.”

Note: Microsoft won’t be pulling the plug on current Free tier users immediately on 1 June. More on this below.

Should you “pay to play”?

I have always felt that any organisation that’s serious about analytics and Power BI should be paying for a Pro license for every user. I have seen the incredible value Power BI brings to organisations and think that US$9.99/month per user is an extremely compelling price. It’s my opinion that Microsoft are now changing the Free tier to what it probably should have been from the start and that is “for personal user only”.

Saying all that, I can understand how some organisations have now reached a point where they have deployed Power BI Free to dozens or hundreds of users. They have reached this point because (a) they were allowed to do so with the Power BI Free features, or (b) they just can’t afford Power BI Pro licenses (charitable organisations, for example).

If you’re thinking: “I have hundreds of users who won’t be able to access their Power BI content on 1 June!” don’t fret. Users have the opportunity to extend their Power BI Pro trial till June 2018 (with a few Terms and Conditions).

And if you’re thinking: “That’s okay I’ll just buy a few Pro licenses for the users who create and share content while the other users remain on the Free tier,” think again.

Microsoft clarified this with a post on the Power BI Community stating: “If you are sharing dashboards/reports with Free users, beginning June 1st they will need to take advantage of the extended Pro trial to continue accessing the content. After the extended trial expires, users will need a Pro license to maintain access.”

In other words, if you are sharing content to others, or receiving shared content, you will need a Pro license.

How to prepare for June 2018

A year might seem like a very long time, and in the fast-changing world of Power BI it’s hard to say what will happen in the period leading up to June 2018. However, here are some options you might want to consider for when June 2018 finally comes around:

1. Start building your business case for Power BI Pro licensing. This is not a technical solution but if your organisation is getting the required value out of Power BI then you should be a able to put forward a case for getting your users onto the Pro tier. Talk to you Microsoft licensing partner or account manager about getting the best deal for your organisation. Paying a list price of US$48,000 per year for 400 users might sound extravagant but it should be relatively easy to justify the value Power BI brings to your organisation.

2. Consider using Publish to Web as a sharing mechanism. This makes sense only if the data you are sharing is not sensitive, and you’re comfortable with the possibility that it could be viewed by anyone on the internet. All you need is a website (private or public) which you can use to embed html iframes, as in the example below. This does mean that the reports are accessible to anyone on the internet who can access your website or guess your 128-character report key.

3. Build a Power BI embedded application.* While not free and build costs need to be considered, this would make sense if you have a large number of users but they only access reports infrequently in a month. For example, if you have 400 sales reps who look at a single sales report once a week, then Power BI embedded would cost roughly NZ$120 per month. If they look at their reports every hour, then the cost would be just shy of NZ$1,000 per month (based on a 5-day work week and an 8-hour work day). This compares well with having 400 Power BI Pro licenses costing US$4,000 per month (list price).

4. Govern the Free tier. Not an ideal solution but there is enough time to bring in controls and practices where users have access to “curated” Power BI desktop files, which they can upload to their own workspace. This is far from ideal but not beyond the realm of possibility.

Hopefully this information has been helpful and you see some light at the end of the year-long tunnel.

Main photo: Microsoft

Update

* Power BI Embedded will be falling away with the introduction of Power BI Premium and it does require an internal license for internal use.

Microsoft’s charitable arm offers significant discounts and free Azure consumption in New Zealand. Their willingness to give is astounding and I would encourage any charity to ask for assistance from Microsoft. The benefits that data insights can bring to those organisations are a real step-change. Microsoft’s motivation to make the world a better place for all can be witnessed through their charitable discounts and free offerings.

There remains a concern for those organisations who adopted the free tier, due to that being the total amount they could afford to spend on an analytical tool: zero. They might miss out on the future benefits Power BI offer, as they just can’t afford to pay for it. Hopefully, they can reach an outcome by June 2018 where they can continue to use Power BI.

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