As we know, Microsoft’s Power BI is a reporting application used to create and display dynamic dashboards that can encompass a great range of information. Whether a company would like to see their Current Sales over a given time period, a custom Balance Sheet, or a conglomeration of key metrics by a given employee, Power BI has become one of the leading reporting tools in the market by being able to do all of those things, and more. With an array of out-of-the-box visualizations, a user can truly capture an endless amount of data. Recently, one of these visualizations has truly peaked my interest due to its ability to transform the misconception that Power BI can only be used as a reporting tool.

The ArcGIS Maps for Power BI visualization in Power BI displays a map of the world where a user is able to pin-point certain locations given whatever context is determined within the visualization itself. The map is powered via a company named Esri, a global supplier of GIS software, which leverages their geodatabase to produce location pins for data. The locations that are rendered into the map are geocoded through the computational process of transforming a physical address description to a location on the Earth’s surface. If the user wants locations to appear as simple pins, they can set the marker style to be as big or as small as necessary for the area. However, if the user would like more information, they can decide to alter the base map format, or change the display type of the map theme (i.e. clustering, or heat map) to provide different context to data that can be consumed for an even greater number of purposes. 

To go about geocoding these datapoints, the ArcGIS Maps for Power BI visualization can do so two ways: manually, or through the use of an API (Application Programming Interface).  To further explain, the manual process for geocoding would entail already having a data source that had a collection of all the latitude and longitude points for each individual location. Then, a user would be able to click and drag their latitude data into the “Latitude” field in Power BI, and do the same thing with their longitude data. This would then populate the map with all the precise locations for every point of interest within the given dataset. On the other hand, let’s say a user is working with a dataset that only had the name, street address and zip code information for the locations that their business or institution is interested in. Unfortunately, the visualization they would like to create would not be able to intuitively locate precisely where that location would be on a map due to the lack of latitude and longitude data. For this user to be able to develop the visual map that would fit with their data, they would need to go about leveraging the REST API that Esri currently uses. This API functions by entering a token code that permits access to the API’s power. Once entered, a user is able to feed the API address context (i.e. street address, city, state, country, zip code, etc.) that will ultimately retrieve the corresponding latitude and longitude for the input context. At that point, the user would store the latitudes and longitudes, thus permitting them to be able to geocode them onto their map. 

Now this is where geocoding becomes really exciting by transforming Power BI into a discovery tool. Instead of a user only being able to gather information based off their map with a limited set of latitude and longitude data, they can now pair the usage of the REST API with an automated business workflow processor to dynamically retrieve data for any location that becomes of interest to them. For example, say you’re a university that would like to pin-point where your received applications are coming in from throughout the year, or you’re an international travel company who wants to keep expanding to new vendors and keep track of where they are globally. Using Power BI can help these types of users and companies see exactly where in the world their data exists and provide location context for them to be able to draw conclusions upon. 

However stagnant reporting may sometimes seem, Power BI has become such an influential tool in adding dynamics to this crucial part of decision making in business. With more information available, comes more opportunity to make better, and smarter decisions for the future. Now that Power BI can be leveraged as a discovery tool, it’s power only grows by being able to make decisions if certain locations need more attention, or if a particular vendor’s location is not feasible for use for a given business. In terms of dealing with location data, the questions that can be answered now are endless. 

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