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Microsoft Updates Power BI with Data Sourcing, Search Features

Microsoft's Power BI for Office 365 preview was updated last week with new data sourcing and search capabilities on the heels of similar improvements rolled out in November.

Power BI for Office 365 uses a combination of Excel, SharePoint and Office 365 components to simplify the business intelligence querying and data visualization process. Microsoft touts it as being simple enough for knowledge workers to set up and use. A summary of its components can be found in this article.

Microsoft's November update added the ability to use Power Query to connect to the Windows Azure Table storage service, as well as the ability to use saved SQL queries to perform relational data imports, among other such improvements. December's update adds new features to the Q&A Office 365 component, as well as to the Power Query Excel add-in.

Q&A now supports adding Excel workbooks to the Power BI site. Users can search a library of their uploaded data models and execute queries on them using Q&A's natural language capability. The Q&A component is unique in that it produces graphs and charts in response to user queries that are written in human language, rather than SQL queries.

Power Query, which supports searching for public- and private-sourced data, can now tap a few new data sources. Microsoft added the ability to tap Sybase IQ databases, Dynamics CRM Online OData feeds and Exchange account data, including data from Calendar, Mail and People apps. There is also the ability to consume "JSON light OData feeds," according to Microsoft's announcement.

Other December improvements were functional. For instance, relationships between imported tables now get automatically detected. There were also some Query Editor improvements. The fill-down button in the ribbon menu of the Query Editor now works to pull values down a column. Microsoft added a "sort ascending/descending" option for columnar data in the Query Editor menu. New transformations were added for number columns in Query Editor. Lastly, it's also possible now to search for "certified shared queries" using an improved Power BI search function.

Power BI for Office 365 was first released as "preview" in July during the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference and has been getting monthly updates since September, even though it's still just a test release at this point. It's not clear when Microsoft plans to roll out the final product.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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