Microsoft Gives Power BI Enterprise-Focused Boost

Microsoft is beefing up its cloud-based analytics service to make it more enterprise-ready, the company announced Tuesday at its first-annual Data Insights Summit in Bellevue, Wash.

Power BI facilitates the analysis and visualization of Big Data and "ordinary" data, coming from sources such as Excel spreadsheets, on-premises data stores, Hadoop datasets, streaming data and cloud services. First released in early 2014 as an Office 365 add-on, Power BI was revamped by Microsoft last year as a standalone Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering for the business rank and file.

This week, Microsoft announced that Power BI now incorporates new features aimed at enterprise customers, including more intelligent data exploration capabilities and deeper integration with Excel. The Excel integration, in particular, means the ability to analyze Power BI-generated data in Excel is now generally available for the first time.

"Also generally available today is the ability to pin from Excel," said Microsoft Corporate Vice President James Phillips in a blog post. "Insights can be taken directly from the Excel desktop to Power BI dashboards, which will keep tiles on the dashboard up to date to help track your important data."

Phillips also highlighted improvements in enterprise readiness such as the new role-level security for cloud models and direct query, which will be available in preview later this month. Tenant-level usage reports can now work with data assets such as reports, dashboards, datasets and content packs so enterprises can better understand how they're using Power BI.

More intelligent data exploration comes from a beefed-up natural language Q&A interface that makes it easier to use through the aid of visual clues.

"Additionally, the unique query capabilities that help users find data and create visuals on the fly can now be used with direct query data sources," Phillips said. "This combines the advantages of using Power BI's direct query capabilities to access data stored on-premises and in the cloud by asking intuitive, natural questions via the Q&A interface -- including Cortana, which will be able to answer questions from direct query sources used in Power BI. These features will be previewed in April."

Phillips credited the user community for helping to reshape Power BI with the introduction of more than 265 new features resulting from some 45,000 User Voice votes and other feedback.

"We aren't stopping," Phillips promised. "The notion of data proliferation and its intersection with the cloud is really the first tenet of modern BI. Moving from data to insights that inform intelligent action is the second, referring to the ability to engage and interact with data in new, intuitive and natural ways. This deepens intelligent data exploration by redefining how we experience data and have access to intelligence without requiring deep technical knowledge, such as through speech and other intuitive and convenient methods."

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.