Power BI for Office 365

Announced at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference 2013 is Power BI for Office 365:

Power BI for Office 365 is a cloud-based business intelligence (BI) solution that enables customers to easily gain insights from their data, working within Excel to analyze and visualize the data in a self-service way.  It works with Office 365 to help customers share insights, find answers and stay connected to their data from their favorite mobile devices.  It includes the following:

  • Power Query, it is an Excel add-in that enables customers to easily search and access public data and their organization’s data, all within Excel (formerly known as “Data Explorer”).  Think of it as intelligent, personal ETL with specialized tools to pivot, transform and cleanse data obtained from web-based HTML tables and data feeds.  It can also register the data connections through a “data steward” service that will reside in Office 365 – this will allow for tenant wide discoverability of the data.  Power Query has been available for a while but has just reached the General Availability milestone, making it acceptable for production use.  See Microsoft Data Explorer (quick video demo)
  • Power Map, a 3D data visualization tool for mapping, exploring and interacting with geographic and temporal data (formerly known as product codename “Geoflow”).  It uses advanced 3-D imaging to plot data points on a global rendering of Bing Maps.  Power Map is an Excel add-in and was released a few months ago but is still in preview form.  See Geoflow Preview for Excel 2013 (quick video demo)
  • Power Pivot for creating and customizing flexible data models within Excel (formerly known as PowerPivot – notice the space between the words).  It allows large volumes of related, multi-table data sources to be imported into an in-memory semantic model with sophisticated calculations.  Power Pivot is an Excel add-in and has been available for a few years.  See SQL Server 2012 (“Denali”): PowerPivot (quick video demo)
  • Power View for creating interactive charts, graphs and other visual representations of data.  Power View was released with SQL Server 2012.  It is an Excel add-in for Excel 2013 only and can also be used within SharePoint.  See SQL Server 2012 (“Denali”): Power View (“Project Crescent”) (quick video demo)

Other new features are:

  • A Data Management Gateway which enables IT to build connections to on-premise data sources and schedule refreshes.  Business users always have the most up to date reports, whether on their desktop or over their device.  This gateway will manage the refresh of all the on premises data sources and push updates out to Office 365, NOT the other way around (quick video demo)
  • Power BI Sites, a SharePoint app that provides dedicated workspaces optimized for BI projects, which allow business users to quickly find and share data and reports with colleagues and collaborate over BI results.  Once created, the app reads Excel content from your Office 365 tenant (which actually uses SharePoint Online), and provides a great number of features, such as a PowerPivot Gallery library template in HTML 5 (quick video demo)
  • Mobile BI: Real-time access to BI Sites and data no matter where a user is located via mobile devices.  Customers can access their data through the browser in HTML5 or through touch-optimized mobile applications for Windows 8, Windows RT, Surface and iPad devices.  This means the Power View visualization tool in the hosted product comes in 3 new flavors: native Windows 8 app (runs on desktop, Surface RT & Pro), native iOS (targeting the iPad) and HTML5 (works on practically any newer device).  Nothing was said about Android or Windows Phone.  There has been no news yet about a non-Silverlight replacement for the on-premise version of Power View (quick video demo)
  • A natural language query experienced called Q&A which allows users to ask questions of their data and receive immediate answers in the form of an interactive table, chart or graph.  A user can type in a query into a search box, such as “How much revenue did product X generate last year?” and Power BI would return a graph, based on existing data, showing the revenue data for the past several years.  This is a Office 365 feature (quick video demo)
  • New capabilities which allow more active users or data stewards to manage and monitor the data views created for their individual and team’s analysis
  •  A new “king of the hill” visualization in Power View

The idea is you can use all these tools and features to create an Excel workbook which will be published to an Office 365 document library, where a BI site will find it.  BI sites can then be used to perform natural (English) language queries on the data, add to the mobile applications, and to schedule data refreshes whether the data is public or private.  Finally, the mobile apps can be used to consume the reports from the BI Site.

The public preview of Power BI for Office 365 will be available this summer.  It requires Excel 2013.  You can sign up now at http://www.office.com/powerbi to be notified when the preview is available.

Note that Office 365 is really just a different way of paying for Office 2013, with some cloud services included.  You need to have an Office 365 subscription to get a hold of Power Query and Power Map on the desktop, and also to get the cloud-based BI services.

More info:

Announcing Power BI for Office 365

Power BI for Office 365 Revealed at Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC)

What powers Power BI in Office 365?

Introducing Power BI for Office 365

Microsoft Office 365 Cloud Power BI

Microsoft Announces Power BI for Office 365

Microsoft BI Service Powers Up Office 365

Power BI for Office 365

Power Business Intelligence for Office365 – resolving the Scylla and Charbdis dilemma

Some Thoughts About Power BI

We’ve Got The Power: “Power BI”, New Microsoft BI Suite Announced

Power BI Demo

New Microsoft Mobile BI and Power BI Cloud Business Intelligence

Thoughts on Power BI for Office 365

Soooooo…you now have two approaches to hosting BI in the cloud (Power BI vs. Azure VM Role for BI Deployment)

Power BI – What Is It?

Why “Power BI” is a Big Deal

Power BI from Microsoft

Q&A Feature of Power BI

Is Microsoft Power BI a Game Changer?

Microsoft BI – Power to the User

First Look: Power BI for Office 365

About James Serra

James is a big data and data warehousing solution architect at Microsoft. Previously he was an independent consultant working as a Data Warehouse/Business Intelligence architect and developer. He is a prior SQL Server MVP with over 25 years of IT experience.
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