Microsoft Releases Power BI Office 365, Brings Big Data Analytics to the People


Peter Crump
Staff Writer

Microsoft has released Power BI for Office 365. Power BI (Business Intelligence) is an add-on of Microsoft Excel that gives everyday users the ability to perform complex business analytics, or in other words, it uses statistical information to make optimal data-driven decisions within companies. Normally, business analytics is only done by trained data specialists and scientists. However, Power BI promises to reduce if not eliminate this learning curve altogether, according to Eweek.

BI was first unveiled last July at the Microsoft Worldwide Power Conference, though it isn’t the company’s first venture into the business intelligence realm. Earlier offerings have been hit and a miss, however. Microsoft’s 2012 release of Power View brought strong visuals and data integration, but on the flipside, Performance Point, an earlier analytics project released in 2007, missed the mark. Now, Microsoft has taken its successes and failures to create their best offering into the BI market with Power BI.

Power BI essentially integrates into Excel. Microsoft has experimented with different dashboard mediums in the past to their BI software; however, as stated by Enron Kelly, Microsoft’s general manager for SQL Server product marketing, “Power BI for Office 365 brings self-service BI solutions to everyday business users through the familiar tool they already use—Excel,” according to Eweek. As the old adage goes, if something isn’t broken, why fix it? Office users are already well familiar with Excel, so it’s reasonable that Microsoft would integrate BI into the existing program.

So what exactly is Power BI? Microsoft Corporate Vice President Quentin Clark describes it as “a public and corporate catalog of data sets and BI models, a way to search for data, a modern app and a Web-first experience,” according to Newsfactor. Some of the features include PowerPivot, Power Query, Power View and Power Maps. Both Power Pivot and Power View have been used in previous Microsoft BI software and can create data models through charts and maps, processing hundreds of millions of rows of data at once, according to TechNet.

New features include Power Query and Power Maps. Query will allow data from multiple sources to be imported into Power Pivot, and Power Maps integrates Bing Maps to create 3-D visualizations of geospatial data, all right onto Excel. Power BI also includes a Q&A feature, which will allow users to search for specific terms. Power BI will respond with visual results such as interactive charts and graphs, according to Newsfactor.

Undoubtedly, Power BI will put more power into the hands of the user. No longer will the intricacies of complex data analytics be confined to highly skilled specialists. Julia White, general manager of Office product marketing explained that Microsoft is “bringing BI to a billion users” with the goal to “democratize data availability,” according to Eweek. As it stands, only about 10 percent of employees are trained in business analytics, but “a lot more can benefit from it,” White continues. Business analytics are “not in the hands of data wonks anymore.”

Power BI is available now for $40 a month per user or for $52 a month with the inclusion of Office 365 ProPlus. Don’t want to shell out anything just yet? There is also a free 30-day trial of Power BI which includes Ofice 365 ProPlus as well as the latest version of Excel.