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Power BI for Office 365 Getting Improvements This Summer

Microsoft's Power BI for Office 365 team fielded questions this week, offering a few hints about the next product release.

The team participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on June 10. The questions ranged from SharePoint dependencies, client support and future on-premises support, among others. Some of the improvements mentioned may arrive as early as this summer, according to the Microsoft team.

Updates Described at PASS
The AMA talk added a few details on top of what Microsoft had already promised back at the PASS Business Analytics Conference keynote talk in May. At that event, Microsoft promised the following Power BI for Office 365 improvements to come:

  • SQL Server Reporting Services will become a "native component" of Power BI for Office 365 by the end of the summer. Users of Power BI for Office 365 will be able to directly connect to their on-premises data sources when that takes effect.
  • That same sort of "native" integration is planned for SQL Server Analysis Services on premises, which will be able to connect with Power View, an Excel feature and a SharePoint add-in that is used to create Power BI for Office 365 data visualizations.
  • A native iOS client for Power BI for Office 365 will be available by summer's end.
  • A new "data exploration" mode in Power View will be available. It will enable users to access field lists to play with data visualizations.
  • A new key performance indicator (KPI) editor will roll out. Microsoft MVP Chris Webb has suggested it could replace PerformancePoint for creating dashboards.

The SharePoint Dependency Question
During the AMA talk, the team was asked if SharePoint was a requirement for using Power BI for Office 365. The team's response was a bit open ended: "Power BI will continue to use SharePoint for the time being," it said.

The team was asked if Microsoft planned to enable Power BI for premises-based SharePoint environments, since some components of the Power BI for Office 365 service currently depend on Microsoft's cloud-based infrastructure to work properly. "For Power BI on-prem, the earliest you'll see this is in the next major release of SharePoint," the team commented. It didn't specify a possible date.

Another question concerned the possibility that Microsoft might roll out "a lighter, simpler version of SharePoint just for hosting the BI components" of Power BI for Office 365. The Microsoft team replied, "Yes, we're having thoughts about it …."

Client Support
The Microsoft team affirmed what had been said at the PASS event about a native iOS client app to come. "We are actively working on the Power BI app for iPads, and a first version is expected to be out late summer this year," the team said. Apple Mac support is a different story, though, with the team saying, "Unfortunately, Power BI isn't supported on Mac yet."

Android client platform support is part of Microsoft's plans, although the rollout plans weren't shared:

We decided to initially focus on Windows and iOS first. Android does have a big market share in the consumer space but its growth in the enterprise was less initially. We are actively monitoring the trends and Android support is definitely on our roadmap.

Custom Visualizations
The Microsoft team was asked if the Power BI for Office 365 platform might be extensible to support "custom visualizations." That capability appears to be in the works, but it depends on Microsoft working out the data visualization capabilities between its Silverlight platform and HTML5. Here's how the Microsoft team explained it:

Currently, the Power BI team is working on bringing the new HTML5 version to parity with Silverlight with respect to visuals and also adding some new important visuals. We will then be adding lots of new visuals and during that process, we will take a look and see how to open up the platform to third-party visualizations.

The lack of HTML5 support for visualizations on premises is one of the reasons why Power BI for Office 365 is primarily offered as a cloud-based service from Microsoft, instead of run on premises.

Power BI Support for Other Products
The Microsoft team was asked if they were considering "a Power BI option to Office 365 Home." The Home edition is a productivity suite targeted toward the consumer market. Surprisingly, the team did not rule out such a possibility:

Customers have asked for some subset of Power BI functionality be available in other versions of Office and it is something we actively discuss. We are hoping to have great news in the coming months.

In addition, the team was asked if there were any plans to integrate Power BI for Office 365 with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The team offered an open-ended reply:

We have some really good friends in the Dynamics team and are pushing to make getting that data into Power BI as seamless as possible. And, as we generally like to make new friends, we're working on some new CRM capability provider friendships as well.

Other Improvements
The Microsoft team affirmed that they "are actively looking at ways to make Power Query and SSIS [SQL Server Integration Services] play better together":

Prior to Power BI GA [general availability], we separated the Power Query engine (the part that executes queries) from the Power Query add-in UX, and [we] are looking at a variety of scenarios where that engine can be hosted in different processes. SSIS is an obvious one.

The team was asked about scalability improvements to support "big/fast data." In reply, the team indicated that Power BI for Office 365 is being shaped to support the "Internet of things." Additionally, the team is "working on delivering high-scale stream processing capabilities to our offering." Another capability in the works is support for "multidimensional cubes" in Power View.

Power BI for Office 365 reached its general availability milestone in February. Microsoft has a couple of months more in which to deliver the new summer improvements. However, it's possible that Microsoft could discuss the details first at its Worldwide Partner Conference, which is coming up in mid-July, as Webb has noted.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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