Microsoft Shows Off Power BI for Office 365 in Live Demo

Microsoft marked the release of its Power BI for Office 365 last week with a live demo at the annual Strata Conference in San Jose, Calif.

The demonstration specifically showed off how Microsoft's Excel spread sheet app integrates with new capabilities for querying large datasets with natural language.

Power BI, which the company previewed last summer, is a set of cloud-based business intelligence add-ins for Office 365 Enterprise subscribers. It's designed to put big data-type analytics directly into the hands of business users, explained Eron Kelly, GM in Microsoft's Data Platform Group.

"Our goal is to bring big data to a billion users," Kelly said. "We want to make this resource valuable and useable for everyone -- not just the finance team and the data scientists, but everyone. That's where Microsoft can play a unique role in this market. We can make it easy for the end user to connect with and interact with big data."

With Power BI, Microsoft is leveraging its core business intelligence assets -- Excel, SharePoint, and SQL Server -- into an integrated service that allows users to gather data from diverse sources and generate business intelligence models, graphs, charts and other visualizations. Making its BI tools part of Office makes it easy for business users to connect with, mash up, analyze and visualize insights from big data, Kelly said. 

Kelly's demo of Power BI showed its potential for collecting and displaying data from a range of disparate sources in a variety of visualizations. It featured a rendering of the results of the City of Barcelona's efforts to make sense of citizen feedback on its services. The resulting displays combined data from a corporate catalog, Twitter and other sources generated from an Excel spreadsheet using natural language queries.  

Quentin Clark, corporate VP of program management in the Data Platform Group at Microsoft, announced the general availability of Power BI on the company blog and during his conference keynote.

"Power BI brings together many key aspects of the modernization of business intelligence: 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, rich interactive visualizations, collaboration capabilities, tools for IT to govern data and models, and a groundbreaking natural language experience for exploring insights," wrote Clark. "Together, these capabilities will not just change the kinds of insights we can gain from data, but change the reach of those insights as well."

The "broadly adopted and growing" user base of Office 365 (Microsoft said that one in four of its enterprise customers now use the cloud-based productivity suite), puts the company in a unique position in the evolving big data market, Clark said.

Microsoft also announced a preview of Apache Hadoop 2.2 on Windows Azure as a platform service, as well as further contributions to various Apache projects, including the Apache Stinger Project, which is a community based effort to "drive the future" of Apache Hive, the de facto standard for SQL-in-Hadoop.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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