5 Questions with Power BI Expert Andrew Brust
Ahead of his VSLive! session, Microsoft MVP and analytics expert talks about how far Power BI has come, what killer features might be in the pipeline -- and whether they will include ChatGPT.
Power BI has come a long way since its launch nearly a decade ago, going from a standalone desktop data visualization tool to an omnipresent analytics engine across the entire Microsoft stack.
For those trying to keep their Power BI skills sharp, staying on top of the product's always-evolving capabilities can be difficult, regardless of their expertise level. Analytics, AI and BI expert (and Microsoft MVP) Andrew Brust will be headlining an informative session at the upcoming Visual Studio Live! conference in Las Vegas, Nev. to help IT pros brush up on the latest and greatest Power BI features. Titled "Power BI: The Basics and the Latest Coolness," Brust's March 22 session will cover everything from data visualization, to the AI features currently in Power BI, to data preparation with Power Query.
We caught up with Brust recently to get his thoughts on Power BI's evolution, it's place in Microsoft's broader AI and BI vision, and where he thinks Power BI will go from here.
Redmond: It seems like Microsoft has integrated Power BI into numerous products since it launched – so much that many businesses may not even be aware that they can already tap Power BI via their current Microsoft usage. In your opinion, what are the most notable Microsoft products that have useful Power BI capabilities?
Brust: I would say Synapse Analytics, first and foremost, as far as "techies" are concerned.
For businesspeople, who are arguably the real audience, Power BI's integration into Dynamics 365 has great impact.
Finally, the inclusion of Power BI in Office -- including the conformity of the Power BI user interface with Office's, the ability to embed interactive Power BI reports into PowerPoint presentations, and countless bidirectional integrations between Power BI and Excel -- is a biggie.
It can be easy to downplay how powerful Power BI can be. What are some use cases that businesses may not automatically think to use Power BI for? Any surprising use cases that you've encountered?
There are some excellent AI capabilities built-into Power BI, including tie-ins with Azure Cognitive Services and Azure Machine Learning. There's also a remarkably easy-to-use capability to get data from plain, old, Web pages. This, for example, allows Wikipedia pages to act as data sources (there's a whole tutorial on it here).
"It literally took more than a decade, but Microsoft finally vanquished the self-service BI competition."
Andrew Brust, Founder and CEO, Blue Badge Insights
For people who are already fairly familiar with Power BI and use it daily, what's one hidden or underrated feature that you think not enough of them are using?
Power BI, through the use of a feature called "composite models," also has stunning capabilities to query Big Data, which most BI tools are actually pretty lousy at. The secret is that it can cache aggregated data locally and query the detailed level data directly form the big data source. Most other BI tools make users choose between importing everything (which, with large data volumes, is impossible) and querying everything remotely (which can be quite slow).
When it first launched Power BI, Microsoft often used the word "democratize" when describing how easily the solution can deliver analytics capabilities to non-data scientists. Power BI has come a long way since then. Do you think it's still an effective tool for democratizing data analysis, visualization, modeling, etc.?
Well, that is, of course, an industry buzzword and its definition lacks precision because of that. But if what we mean by "democratize" is to make analytics more fun, accessible and genuinely self-service for business users without much knowledge of databases or SQL, then absolutely.
Before Power BI, Microsoft's story here was weak. SQL Server Analysis Services was a very powerful back-end BI platform (and Power BI still uses the SSAS engine), and SQL Server Reporting Services provided some capabilities too, but, on the business user front-end, most of the capabilities were buried in Excel and SharePoint. Companies like Tableau and Qlik were eating Microsoft's self-service BI lunch.
But that's a thing of the past now. It literally took more than a decade, but Microsoft finally vanquished the self-service BI competition.
What's one feature you're really hoping Microsoft will roll out for Power BI – or that's related to Power BI – this year?
I'd like to see enhancement of Q&A -- which is Power BI's natural language query technology – using ChatGPT. And given Microsoft's strong relationship with OpenAI, I'd say this is an AI no-brainer.