Hoping to increase the value of its online Office suite, Microsoft is out with the release version of its self-service cloud-based suite of business intelligence tools. Power BI for Office 365, unveiled as a beta version during the summer, provides data access, data management and data analysis tools features through Excel and viewer clients for SharePoint and Windows 8.
In a posting Monday on The Official Microsoft Blog, Corporate Vice President Quentin Clark noted that "business intelligence is only used by a fraction of the people that could derive value from it." He said that what is needed is "modernized business intelligence" to provide the information and insights needed for one's job or personal life.
Clark urged the reader to imagine bringing together information from a Net search and expert sources in order to discover new relationships. "And imagine that available on any scale of data and any kinds of computation you might need," as well as available to anyone, he wrote. The key functions of Power BI being promoted by Microsoft include discovering and combining data, modeling, visualization, asking questions of the data, sharing/collaborating and anywhere access.
Power Query, Power Map
To Microsoft, Power BI represents this kind of vision, providing what Clark described 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."
Power BI includes a feature called Q&A, which accepts search terms and then delivers visual results such as interactive charts or graphs. When an Excel workbook has been uploaded to Power BI, it can be queried using natural language search.
There's also Power Query in Excel, enabling data to be searched and accessed from within an organization or from public sources. The feature can generate a single-screen Power View dashboard, which can then be shared. Power Map functions via Office 365 can be used for analyzing company data, as well as for analyzing such public data sources as geospatial data through Bing.
Low Training Requirement
Microsoft gave the case history of media agency MediaCom, which uses Power BI to determine the effectiveness of clients' campaigns in real time. MediaCom noted that the integration with Office 365 and Excel means that there is a very low training requirement.
With Power BI, Excel-based data can be merged from different sources, such as, in MediaCom's case, Nielsen TV and digital ratings, comScore digital media ratings, Kantar consumer data, and data from social media sources.
A key advantage of Power BI is that, as a cloud-based service, the back-end is set up and users only need to connect to the data. As a competitive move, Power BI now makes Office 365 into a shareable business intelligence tool, as the company continues its competition against other online tools, such as Google Apps.