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Microsoft promises real-time, self-service BI

Mary Branscombe | Feb. 17, 2016
Can you watch your business as it works without slowing it down? The right collaboration and reporting tools can give you a real-time picture of what’s happening inside your business, without all the manual reporting.

For any of this to work, you need to look for tools that gather data automatically, rather than having people spend half as long tapping out timecards showing what they’ve done as they spent doing it in the first place. “I want to spend time getting things done, not writing down the thing I did,” says Microsoft’s James Phillips.  Increasingly, he says, business tools will let us do that.

“If you think about a modern business app, in this world we’re heading into now, data is coming out of everything. Now we’re moving into a world where I don’t have to put anything anywhere myself; it's simply measured and stored. Modern apps key off this explosion of data coming from everything, in order to either inform a human or simply to automate a business process adjustment that leads to better outcomes.”

Office with a view

In some places this is already happening. For developers, tools like Visual Studio Team Services include time tracking when developers click on work items, so you can get an idea of how much development time a particular request is taking. Wrike recently added real-time reporting on the status of projects happening inside its collaboration platform, so employees don’t spend time on manual status updates. If you’re on Office 365, even without the extra organizational analytics, Delve shows what documents your colleagues are working on, in SharePoint and OneDrive, as well as on other services like Salesforce and SAP.

“We’ve got a billion users of Office,” Phillips points out. “Having the world's business calendars, the world’s business email, the world's productivity and interaction data at our fingertips allows us to expose that in a very secure way to those organizations want to take advantage of that information and that metadata in order to illuminate and to permit action upon that productivity data, to make people and businesses more productive.”

You can add other data sources to that with Power BI, and the new Power BI Insights feature can suggest what you need to know about without you having to do the analysis.

“Behind the scenes we have Cortana Analytics technology looking at any data set inside Power BI and automatically identifying interesting trends, facts and observations, and making those available to use without you having to actually go do any sort of manual exploration.” Part of the value of that is that Power BI isn’t just a tool for historical data, he claims. “Power BI is a real-time business intelligence system with an alerting system that can trigger business processes and actions.”

And Power BI Insights combines the real time data feeds with automated analysis on a massive scale in Microsoft’s cloud. “The way Insights works is brute force, mass regression analysis across very large data sets, in order to find insights that would be, frankly, too tedious for a human to solve themselves. By doing that we’re able to uncover sometimes incredibly insightful things that you couldn't have done before, because it would just have been impractical.”


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