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Microsoft's Power BI for Office 365 is official, ties data sources to Excel

Thor Olavsrud | Feb. 11, 2014
After nearly eight months in public preview, Power BI for Office 365 is now generally available. Microsoft is aiming to unlock business intelligence for everyone with the new add-on service for Office 365.

Another example is Carnegie Mellon University, which is using Power BI to connect to its facilities data from building automation systems, lights, ventilation, air quality, weather and security data sources, all pulled into Excel and expressed as a real-time energy dashboard.

"They're reducing energy consumption in buildings they're analyzing by 30 percent," Kelly says.

While self-service is the name of the game, Microsoft is also aiming to help IT manage it with a Data Management Gateway, which is designed to give IT the capability to build connections to on-premises data sources and schedule refreshes to make sure business users always have access to the most up-to-date data, whether accessing it from a desktop or a mobile device. At the same time, data stewards will have the capability to manage and monitor the data views created for their individual and team's analyses.

"What's really cool about the Power BI service is that IT will also be able to create a private data catalog that will allow it to publish data sets for end users to search and discover," Kelly adds.

At the same time, Microsoft is also focusing its efforts on collaboration with BI Sites, which Kelly likens to a SharePoint collection for BI projects. They are dedicated workspaces optimized for BI projects that provide real-time access through HTML5 browsers as well as touch-optimized mobile applications for Windows 8, Windows RT, Surface and iPad devices.

Microsoft has also added Power Q&A, a natural language query that's designed to let you ask questions of your data in natural language and receive an interactive table, chart or graph in response. This, Kelly says, means even non-power users who don't know how to structure SQL queries can use the tool to get relevant results. For instance, a user could ask "How much revenue did product X generate last year?" and receive a graph showing the data.


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