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Microsoft Beefs Up Power BI Data Tool

Shortly after announcing the first release candidate for SQL Server 2016, Microsoft today made more data-driven news by unveiling new capabilities for Power BI, its cloud-based analytics service targeting non-technical business users.

Revamped last year as an improved Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering for the business rank and file, Power BI now incorporates new features to make it more enterprise-ready, along with more intelligent data exploration capabilities and deeper integration with Excel, the company said at the first-ever Microsoft Data Insight Summit in Bellevue, Wash.

Power BI facilitates the analysis and visualization of Big Data and "ordinary" data, coming from sources such as Excel spreadsheets, on-premise data stores, Hadoop datasets, streaming data and cloud services.

Speaking of Excel, better integration with that product means the ability to analyze Power BI-generated data in the company's ubiquitous spreadsheet program is now generally available for the first time.

"Also generally available today is the ability to pin from Excel," exec James Phillips said in a blog post today. "Insights can be taken directly from the Excel desktop to Power BI dashboards, which will keep tiles on the dashboard up to date to help track your important data."

Phillips also highlighted improvements in enterprise readiness such as the new role-level security for cloud models and direct query, which will be available in preview later this month. Tenant-level usage reports can now work with data assets such as reports, dashboards, datasets and content packs so enterprises can better understand how they're using Power BI.

More intelligent data exploration comes from a beefed-up natural language Q&A interface that makes it easier to use through the aid of visual clues.

"Additionally, the unique query capabilities that help users find data and create visuals on the fly can now be used with direct query data sources," Phillips said. "This combines the advantages of using Power BI's direct query capabilities to access data stored on-premises and in the cloud by asking intuitive, natural questions via the Q&A interface -- including Cortana, which will be able to answer questions from direct query sources used in Power BI. These features will be previewed in April."

Phillips credited the user community for helping to shape the new product with the introduction of more than 265 new features resulting from some 45,000 User Voice votes and other feedback.

"We aren't stopping," Phillips promised. "The notion of data proliferation and its intersection with the cloud is really the first tenet of modern BI. Moving from data to insights that inform intelligent action is the second, referring to the ability to engage and interact with data in new, intuitive and natural ways. This deepens intelligent data exploration by redefining how we experience data and have access to intelligence without requiring deep technical knowledge, such as through speech and other intuitive and convenient methods."

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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