Microsoft's Power BI for Office 365 Is Official, Ties Data Sources to Excel

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.

Mon, February 10, 2014

CIO — After nearly eight months in public preview, Microsoft Monday announced the general availability of Power BI for Office 365, a central component in the software giant's vision of helping businesses unlock data for all users with easily accessible business intelligence (BI) tools.

Government CIOs

"Maybe 10 percent to 20 percent of employees today use BI tools on any given day," says Eron Kelly, general manager of SQL Server Marketing at Microsoft.

"We want to help businesses grow the number of users. We're making it easy for users to interact with their data," Kelly says. "If users who are close to the business have access to the data they need, they're going to make better decisions. By bringing Power BI to market with the goal of bringing it to everyone, we think we can help businesses go forward."

[Related: Microsoft Makes Data Mining Self-Service With BI for Office 365]

Power BI for Office 365 is a cloud-based self-service BI service built on Excel and Office 365—essentially an add-on for the Office 365 service, though Kelly notes that Microsoft is providing options for businesses to subscribe to the Power BI service even if they don't use Office 365.

Mashing Up Disparate Data

The service is desighned to act as an intermediary layer between data sources and Excel, giving business users the capability to easily and seamlessly connect to a variety of data sources—like Hadoop, Azure, public data sources or even data from your Exchange Server—pull it into Excel, mash it up and perform transformations on it.

[Related: Is Microsoft's Office 365 Bet Starting to Pay Off in Enterprise Adoption?]

Accessibility is key, Kelly explains. He notes that Excel is already the most-used BI tool in the world. "One-in-seven human beings on the planet have Excel," he says. Power BI is intended to take that familiar tool and make far more data available through it. In addition, capabilities like Power Query and Power Map unlock the ability to easily perform discovery and visualization on the data.

Power Query (formerly known as Data Explorer) offers the capability to discover, access and combine data—whether it's publicly available data or data proprietary to your organization or both. You could create a spreadsheet from a Twitter feed, dividing the Twitter messages, dates, locations and users into separate columns and then mash that data up with internal data for new insights.

[Related: Microsoft Sharpens Office 365 Tool to Slice and Dice Data]

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