One billion Excel users may not sleep tonight. It won’t be a problem that keeps them awake, but a new toy. And, get this -- it’s free.

Today Microsoft introduces a new Power BI -- a service that helps users bring data in, wring value out and visualize the results. It’s geared toward line of business users, not data geeks, and may be pivotal in helping enterprises usher in a “data culture.”

Some may see this new data culture as Microsoft’s birthright (sort of) given that 1 billion workers use Excel today and that analytics is a natural progression. But Microsoft certainly isn’t taking anything for granted. “We’re lowering the barriers to entry by removing the friction and greasing the gears,” said James Phillips, general manager, data experiences at Microsoft. 

Frictionless and Free

This isn’t just talk. You can preview Power BI today by going to the site and entering your email. There’s no need to have a Microsoft account or to enter even a smidgeon of data. And once the preview version of Power BI becomes a full product, it remains free. Users who want to take advantage of extra features will be able to access the Pro version for $9.99 a month, which is dramatically less than the previous version of Power BI.

Microsoft’s idea of removing friction and greasing gears isn’t limited to signing up and gaining access via browser or mobile app. It comes with built-in connectors and pre-built dashboards and reports from a wide variety of sources including GitHub, Marketo, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, SendGrid and Zendesk. It’s also hybrid by design, making it easy to leverage on premises data from sources like Hadoop and relational databases as well as Azure streams. Paths to data in Inkling Markets, Intuit, Microsoft Dynamics Marketing, Sage, Sumo Logic, Visual Studio Application Insights, Visual Studio Online and many more will be available shortly as well.


“For every bit of data you put into Power BI, you’ll get value out,” said Phillips. (Provided that you use the insight you gain to make a decision, we might add.)

Betting on the Excel User Base

Cool as Power BI seems to be, its brilliance shines through with Power BI Designer. This makes it seamless to model and visually analyze data. Outliers and anomalies become obvious, answers to “what if” scenarios become apparent in pictures, it’s playful and free “forever” as Phillips put it.

Put Power BI and Power BI Designer together and the promise is that you can visualize, analyze and get value out of any data, anywhere, at any time (and via any device coming soon). Gaining the insight you need with which to make decisions becomes more of a pleasure and less of a hassle and there’s no need to wait for IT.

“Power BI becomes the face of your data,” said Phillips.

Doesn’t that sound like the promise that Tableau makes? We asked Phillips that question. He challenged us to find a Tableau user that wasn’t also an Excel user. It seems that Microsoft is betting that if it paves the way for its users, makes Power BI easier to use and its insights easy to share, then the masses will adopt it. And given that Power BI is free and that you can get busy with in short order, that could happen.

Power BI is clearly one of Microsoft’s plays to remain our “window to the world” and in an age where do-it-yourself analytics (a.k.a. “Analytics 3.0") can make the difference between winners and losers, the time to build the enterprise footprint is now.