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Microsoft has addressed the rather patchy business intelligence functionality in Office 365 this week with the announcement that it is launching Power BI for Office 365 later this summer. Power BI will be a cloud-based suite built on a number of existing Microsoft intelligence apps with an Excel-based authoring environment.

Power BI

However, business intelligence (BI) is only as good as the people that can access and use it, so the new suite from Microsoft also comes with new collaboration abilities that enable users to push data analysis and visualizations to wherever it is needed in the enterprise.

The new suite fills a gap that has been apparent in Office 365 since the beginning by the provision of cloud-based apps as well as offering the possibility of mobile business intelligence through a number of new BI offerings that extend what was already available through its Power Pivot and Power View capabilities.

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Power BI for Windows 8

Power BI for Office 365 now comes with:

  • Power Query: This was previously known as Data Explorer and enables users to search and access both public and enterprise data from within Excel. It also says it is working with partners to provide an internal version of this search engine allowing enterprises to customize it for the most commonly used data sources.
  • Power Map: Previously known as Geoflow, this is a visualization product that lets users map, explore and interact with geographic and time-related data.
  • Power Pivot: With this users can create flexible, customized data models in Excel.

The new visualizations and data presentations will be through SharePoint Online in Office 365.

Power BI Collaboration

When Microsoft originally released Office 365 it made much of the collaboration possibilities that it offered and with the release of Power BI it is emphasizing that again.

With this release users will be given access to:

  • BI Sites: Sites is a way not just of sharing data among enterprise colleagues, but also of keeping customers’ data up to the minute for mobile workers. It comes with data sync between enterprise and worker-related data sources through the new Data Management Gateway.
  • New natural language query capabilities: This makes it easy for users to input queries into the system by allowing them type questions into a dialog box which then prompts the system to generate charts and visualizations based on existing data.
  • User Experience: New functionality and native apps for Windows 8, Windows RT and for iPad devices as well as HTML5 support for viewing through any device.

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Microsoft Power BI Query

Power BI in Office 365

Microsoft says that the launch of Power BI is keeping with the original idea behind Office 365 of providing easy access to all the different tools that business users need both inside and outside the enterprise.

In the case of Power BI, it provides them with access to big data analytics without having to invest in the normally expensive and complicated big data deployments that are offered by its competitors.

By offering it in Office 365, it is also offering the possibility of universal access rather than the restricted access of many of the applications on the market at the moment.

There are a few things to keep in mind, though. Microsoft has said that it will open a preview version of it later in the summer, but it hasn’t given a date for when this will become available. It also doesn’t say when it will become generally available stating simply that it has “no further information to share at this time.”

There is also no indication of pricing or how pricing will work and has said that it will announce this at a late date.

Given that analytics is so important for so many enterprises, this is probably a bad move given that the market is currently choc-a-bloc with competing products at the moment and a price incentive might be enough to stop potential Power BI customers signing up with competitors like Tableau or MicroStrategy.

That said, it does have the pulling power of Office 365 to counter any negative backlash from this and given the rate of sign-ups for Office 365, interest in this should be considerable. More on this when it becomes available.