When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addressed his company’s 118,000 employees in a not-so-confidential email last week, he presented them with a new challenge: “Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

And what this translates to, when it comes to Microsoft’s Analytics offerings, is putting the power of the company’s tools, like Power BI into every worker’s hands, whether she's a member of a marketing intern, a line of business worker, a data scientist, business analyst or CEO.

Power Up

Today Microsoft announced a new Power BI, which is one of the tools geared toward accomplishing exactly that. Some of its components, like the Power BI business analytics service (“Power BI 2.0”) that replaces Power BI for Office 365, will be updated every week.

Power BI Desktop (known as Power BI Designer) with which ordinary Jack’s and Jill’s can create data visualizations, will be available for free starting July 24.

But that’s not all that’s different and new from Microsoft’s data and analytics group. 

The entire Power BI visualization framework and its complete library of visuals are being open sourced (under an MIT license) and contributed to the community.

The source code is available right now on GitHub, leaving developers free to design and create custom dashboards.

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Changing Behavior

This is behavior that we have not seen from Microsoft in the past.

And Microsoft isn’t missing a beat when it comes to data geeks either. It’s not only demonstrating that it gets big data, but also what’s red hot, with a new data service, Apache Spark for HDInsight, that's available now on Azure.

It’s also worth noting that when Microsoft puts the power of big data into your hands, it’s doing it in a real big way. Users will be able to grab data from a diversity of applications they use every day, such as Salesforce.com, Marketo, QuickBooks Online and 16 others, and experience it through pre-built live dashboards and interactive reports.

John Doyle, a director of product management at Microsoft, told CMSWire that content packs and integrations for Adobe Analytics, comScore, Azure Mobile Engagement, Sage, SpaceCurve, tyGraph, CircuitID, Sumo Logic, SQL Sentry, Zuora, Planview, Insightly, Troux, Inkling and others would also be made available soon.

All On My Own

From a user’s perspective what all of this translates to is that you won’t need to know statistical languages like R or SAS to glean insights from data. You won’t need IT to help you build viz’s or to combine streaming data from Twitter or historical data from SQL Server or Hadoop to make decisions based on customer sentiment, and you won’t need to move your data because it will be leveraged exactly from where it lives.

Best of all, Power BI allows you to literally ask questions of your data by speaking (imagine asking Siri something like: ”What are the chances that Andy Murray will beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon if he wins the second game of the second set?” then asking what if the same would be true of the third set? Then asking to see it in a viz. (She’s not programmed to do this, by the way.)

Learning Opportunities

From IT’s perspective, we should note that these new solutions provide governance and role-based security, according to Doyle. (So that you can’t leverage data you’re not authorized to access).

More Love from Gartner?

When Gartner last evaluated Microsoft’s Analytics play in its MQ for BI and Analytics Platform Leaders, it not only pointed to its accomplishments toward business user enablement, but also applauded it for its approach and the possibilities that it holds. It stated that Microsoft has “ a clear understanding of the market's desire for a platform that can support systems-of-record requirements and deliver easy-to-use data discovery capabilities, with support for promotability of business-user content and governance.”

It also criticized it for not providing access to certain data on Azure. Some of those problems are solved with this release. There were also questions around licensing, at least one of which can now be put aside — free is a good answer.

Building the Bridge to Analytics 3.0

In his book, Analytics at Work, Tom Davenport, the Godfather of Analytics, wrote about three Waves of Analytics. We reported on it here, but in summary he referred to:

Analytics 1.0 where analysts sat in back rooms working with data for weeks, if not months preparing the results of their findings for end users they’d never meet.

Analytics 2.0 in which managers who have to make decisions “right now” have to wait in line for overworked data scientists to provide insight, which often come after the window of opportunity to make them, has closed

Analytics 3.0 where analytics are part of everyone’s job (not just data scientists and analysts) and those insights can be delivered where and when you need them via any device. (By the way, Microsoft also announced that Power BI is now available on Android, it was already available on iOS and Windows devices).

With Power BI 2.0, Microsoft delivers on many of the promises of Analytics third wave. Does it have a ways to go? Sure. But Doyle said that updates would be made weekly. That’s the power and beauty of Software-as-a-Service.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  Title image by naama.