Microsoft takes a new stab at broad data access and self-service business intelligence through Office 365 and Excel.
Microsoft is thinking big with Monday’s release of Power BI, a cloud-based suite of data access, data management, and data analysis tools delivered through its cloud-based Office 365 platform and tied, inevitably, to its ubiquitous Excel spreadsheet.
Available in beta release since last summer, Power BI delivers new Power Query and Power Map capabilities for exploring, combining, and analyzing data through Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365. This cloud-based platform is where IT types can expose corporate data sources, trusting that Office 365 has all the access rights and privileges locked down. But the cloud also offers access to a wide world of public data sources, including an Azure data market and Bing maps for geospatial analysis.
Power BI’s cloud connection simplifies access to a world of data sources, according to Microsoft. Users can conduct their analyses in Excel, using now-familiar plugin capabilities such as PowerPivot (for fast in-memory analysis across vast data sets) and Power View (for visual data analysis). Once new charts, graphs, dashboards, and other visualizations and analyses are completed, they can be published on new BI Sites on Office 365, where organizations can foster broad, cloud-based collaboration with the assurance of having pre-established access and security controls for that environment.
Power BI is Microsoft’s latest attempt at democratizing business intelligence — something it has been attempting for more than 10 years with Microsoft Business Intelligence, which is the combination of Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint, and Excel. This software is more broadly deployed than any discrete business intelligence suite, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to use. Organizations not only need to keep up with the latest versions of SQL Server, SharePoint, and Excel (and its various plugins), but they also must keep up with end-user requests for access to data and, inevitably, data integrations, reports, and analyses that are too difficult, despite Microsoft’s “self-service” tools.
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