Microsoft announced today that the stand-alone Power BI product, formerly an Office 365 tool, will be officially launching on Friday, July 24, bringing business analytics and reporting capabilities to potentially millions of rank-and-file office workers.
On that date, the cloud-enabled business intelligence platform will move from "public preview to full general availability, with commercial support," John Doyle, director of product marketing for Microsoft's Business Intelligence unit, told eWEEK. On that date, preview accounts will be converted to free Power BI accounts. To retain advanced functionality, users can upgrade to a paid Power BI Pro account.
To help end users and budding data explorers get started, Microsoft "prebuilt a curated experience" that takes a lot of the guesswork out of configuring the solution, Doyle said.
After illustrating the consumer-like, "friction-free sign-up" experience, Doyle showed during an online demo how Power BI guides users to set up their dashboards and publishing reports. Using an app store approach, end users can select their data sources, including on-premise and software-as-a-service applications and services like those from Salesforce, to populate preconfigured visualizations that can be further customized.
In the case of Salesforce, Power BI offers sales manager or sales representative templates to speed the set-up process. In the coming months, Microsoft plans to release content packs for several more services, including Adobe Analytics, ComScore, Insightly and Sage.
Today's announcement also marks an expansion of the product's big data analytics capabilities. Power BI already supports SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL Data Warehouse, and the July 10 update includes compatibility with the Apache Spark open-source big data processing framework via Apache Spark for Azure HDInsight.
Power BI Designer, the free data exploration and interactive reporting software, has been rebranded to Power BI Desktop in a move that "reflects the innovation cycle we've had over the last several months" and establishes the product's positioning as a business analytics tool, said Doyle. Later this month, the software will be updated to include new visualizations, more formatting options and a connector for direct access to SQL Server Analysis Services tabular models.
Unlike competing solutions, Doyle said Microsoft's cloud-first approach provides an IT- and budget-friendly way for enterprises to extend business analytics to their workforces. "We're not asking anyone to rip and replace," Doyle said. "We can connect directly to SQL; you don't need to move your data from on-premises."
On the mobile front, Microsoft published a Power BI mobile app for Android smartphones. It joins the current slate of apps for iPhone, iPad and Windows.
New collaboration capabilities include support for Office 365 Groups. Users can "create a group in Office 365, and now Power BI can participate in that grouping," enabling users to share their insights, said Doyle. Users also "now have the ability to view Excel workbooks in full fidelity inside Power BI," a capability that "really arms the business analyst," he added.