Microsoft Power BI Desktop Updates Delve Deeper into Business Data

New updates will empower end users to explore data in Power BI reports on their own terms.

Power BI Reports

Power BI Desktop, the Windows client software used to create reports with the Power BI business intelligence and analytics cloud service, has been updated with several new features this month, something that users are accustomed to.

"We ship that product every month," in terms of the continuous app cycle approach the company is taking with Power BI Desktop, John Doyle, senior director of product marketing at Microsoft, told eWEEK. "We ship the [Power BI cloud] service every week and we ship the companion offering tool, Power BI desktop, every month."

These updates involve more just a few minor tweaks here and there, added Doyle. They are significant and sometimes sweeping, "a set of features [that are released] each time to make the product more robust" and a rarity for what is essentially no-cost software, he said. Although Power BI Desktop is a free download, costs are incurred for using the Power BI service in corporate settings or advanced functionality.

At the Data Insights summit here in Seattle today, Microsoft offered an early peek at some of the improvements that are coming to the client.

Among Doyle's favorites is a new "What If" feature that allows authors to create reports that end users can then further explore by adjusting certain parameters. User will soon be able to see how a rise in their home currency, for example, affects costs in overseas markets without re-authoring a report in Power BI Desktop.

This feature will help close the gap between an organization's data analysts and the rank-and-file staffers that consume their reports, expects Doyle.

"The reason for doing that is that the business users have context that the business analyst may not have because they are in the business everyday," Doyle said. "So, they may want to do 'what if' analysis without having to go back. The analyst is now empowering them to give them more insight into their business."

Another feature heading to Power BI Desktop is Quick Insights. Currently available in the cloud service and powered by Microsoft's artificial intelligence technologies, particularly machine learning, Quick Insights automatically creates new visualizations on data sets, helping answer questions users may not know to ask and offering organizations different, potentially insightful perspectives on their data.

In the here and now, Microsoft is going beyond democratizing business intelligence by making the technology more accessible to users of all ability levels.

"With over 1 billion people with disabilities in the world, we're passionate about ensuring Power BI reports are designed for people of all abilities, so they are accessible to everyone within your organization. This month is the first of several updates with accessibility in mind," wrote Amanda Cofsky, a Microsoft Power BI program manager, in a blog post announcing the Power BI June update. "This first release allows users to consume Power BI reports using keyboard navigation and screen readers."

Microsoft also rolled out new formatting options that help users make their reports more accessible to their colleagues with disabilities. Tips on authoring accessible reports are available in Cofsky's blog.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...