Power BI, Microsoft's cloud-based business intelligence (BI) software offering, is finally allowing users to derive business insights from their on-premises data sources by simply asking. The product's Q&A feature, which enables users to conduct natural-language queries, is now available for on-premises data sources linked by Power BI Enterprise Gateway, starting with SQL Server 2016 Analysis Services.
Q&A has been one of Power BI's hallmark features since the product first debuted in 2013. "Using Q&A with on-premise data sources has been a top community ask from the very first time we introduced the Q&A feature," wrote Patrick Baumgartner, Microsoft principal program manager, in a blog post.
Microsoft plans to extend the functionality, currently in beta, to additional data sources in the coming weeks, added Baumgartner. "Power BI's goal is to provide the best experiences for getting insight from any data. Extending our natural language query experience from the cloud directly to your on-premise data is another great step to achieving this."
Enabling the Q&A experience for data held in local systems requires that administrators turn on the feature in the gateway's Q&A and Cortana settings. Once it is up and running—it requires the creation of an index based on the affected on-premises data—users can ask questions, and Power BI will reply with appropriate visual or report sheet.
The Power BI Q&A feature itself has been enhanced in a handful of new ways, Baumgartner revealed.
Q&A's auto-complete functionality is now more flexible, offering users a wider range of options as they input terms. Power BI also makes it easier to compare different answers by enabling users to interactively adjust their questions. Clicking on a term or value within a question now displays a list of suggested alternatives, reducing the need to retype the bulk of a lengthy question or start from scratch.
Also new is the ability to ask questions based on specific report sheets, allowing users to further filter their data. Lastly, Power BI now supports synonyms. "Adding synonyms lets you include alternate names for tables, columns and measures that Q&A will use to make it easier to find data when asking questions," explained Baumgartner.
Power BI Q&A is just one of many ways Microsoft has been working to make big data analytics more approachable to business users.
Last month, Microsoft announced that it had teamed with Chicago-based Narrative Science to turn Power BI visualizations into stories. A new custom visual for Power BI translates charts, graphs and other visualizations into text, emulating how analysts might describe their findings.
In March, Microsoft unveiled SandDance at the software giant's inaugural Data Insight Summit. SandDance is another custom visual meant to unlock the storytelling potential of analytics data.
Using a blend of 3D graphics and sweeping animations, SandDance rearranges data points like grains of sand to create new visuals as users explore their Power BI data. The animated transitions help viewers visually connect the dots between seemingly unrelated business insights, according to Microsoft.