New AI Capabilities Coming to Microsoft Power BI

Image recognition and text analytics are part of the new Power BI preview version, along with the ability to create machine learning models.

Power BI

Microsoft's latest preview version of it Power BI business analytics suite now includes an expanded range of artificial intelligence capabilities that will give users new ways to perform tasks using AI features.

The new capabilities, including image recognition, text analytics and integration with Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, were announced by Arun Ulag, the general manager of engineering for the Power BI project, in a Nov. 14 post on the Microsoft Power BI Blog.

"Power BI makes it possible for every employee in an organization to make better decisions based on data with beautiful reports and dashboards," he wrote. But due to the massive volumes of data generated by businesses, finding the insights within that data can be challenging.

"This is where AI can help," he wrote, by combing through the data to automatically find patterns and help users understand what the data means, while also predicting outcomes to help businesses drive results.

"There are huge opportunities when workers across an organization can leverage AI for improving business outcomes," wrote Ulag, but data scientists who typically help with AI tools don't have the time to help individual users.

That's where the features in the latest Power BI preview version can help, he wrote. Other new capabilities include key driver analysis that will help users understand what factors can influence key business metrics, as well as the ability to create machine learning models directly in Power BI using automated machine learning.

"All these new AI capabilities—pioneered in Azure and now available in Power BI—require no code," wrote Ulag. "This enables all Power BI users to discover hidden, actionable insights in their data and drive better business outcomes with easy-to-use AI."

In the past, Power BI has included the use of some earlier AI capabilities such as natural language, which enables users to get answers by asking questions in plain English, and Quick Insights, which automatically finds patterns in data.

Other new features in the latest preview version are Azure Cognitive Services


which are pre-trained machine learning models that can extract insights from data. The new capabilities will allow users to extract information from a variety sources like documents, images and social media feeds, which can then be identified through algorithms that can also recognize objects in images, detect language, identify key phrases, and determine positive or negative sentiment.

"Imagine you’re a business analyst for a hotel chain and want to evaluate what guests are saying in their online reviews," wrote Ulag. "With Azure Cognitive Services in Power BI, you can easily analyze thousands of online reviews, understand what your guests are happy or unhappy about and pinpoint areas of improvement."

The Azure Machine Learning capabilities now included in the preview version of Power BI will allow business analysts to build their own machine learning models without writing a single line of code, he wrote.

"We're using the automated machine learning feature in Azure Machine Learning, but instead of targeting developers or data scientists, we've simplified it and made it broadly accessible for common use cases. This means that when an analyst builds a machine learning model in Power BI, it does all the heavy lifting by selecting the best algorithm and features with just a few clicks."

Azure Machine Learning is a platform where data scientists develop machine learning models to take on complex business challenges, wrote Ulag. "Azure ML models built by data scientists can now be easily shared with business analysts. Power BI works behind the scenes to discover the models to which each user has access and automatically creates a point and click user interface to invoke them. This makes collaboration among business analysts and data scientists easier and faster than ever before."

Users can sign up immediately to try the latest preview version of Power BI to test out the new features.

The idea, wrote Ulag, is that these latest tools can be made available to any business user, regardless of their coding skill, to get their work completed in innovative new ways.

"Complex tasks that typically require technical know-how—key phrase extraction, sentiment analysis, understanding drivers, creating machine learning models—will now be possible with just a few clicks and without code," he wrote. "This empowers everyone in an organization to harness the power of AI to make better decisions."