Microsoft's Cortana Assists in Unearthing Power BI Insights

In a new beta of Power BI integration with Cortana, the virtual assistant turns into a data explorer.

Microsoft Power BI integration with Cortana

Power BI, Microsoft's cloud-powered business intelligence (BI) and analytics tool, is taking a step beyond typed, natural-language searches. Now, as part of a public preview, users can explore Power BI data with the help of Cortana, the virtual assistant technology bundled with Windows 10.

The new Cortana-Power BI integration "enables anyone to get answers directly from their key business data in a more helpful, proactive, and natural way," Marcus Ash, group program manager for Microsoft Cortana, announced on Dec. 1 in a company blog post. "By utilizing Power BI's data visualization capabilities, Cortana can provide you with answers, ranging from simple numerical values ('revenue for the last quarter'), charts ('number of opportunities by team'), maps ('average customer spending in California by city'), or even complete reports from Power BI."

Enabling Cortana support is a fairly simple process; users need only select the "Enable Cortana to access this dataset" in Power BI, according to a separate blog from the Microsoft Power BI group. "After that, any user who has access to the dataset in Power BI, via regular Power BI sharing, groups and content pack features will be able to get answers from the data set in Cortana in Windows 10."

To help Cortana rein in the scope of Power BI searches and find more relevant answers, Power BI Desktop app offers new tools that help users customize their data and results.

"In Power BI Desktop, you'll find new options to set the size of a sheet to match Cortana and to provide both primary and alternate names for sheets. This allows you to create custom Cortana answers using the full capabilities of Power BI Desktop," added the company's bloggers.

In addition to Cortana support, Microsoft also introduced a new capability that finds answers to questions users may not even think to ask.

"Power BI's new Quick Insights feature allows you to run a variety of analytical algorithms on your data to search for potential insights with the click of a mouse," informed the software maker. "Through a partnership with Microsoft Research, we're honing a growing list of algorithms to discover and visualize correlations, outliers, trends, seasonality, change points in trends, and major factors within your data, automatically, within seconds."

To ferret out those insights from data sets loading into Power BI, users can select the new Quick Insights option.

"For 10 to 12 seconds Power BI will iterate across your data searching for subsets of data you may find interesting. If we find something that meets the criteria of one of our insight categories, we visualize it, along with any other insights we've found, for you to browse," stated the Power BI team.

"By default, we will scan as much of a data set as possible in an allotted amount of time, while in the future we'll allow you to control what portion of your data we should focus our computational resources on," they continued. The first batch of Power BI Quick Insights includes correlation, seasonality in time series and category outliers among a handful of others. Microsoft is working on adding change points in a time series and low variance detection in a future update.

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 network of...