Microsoft wants to help business users unearth insights that may be locked away in Excel workbooks with the latest update to Power BI Desktop.
Formerly called Power BI Designer, Power BI Desktop is the free data exploration and interactive reporting tool that enables users to run analytics on various sources of business data, including Google Analytics, SQL Server and Salesforce, to name a few. Now users have another option: Excel.
The new import capability “makes it possible for users to convert their Excel Workbooks containing Power Query queries, Power Pivot models and Power View worksheets into a Power BI Desktop file,” announced Miguel Llopis, program manager for Microsoft Power BI, in a company blog post. “This is a one-time operation to help users get started in Power BI Desktop with their existing reports.”
Llopis characterized the Excel import feature as a stepping stone to business analytics until his company inevitably improves how the two platforms share data. “While we plan to have other means of communication (import/export) between Excel and Power BI Desktop in the future, the current feature allows existing Excel users to get started with Power BI Desktop.”
There are limits to the types of Excel data that can be imported to Power BI, according to a Microsoft support document, he cautioned. They include SQL Server Analysis Services Tabular models, the KPI (key performance indicator) Data Model objects and binary data columns, among a handful of others.
The August update also includes connectors for HDInsight Spark, the company’s Azure-backed, open-source big data analytics solution, and Azure SQL Data Warehouse. Plus, the product now supports custom Multidimensional Expressions (MDX) and Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) queries from SQL Server Analysis Services Database.
In addition to those new behind-the-scenes additions, Microsoft has made some improvements to Power BI Desktop’s Navigator, Query Editor and data modeling tools. For instance, users can “resize the Navigator dialog, so that they can easily preview tables with lots of columns” and use shortcuts to select multiple items, said Llopis.
On the data modeling front, users can resize columns or double-click on a column’s border to auto-adjust. “Users can now easily move measures from one table to another, without having to recreate the measure in the destination table,” Llopis added. They can “select a measure and use the ‘Home Table’ option in the Data Tools – Modeling tab in the ribbon,” he instructed.
Finally, Power BI Desktop users have a little more flexibility in selecting their Live Analysis Services data sources.
“Based on feedback from many of you, we have improved the Edit Queries dialog for Live Analysis Services connections to allow users to modify the database and model, in addition to the server (which was available in our previous release),” Llopis said. “After confirming the Server name and clicking OK, users are presented with the Navigator dialog where they can browse to the right Database and Model, just like they were able to do on the initial connection.”