At the IGNITE Conference a few weeks ago, I was fortunate to take in a Power BI overview session presented by Michael Tejedor from the Power BI Product team. The investments Microsoft has made to Power BI continue to show up in the product, and are impressive.
At this session, I heard the following key themes:
1. “Untethering” Power BI from SharePoint Online — not requiring SPOL infrastructure to be in place as a presentation/access control layer
2. Power BI Designer — a new, free-standing (I.e., without Excel) design palette for creating Power BI reports and dashboards
3. Connection tools
4. Content Packs
Untethering from SharePoint Online
In the past, Power BI has been held back in its reach because it has been dependent on SharePoint On-Line as a presentation/access control layer. Power BI has been unavailable to people not ready for whom Office 365 is not an option, for whatever reason. Recent changes to the Power BI license have removed this dependency — you can buy Power BI licenses without underlying Office 365 licenses, making Power BI available to more people, at a lower price and fewer pre-requisites than ever before.
Power BI Designer
Until now, Power BI tools for the analyst have been in the form of Excel add-ins: PowerQuery for connecting Power BI to data sources, PowerPivot for modeling data, PowerView for developing reports and dashboards in a visual UI, and PowerMap for adding geo-information to Power BI outputs. In the next version of Excel (2016), these components will all be embedded into the core Excel product. Additionally, there’s a second option: Power BI Designer, a purpose-built, non-Excel, application that analysts can use for creating and managing Power BI data sets, reports, and dashboards. Once published from Designer, all of these can be edited from within the browser.
Given the preponderance of on-premises and cloud-based data sources, Microsoft has invested in making it easier to build and manage data connections. A key tool for doing so is the Data Management Gateway, an agent installed on-premises to broker these queries against data sources, and it provides such benefits as:
- Live, real-time queries against SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) cubes
- The ability to use the elasticity of the cloud for storage and computing capacity
- The ability to enforce row-level security from SSAS
Power BI now includes quick, canned, easy-to-use data connections and dashboards, called “Content Packs,” from some common source applications with whom Microsoft has developed partnership, such as Salesforce.com, GitHub, and some, like Google Analytics, where it was not so much a partnership and “we just sorta did it.” In so doing, Power BI continues to shorten the distance between source data and business intelligence that is easy to create and consume.
In summary, the impression that I was left with (and have affirmed with many who were in this and similar sessions at Ignite) is that Power BI is young but growing in capability very quickly. Our team has downloaded the preview into our demo environment, and we’re excited to kick the tires, test the product, find its limits, and learn about its capabilities.