Latest Power BI Updates Aim to Democratize Business Intelligence

Recent updates to Power BI are enabling businesses to turn their users, regardless of where they are placed on the org chart, into informed knowledge workers backed by actionable data.

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Recent updates to Power BI are enabling businesses to turn their users, regardless of where they are placed on the org chart, into informed knowledge workers backed by actionable data.

A business insight that is tucked away in a binder or on a worker's laptop is a missed opportunity to empower employees and help them contribute to their organization's success, according to Kamal Hathi, general manager of Microsoft Power BI. He and his team are working to ensure that Power BI, along with its ever-expanding feature set, aligns with the company's mission of democratizing access to business analytics.

Power BI is the company's cloud-powered business intelligence (BI) and analytics tool for average office workers, top executives, analytics experts and everyone in between. Now they can use the new conversational BI capabilities in the Power BI mobile apps for iOS to get quick answers to their pressing questions on the go.

Using the app's Q&A feature, Microsoft officials say people can explore their data using plain language, either in the app's chat function or simply speaking into an iPhone's microphone.

Another way the company is democratizing BI is with the recent launch of the Power BI report "web part" for SharePoint Online. The new web part allows users to easily embed Power BI reports into SharePoint pages and do it without launching a code editor. The capability allows organizations to quickly distribute reports packed with data visualizations on the popular document and team collaboration platform.

So far, the strategy seems to be working. Discussing Power BI usage among enterprises, Hathi described adoption rates as in "tens of thousands of seats." 

"There's no question that the ability for pretty much any user in an organization, to take part in and make decisions on data, is something we're enabling," said Hathi. "People are using Power BI in different ways than they would have used traditional BI tools."

Microsoft also wants to bridge the gap between insight and action using Power BI.

In November 2016, the company released a Power BI connector for Microsoft Flow, an IFTTT-like (If This Then That) workflow automation app for businesses, allowing users to automatically kick off a series of actions when an alert is triggered.

With Power BI and Flow, "we are moving beyond just a dashboard," Microsoft principal program manager Patrick Baumgartner said. The combo helps organizations to "turn information into an action," and vice versa.

For example, users can configure Power BI and Flow to send an email when a metric crosses a certain benchmark, enabling managers to get timely and targeted updates that can change the course of a project, advertising campaign or any number of business activities. Beyond this relatively simple use case, the possibilities are practically limitless, Baumgartner added.

Flow supports multistep flows and more than 100 SaaS applications, allowing users to piece together a sophisticated series of actions. With Power BI's growing connector ecosystem, users can draw insights from countless data sources. Together, the solutions can be used by organizations to capitalize on the value locked away in their business data in immediate and often innovative ways, suggested Baumgartner.

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 Internet.com network of...