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Microsoft previews free, updated Power BI business intelligence tool

Scott M. Fulton III | Jan. 28, 2015
Aiming at a mass business-user audience, Microsoft has released a preview of the next version of its cloud-based data visualization software, Power BI, with a promise to maintain a free option even after its general release.

In a product demonstration, Phillips showed how PowerBI enables a company with a Microsoft account to log onto a data visualization service hosted by Azure, and in minutes, authorize that service to connect to cloud-based or on-site data sources. (Anyone who has a U.S. business email account can use the preview version.) The particular data source he showed off was Salesforce, where companies' global sales performance data is kept in real-time.

Seconds after making the connection, PowerBI estimated which types of charts would be most meaningful for drawing correlations between elements of connected data. In moments (under 30 seconds, in Phillips' demo), the system produced a surprisingly complete dashboard with live, animated, interactive charts, inside the user's browser. Since the chart is rendered using HTML5, Internet Explorer can be used though is not required.

"Now we're connecting live with Salesforce," Phillips said, "so I'm logging on with my credentials, I get the data that I have permission to see, and we're creating a new dashboard. There's my data, out of Salesforce, just like that. It did not require me to go to an analyst or to a business intelligence technical professional. I got connected with data that was available to me immediately.

Power BI allows users to gain insight from the data they already have in existing data analysis systems such as Hadoop and Azure Stream Analytics, Phillips emphasized, saying, "it doesn't mandate that you run off and re-architect your world; it meets you where you are and pulls you forward."


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