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On Power BI, A New BI Solution for SharePoint Online, Office 365

Up until now, the opportunities to collect and manage data with SharePoint Online, Office 365, for business intelligence (BI) objectives has been very limited.

As Jason Himmelstein notes, one of the questions he grappled with as he conceptualized our course in SharePoint 2013: Business Intelligence was ” . . . how much of this is relevant for Office 365? . . . the reality is PerformancePoint services are not there today. Excel Services is there. Power View, Power Pivot are there. But today . . . the data refresh is not capable. You’re not able to push data out to the cloud. You’re not able to refresh anything outside of a workbook. The story is actually very limited from an Office 365 BI perspective.” But this situation is set to shortly change.

In a video tutorial titled Power BI for Office 365, Jason Himmelstein provides what a likely first look, for many of us, at a new suite of BI tools from Microsoft® specifically designed for Office 365 E3 Plan tenants to successfully accomplish some, if not all, of their BI objectives.

Power BI is intended to provide “self service” BI for Microsoft’s Office 365 customers. Power Query (As Jason explains, the “data explorer” of the past) is an important component of the Power BI solution. With Power Query, SharePoint Online Search, internal Office 365 data, and external data (even OData sources like Hadoop), semi structured, and even unstructured data, can all be managed to deliver on BI assumptions and reporting objectives.

Power View provides the presentation component of this system, including pushing reports and data out to the web, and even refreshing the data in Office 365, without having to pull it back into an on premises system.

As Jason Himmelstein notes, there is no indication as of the data of this tutorial of Power BI becoming available for on premises systems. So organizations with a hybrid combination of multi tenant public cloud SharePoint Online instances and on premises systems in need of BI solutions, for both, will need to plan, at least for now, on separate implementation models for Power BI for SharePoint Online, and, perhaps, PerformancePoint for the on premises plan.

Power Map (formerly known as “Geo Flow”) is included in the Power BI suite. “BI Sites”, literally SharePoint site templates built to support Power BI presentation, are also included to support shared “BI worksheets” between team members. Jason Himmelstein notes the unique capability of “BI Sites” to empower Power BI users to find, manage and refresh the data as they require. Natural language queries are supported. Developers can count on users successfully surfacing Power BI presenations, on “BI Sites” through SharePoint Online search.

For businesses considering a tablet solution for users, it’s worth considering the Surface RT, since the Power BI client has been built into this product.

The remainder of this video tutorial is taken up with more description of the Power BI product and the plans to integrate the feature into SharePoint Online, Office 365.

Ira Michael Blonder

© Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved