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Microsoft’s Power BI: just another hugely compelling feature

This article was pointed out to me by a colleague, and I found it a pretty compelling read:  How Microsoft helped this bar figure out that vodka was costing it a fortune. Of particular interest to me is the Natural Q&A feature, which is mentioned prominently.
Now, my time in the data warehousing trenches tempers my initial response, which is:  “HOLY COW, THAT’S AWESOME!”   But reading both the case study and blog linked to above, I have to say the enthusiasm is creeping in. If it can understand tracking #1 records AND bottles of vodka?  Please. This is exactly the kind of technology and thinking that’s required to support the self-service BI evolution that Microsoft is endorsing.
I think the proverbial “last mile” in self-service BI is the skills gap between data professionals and data non-professionals. Even while tools like PowerPivot empower users to gather and manipulate data themselves, it relies to a certain extent on data modeling skills that most users don’t have. Power BI Q&A really moves things in the right direction for the Microsoft BI stack, helping end users to get the data they want without forcing them to take a SQL class. This kind of thing must be developed for true self-service BI to become a reality. Here’s hoping that Data Explorer can also slide data acquisition and extraction in this direction.
On that point, I would also like to hear and see more explicit communication about how traditional BI fits into the overall SQL Server BI vision.   Because despite some of the doomsayers out there, I don’t think Cubes are going away in SQL 2014, or anything of the sort. Microsoft has tended to not close the loop so much on explaining how traditional/organizational and self-service BI need to interact, but the reality of it is there.  So I consider that a gap in the messaging. But I can maybe see the path in the toolset.  Kinda.
(As an aside, I love how they just throw in there that Power BI shared queries are viewable in any HTML5  browser.  Like it’s no big deal.  You know — just full-on mobile BI.  But that’s whole ‘nother topic…) 
In the meantime, Power BI looks like a very legitimate front-end solution for self-service Microsoft BI. Can’t wait for that public preview!

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Andrew Tegethoff

Andy leads Perficient's Microsoft BI team. He has 16 years of IT and software experience with a primary focus on Enterprise Information Management solutions using the Microsoft Data Platform.

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