Microsoft’s Office 365 platform is growing slowly but surely, with new features being added almost weekly. One of the more recent enhancements to the platform is the data visualization tool Power BI. This is a long-awaited feature that makes building data-centric solutions more viable, for more organizations, than ever before.

Indeed, every organization has a need to visualize data, whether it is inherent SharePoint data or values that are coming from a core line-of-business application.

Microsoft makes some big promises for Power BI, which adds dashboard and data querying capabilities to Office 365: "Power BI transforms your company's data into rich visuals for you to collect and organize so you can focus on what matters to you. Stay in the know, spot trends as they happen, and push your business further,” states Microsoft promotional material.

That’s a pretty bold statement. So, what does Power BI do, and how does it do it?

Self-Service Driver

One of the biggest benefits of Power BI is its self-service model--BI for the masses, if you will.

The ability to utilize Excel using Power Query, Power Pivot, Power View and Power Map extends the normal feature set considerably.

Adding in the Power BI for Office 365 components then extends the base options to include Power BI Sites and Power BI Q&A, which allows for natural language-type queries. The Query and Data Management components with the mobile applications bring it all together for a best-of-breed solution.

IT Infrastructure Services for Power BI adds a tenant ability for provisioning to an entire organization, and the dedicated Power BI Admin Center and the Data Management Gateway allow for direct cloud to on-premises connectivity.

Data from many systems and sources can be connected and used within Power BI. The full range of sources, everything from Acumatica to Zendesk, represents most of the applications an organization would need to combine or visualize. Those that are not could be combined into On-Premises Analysis Services for use with the Services Connector.

The core stack of base components include:

  1. Microsoft Power BI Designer
  2. Microsoft Power BI App for Windows, iOS and Android
  3. Microsoft Power BI Analysis Services Connector

Next we take a deeper dive in to each of the components:

Microsoft Power BI Designer

The Power BI Designer allows you to create and see visual analytics with great reporting. Using a drag-and-drop interface, content can be placed exactly where you want it on design canvas. As content is added, patterns between the data can be discovered by linking and using interactive data visualization. The big sell is the ability to transform, clean, perform analytics and then “design once, view anywhere.”

Microsoft Power BI App for Windows, iOS and Android

As with most platforms today, it's critical to offer mobile capabilities that enable users to stay connected and access the corporate data they need to do their jobs. Microsoft Power BI App for Windows, iOS and Android enables the data used in the Power BI designer to be visible across platforms and devices. Organizations can also set up data-driven alerts so that key stakeholders can be notified of up-to-the minute changes.

Microsoft Power BI Analysis Services Connector

One of the most exciting features to make it into the Power BI stack is the ability to connect on-premises data. Most organizations store vast amounts of business data within Analysis Services for SQL Server. This investment by a business can be significant, as many data stores are tied together to create the perfect picture of all the data. The Services Connector extends the return on investment (ROI) to the cloud.

In order for this to work, the connector components are installed directly on-premises, and then data is connected to the Power BI site. The Data Management Gateway component is key in connecting to the cloud services. Utilizing the security provided by Office 365 and On-Premises Active Directory, along with specific port access and service bus components in the cloud, data can be connected as needed from multiple applications.

These features, all of which are available as part of Office 365, enable organizations to create very sophisticated, feature-rich, mobile-ready and secure dashboards for all to see and use.

Register for IT/Dev Connections 2015

At this year’s IT/Dev Connections conference at the ARIA Resort Hotel in Las Vegas, you can attend a full-day workshop called “From the Ground to the Cloud with SharePoint & Business Intelligence,” or have Chris McNulty walk you through “Cloudbreaking: Business Intelligence Engineering for SharePoint and SharePoint Online.” Both of these sessions will give you greater insight into what is possible with Power BI for Office 365.

IT/Dev Connections promises to be a valuable show for anyone who wants actionable insight and content, as well as the opportunity to collaborate with IT peers. Click here for more details on IT/Dev Connections and to register. Use the code ITDCCLEARY15 for $100 off.