5 things you don't know about Power BI for Office 365

Explore Microsoft's data visualization and exploration tools

Karen Forster

by Karen Forster on 5/23/2014

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Microsoft recently announced new forecasting functionality for Power View in Power BI for Office 365, Microsoft’s self-service data analytics platform that gives Microsoft Excel users the ability to manipulate data and gain business insights. The announcement of forecasting is one thing many people don’t know about. But several other capabilities of Power BI are also relatively unknown although they have been available for a while. Here are 5 things that you probably don’t know about Power BI. (See Power BI for Office 365: A collaboration tool to drive business insights and Microsoft’s Power Bi for Office 365 site for details.)


When you’re analyzing data to glean business insights, you need the ability see how current trends extend out into the future so that you can plan your strategies and investments. By building forecasting into Power View, Microsoft is giving businesses and finance professionals a further incentive to use the Power BI and Power View. The screenshot below shows the forecasting functionality.


Power View’s new advanced forecasting algorithm was developed by Microsoft Research, and enables capabilities such as seasonalizing data and forecasting based on trends during particular periods or business cycles. You can set standard deviation and adjust your forecasting depending on your level of confidence in factors you define. You can do what-if scenarios. And you can adjust your forecasting by removing outlier points from your analysis.

To use forecasting in Power View, you don’t have to be a BI expert. The interface is designed to be easy and is touch-enabled, so you can drag and drop data in the visualization. “The goal is to make Power View forecasting as intuitive as possible,” said Michael Tejedor, senior product marketing manager, in Microsoft’s Data Platform group. (You can find details about forecasting in Power View here and here.)

The Data Catalog

Self-service BI can be intimidating to business people who are not Excel or SQL Server power users. Understanding how to create a query and refine it is not easy for a non-technical user. Microsoft is helping to address this concern by providing a way for power users to share their queries with colleagues.

A data-savvy user can create a data query with Excel’s Power Query feature and then publish that query to the Data Catalog for coworkers to access. If the query is updated, that new version will also be available throughout the organization.

Of course, an IT professional needs to set up and deploy the Data Catalog, but once it’s available, users can simply search for data from within Excel. The Data Catalog will return a list of data that people in the organization have made available.

An interesting note on the Data Catalog is that Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, is the engine that provides the data processing performance and scale for the Data Catalog.

My Power BI sites

The Power BI sites application for Office 365 lets users create their own My Power BI sites, which enables finding and sharing of Excel reports and other Power BI features. Through a web browser, users can discover Power BI sites across the organization and create views of their favorite reports from multiple sites. Users can also view and manage queries that they have published and track who is using those shared queries.

With Power BI sites, you can automatically refresh Power Pivot data models and administer role-based security.

When you register for Power BI for Office 365, you can use the Power BI sites app with your existing SharePoint Online Enterprise sites, or you can create new Power BI sites. See the screenshot below.


Data Refresh

Before you can create and access on-premises data sources in your Power BI portal, your IT team must install at least one instance of the Data Management Gateway client in your environment and register it with the Power BI Admin Center portal.

This enables users to publish Excel workbooks with live data connections to Power BI and preserve the data connection to the on-premises data sources. The IT department can enable these reports to query back to the on-premises data through the Data Management Gateway feature, to ensure that reports can be refreshed and kept up to date.

Power BI on Devices

For users that have Windows 8 PCs or Windows RT tablets such as Surface, the Power BI Mobile app provides access to reports Power BI reports. Remote access is also available through any device using HTML5. With the mobile app, users can email results from a report. Emails can include an embedded screenshot and link to the original report automatically.

Also noteworthy is the fact that Microsoft will have a native Power BI app for the iPad in the second half of 2014.

Exploring Power BI

Every product includes hidden gems, and these are just a few of the features you can try in Power BI. You can sign up for free trial of Power BI and explore what’s available. Please share what you learn with the IT Unity community!

Topic: Power BI

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