Another month means another flurry of updates were released across Microsoft’s BI and analytics offerings. There is no such thing as a holiday slowdown for these teams. The external momentum now continues growing on autopilot. The vibe is incredibly different than it was last year at this time. The Microsoft BI community was revived last month with wonderful news from PASS Summit. On premises SQL Server BI is progressing nicely with a lovely future roadmap. Power BI 2.0 and the related Power BI community was launched successfully last summer and is now thriving. As I wrap up my work this month and begin preparing for an exciting change in 2016, here are a few highlights from last month’s announcements.

Power BI

The Power BI team continues to release new features at the speed of light. The new normal is minimally one blog per day with up to nine blogs per day that are jam-packed with enhancements. Media coverage is also increasing exponentially. It is no wonder why competitors had to hire extra staff to monitor the BI market. (Fun fact: Yes, a competitor to Microsoft BI told me that they hired several additional compete experts this year to keep up with all the news.) The pace of SaaS and cloud app dev is unprecedented for Microsoft BI.

Nov 2015

Notable releases the past month for Power BI include:

  • A preview of Power BI integration with Cortana was released that extends Q&A natural language query to voice for Power BI users with Windows 10 version 1511 operating system. See the blog and documentation for set up information.
  • Another massive Power BI Desktop November update included targeted visualization scoped filtering with visual interactions, color control for backgrounds, R integration, long-awaited Analysis Services multidimensional support, enhancements for direct connectivity data sources, more data sources like SAP Hana and Azure Data Lake along with the first wave of top requested time intelligence, play axis for scatter charts, horizontal slicers, Z-order, KPIs and images in Tables, Matrices and Cards, improved Tooltips, and much more.
  • There were cool new custom data visualizations this past month including word clouds, a scrolling stock ticker and a 3D map that looks a little like Power Map.
  • Pinning of Excel ranges as Tiles in Power BI dashboards from Excel 2010 and higher and also inclusion of Excel in content packs.
  • Quick Insights for automatic creation of visualizations, detection of patterns and trends that is essentially intelligent data discovery with a IBM Watson Analytics-like ease of use experience.
  • Preview of Power BI enterprise gateway for centralized management of data sources, credentials, and access control in large scale deployments. It also enables additional hybrid data connectivity in the cloud with on premises direct connectivity to SQL Server relational databases. In the past, only SQL Server Analysis Services Tabular models had hybrid direct connect capability.
  • A few more Power BI Content Packs for Microsoft Bing, Project Online and also ProjectPlace by PlanView were added.
  • The Power BI API added more functions including embedding of Reports in Power BI Tiles.
  • Power BI mobile apps released support for MDM with Intune, landscape mode, a nice feature to use images in Tiles on the mobile app and few other nice improvements.
  • Azure Data Catalog added a feature to open a data source in Power BI Desktop for SQL Server (including Azure SQL DB and Azure SQL Data Warehouse), SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure Storage, and HDFS sources.
  • Availability with the new Office 365 E5 SKU was announced.
  • A new Azure Data Science VM that also includes Revolution R Open, Anaconda Python distribution, Visual Studio Community Edition, Power BI Desktop, SQL Server Express and Azure SDK was released.

SQL Server

SQL Server 2016 Community Technology Preview 3.1 is now available in public preview. It was released on Monday, November 30, 2015. In this preview release there are enhancements to SQL Server Analysis Services, PowerPivot and SSRS/Power View for SharePoint Server 2016 Beta 2. It also includes new In-Memory OLTP improvements with Unique indexes, LOB data types, and Indexes with NULLable key columns.

For SharePoint BI, make sure that you download SharePoint Server 2016 Beta 2 that is available for download here. Earlier versions of SharePoint Server are not supported. You will also need Office Online Server Preview.

Note: SharePoint Server 2016 no longer includes Excel Services. Excel Services is now called Excel Online Server and is only available with Office Online Server. PowerPivot and Reporting Services/Power View for SharePoint 2016 require Office Online Server.

For Analysis Services enthusiasts, in CTP 3.1 you will now be able to upgrade your existing models to the new 1200 compatibility level. This enables testing of bi-directional cross filtering and the new scripting language with your existing models. You can also use the Visual Studio JSON editor with BIM files and create roles in SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT).

For more information, see What’s New in SQL Server 2016 and SQL Server 2016 Release Notes, and read our individual Engineering team CTP 3.1 blog posts for SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) and SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS).


New PowerApps

Athough PowerApps is not technically business intelligence related, I do see intriguing potential in business user defined workflow apps that often accompany business intelligence solutions. Apparently PowerApps will enable anyone to create, connect, and share new apps with data that can be run on any device. PowerApps can connect to existing applications and data sources in a secure and reliable way. Developers can create native web or mobile apps with APIs that tie into Azure App Service to expose other data to further empower business users. PowerApps almost sounds like “Microsoft Access for Azure and Mobile Apps” to me. I signed up for a preview. I don’t have access to it yet for a full review of the potential use cases for this new Azure cloud solution. In the meantime, there is more information available on the product team blog.