As sunshine brilliantly glistened over the snow blanketed Northern Hemisphere, Redmond teams kicked off the year with a flurry of updates, announcements and releases. From a new analytics conference to a new on-premises server offering, January did not disappoint with regards to pleasant surprises. Here is the monthly summary.
Microsoft Data Insights
What a surprise. Nate Silver will be at Microsoft’s inaugural Data Insights Summit, a Power BI and Excel user conference. What makes Data Insights Summit unique? The ability to meet face to face and spend time working on your real-world data challenges with the folks that build these solutions. You won’t just see the program managers like me that often speak at various analytics events. You will get a chance meet the unsung heroes on these product teams that determine how to prioritize features and even write the code. The event is designed for business analysts and data analysts. It will take place on March 22–23, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue, WA.
SQL Server BI
The SQL Server BI team finally shared the content from PASS Summit to a massive worldwide crowd of interested parties. This month the team also shared more details on how to test the preview of SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services reports (including Mobile Reports) with the Power BI app for iOS.
Without missing a beat, the Power BI teams rolled out quite a few enhancements.
Power BI Desktop
At the end of January, the latest Power BI Desktop was released. For an overview and longer list of new features, check out the official blog. Here are a few highlights.
- Visualization enhancements including but not limited to format painter, reference lines, tooltips, adding borders and background images
- View or export data from a visualization
- Dashboard printing
- Create measures in DirectQuery mode
- Enhancements to hierarchies
- Granular data refresh for individual tables
- Improvements to R Integration in Power BI Desktop
- Support Internet Explorer 9
The Power BI community was busy authoring creative and stunning data visualizations for the Best Report contest. Power BI Developers rapidly delivered six useful additions to the custom visuals gallery at a pace exceeding the goal of one per week.
- Box-and-Whisker Plots
- Sankey Bar Chart
- Percentile Chart
- Horizontal Funnel
- Linear Gauge (enhanced bullet chart)
- Enhanced Sankey flow diagram
New Power BI Publisher for Excel Add-In
For Excel fans, a new Power BI Publisher for Excel add-in was shared that allows users to clip any Excel grid element on a spreadsheet and publish it to a selected Power BI dashboard. Alternatively Excel users can select a table, a Pivot Table, a chart or any other Excel element on an already opened spreadsheet, click the Pin button on the Power BI ribbon and publish that element to a Power BI dashboard with manual refresh support within Excel. The add-in supports all versions of Excel starting at Excel 2010 and all versions of windows starting at Windows 7. For more information on this popular announcement, check out the official blog.
PowerBI.com added support for the features mentioned previously and also added a really cool feature called dashboard widgets that provides powerful solution combinations with images, rich text, video and web content via iframe. I totally love the widget feature. I waited and waited and waited for it to arrive since I first laid eyes on it during our engineering hack-a-thon last January 2015. I am already using widgets to add context with external stock prices and weather in my demos.
The Power BI mobile team released the Windows 10 universal app while the connector team added three more content packs for AT Internet, Smartsheet and Lithium with prepackaged data models, reports and dashboards.
In Related News
The biggest news in January came from the advanced analytics teams with the new Microsoft R Server branding and related offerings. Microsoft R Server includes Open Source R and is fully compatible with R scripts, functions and CRAN packages, and offers a variety of analytics capabilities including exploratory data analysis, model building and model deployment. These announcements were covered in a dedicated article.
Azure Enterprise Data Catalog keeps on getting better and better. I just wrote about how this solution can be instrumental in establishing a solid self-service BI foundation in Revisiting Self-Service BI Governance. This month the Azure Enterprise Data Catalog team added:
- The ability to pin and unpin data assets in the Azure Data Catalog portal. Users can choose to pin data assets to make them easier to re-discover and re-use.
- A newly redesigned home page in the Azure Data Catalog portal. The new home page includes insight into the current user’s activity – including recently published assets, pinned assets, and saved searches – as well as insight into the activity in the catalog as a whole.
- Support for persistent user settings in the Azure Data Catalog portal. User experience settings – including grid or tile view, the number of results per page, and hit highlighting on or off – are persisted between user sessions.
- Azure Data Catalog is now available in two new Azure regions. Customers can provision the Azure Data Catalog in the North Europe and Southeast Asia regions, in addition to East US, West US, West Europe, and Australia East. For more information, see Azure Regions.
That concludes my monthly news summary. I can’t wait to see what gets revealed this spring from Microsoft and across the industry. We are now heading into that wonderful time of year where the snow melts, flowers bloom, conference season ramps up and Gartner unveils the latest BI and Analytics Magic Quadrant report. Sorry winter. I love springtime – it is my favorite time of year!