Big Cloud BI news today from Microsoft’s annual partner conference. Announcements regarding an upcoming preview offering for Office 365 customers called Power BI will include:

  • Mobile BI for Windows Surface Pro and iPads (YAY! YAY! YAY! Finally but when? Android?)
  • Direct data source connectivity to on-premise data sources from  Office 365
  • HTML5 was mentioned for Power View (GOOD move away from dying Silverlight platform)
  • Data Explorer is now called Power Query
  • GeoFlow is now called Power Maps
  • Power Pivot is now officially Power Pivot with a space. Power Pivot all one word is also valid.
  • Natural language Query Engine (Oracle Endeca-ish, Splunk Hunk Search Processing Language response?)

There are some interesting points about this news. One of the key points to note is most if not ALL BI news since July 2012 is coming from the Office side of the Microsoft house and NOT the traditional SQL Server side. If you want to follow Microsoft BI, take note that Office is where you should look for BI news. The SQL Server 2014 CTP 1 news and decks are further proof of where Microsoft BI lives since July 2012 = in Office. That is a huuuge hot button for me personally but it is a good move for Microsoft overall. Aside from Excel everywhere, Office touches over 2 BILLION people and what better way to market your product than to have it sitting right in front of your target buyer audience. Excel was also notably cited in the Microsoft announcement blogs as being “the one and only Power BI authoring tool”. Microsoft says it is betting on Excel to provide basic BI for everyone, removing BI specialist tools. Microsoft BI = Excel.

Next key point, “Cloud First and Cloud Only” is further proved by this news.  Actions speak louder than words and  offering new BI enhancements like Mobile BI for Office 365 Cloud Only is a significant action. Great news for the lucky people that are early Office 365 adopters for cloud like me.    The first version of the native Mobile BI will be available on Windows 8 and Windows RT devices with a native Mobile BI app for iPad coming later.  For Android and other unsupported platforms, SharePoint browser-based options or third-party apps might be available. WHEN will the Mobile BI app be in the Apple Store! I am literally dying to play with it. Little businesses like mine really should look at the higher level Office 365 E plans where Power BI is sure to land if we want to use this functionality though pricing has yet to be released. I do wish that moving from an Office 365 P to an E plan was  easier than the start over, downtime, DNS migration moves, etc. I  need to inquire to see if the Office 365 Developer account will work with Power BI.

If I read this announcement right, I am  disappointed that SharePoint on-premise customers that have been waiting for Mobile BI for a few years now might not get to use the Mobile BI app. If I read it wrong, please let me know and I will immediately correct this disappointment statement. What I read was for the rest of the folks that are not on Office 365 (the current majority and most of the largest enterprise accounts in the world right now), today’s Cloud BI news is not so lovely for them. Many customers can’t and won’t be able to immediately move to  Office 365 or even Office 2013 for that matter. A lot of people are locked into lower versions of Office because of reliance on third-party software add-ins not being compatible. Some groups will not move to the Office 365 Cloud because of security fears and in some cases / countries / industries there are laws against putting data in the Cloud. Many businesses need to find the extra money from somewhere and budget to pay more for Office than they ever had before with the subscription-based model. Budgeting changes take time, planning, and ROI evaluation. Those people won’t be able to fully enjoy their Microsoft BI investments, get new BI enhancements, or use Mobile BI until they move to the Cloud. I guess they might be able to buy one Office 365 Power BI account to have some Mobile BI but it would be a hacky work-around at best and it might violate licensing if that account was shared.

Seeing Microsoft say “Excel is the one and only Power BI authoring tool” raises  questions around PerformancePoint and even classic SSRS futures. Neither PerformancePoint nor classic SSRS is in the Mobile BI app. SSRS is the most popular Microsoft BI reporting tool after Excel. I have a  feeling about where PerformancePoint stands today but I’d really like to know where classic SSRS stands. I haven’t seen any real investment in it since SQL Server 2008 R2 days (2010) or any news about classic SSRS other than the integration of it into SharePoint back in the SQL Server 2012 release. The BI focus has been around Excel and Excel add-ins. Once in a blue moon SSRS Azure might be mentioned but it is a very rare thing.  When Power View can accept parameters and Office 365 Excel can be easily embedded into apps, then I can see classic SSRS taking a back seat. In the meantime, we really  need classic SSRS and we need it to be truly mobile in the real BI world as Melissa Coates recently blogged. The current browser mobile is ok but has many gaps. The native Mobile BI app looks much nicer. For groups not on Office 365, third-party vendors are still the best option for Mobile BI. I guess you gotta start somewhere and this is v1 of the Mobile BI app.

Direct data source connectivity from Office 365 is a BIG deal. It will be interesting to see/test if transferring data back and forth is performant. Typically bandwidth varies quite a bit especially in developing countries.  It also will be interesting to see if big customers use it with data warehouses that traditionally have been the data sources for BI or if they will have to move their  data warehouses to the cloud for it to be usable. These would be awesome areas to evaluate and see what works best for you. FUN! Let me know if you want to do a pilot project, Hybrid BI  is HOT and I would love to work on a Hybrid BI project.

There was also an update posted to Data Explorer now called Power Query.  I am a big fan of this tool and think after a few revs and increase in general market awareness Power Query will be quite popular. If you have not looked at it, check out my blog at New Data Explorer for Excel. It works with both Office 2010 and 2013.

I have not been a big promoter of GeoFlow – it is a neat add-in but I could literally think of a hundred other top customer BI requests that I would have rather invested in before developing yet another stand-alone, slickery “demo-ware”, Excel add-in that has a very niche and limited use case in the real BI world. I will leave it at that. ; ) Don’t get me started… It is what it is and now that silly shiny ball has a new name, Power Maps.

Another big name change – Power Pivot is now officially Power Pivot with a space. Power Pivot all one word is also still valid. That is really quite interesting to me having been in product management.  There were lots of chats about Power Pivot name changes, what gets affected, docs, books, marketing, market awareness, and so on. I am pleased that they chose to keep Power Pivot – the brand has strong value. I can’t share what other names we talked about but I will share that I was passionate about keeping the Power Pivot name.

To wrap up, Microsoft Office 365 Power BI a.k.a. Cloud BI is fantastic news for Microsoft Office 365 customers like me to enjoy some real Cloud BI and Mobile BI. Sign up for the Preview notice to be one of the first people to play with this release when it is made available.