How to get answers from your data with Power BI

Type in a question, get a handy chart

Getting answers from your data with Power BI

Microsoft has been adding the promised new features to the preview of its cloud business intelligence service, Power BI, which runs in SharePoint Online on Office 365 and works with new BI tools in Excel 2013 like Power Query and Power Map.

You can share not just spreadsheets but the analysis you do of your data with partners and colleagues, so they can see how you arrived at your conclusion and experiment with your analysis.

At first glance, Power BI looks like any other SharePoint 2013 system, with the usual list of documents, but you'll find a new app inside each SharePoint site labelled 'Power BI' and after the first time you use this it appears in the navigation list too.

Getting answers from your data with Power B
Power BI is a tool in SharePoint Online (that you pay extra for)

Power BI has a much simpler interface than SharePoint; just a list of documents and folders (which you can add to by sharing queries from Excel spreadsheets where you've done analyses with Power Query or Power Map, or by uploading documents by clicking 'Add' on the web page), and queries that you or other users have run recently.

Getting answers from your data with Power BI
See your spreadsheets - and the queries you can run - in the natural language interface

Open a spreadsheet and you get a preview in the Excel Web app, where you can sort and filter your Power Query and Power Map analyses; you can open it in desktop Excel if you need more options.

Getting answers from your data with Power BI
You don't have to know how to write a query or select a map style; geographic data in Q and A queries is automatically shown on a map

But when you open a query, what you get is the new Q&A interface, where you can type questions in normal English, such as "How much beer is sold on Fridays and Sundays?" Power BI then turns that into a query that looks more like "Show sales and weekday where category name is beer and weekday is Friday or Sunday," and as long as your data has sales figures for the beer category by date, it creates a table, chart, map or total for you.

Getting answers from your data with Power BI
You don't even have to type proper English for Power BI to give you helpful results that show who sells more high-price drinks

Q&A picks the representation that fits the data best, so you'll get a map for data with geographical information, line, pie, bar, column or scatter charts for figures and tables or totals for information it can't present visually.

But if you don't find that useful, you can pick any of the other layouts.

And if seeing beer sales on Fridays and Sundays gets you curious about whether your bar sells more cocktails or spirits, or which bartender sells the most, or if it's worth staying open late, you can just type more questions in to see more results.

Getting answers from your data with Power BI
Think a vodka cocktail is a Friday night treat? Keep typing and you discover they sell better on Sunday

Getting answers from your data with Power BI
See if your prices make sense based on the ingredients

Currently Q&A only works with two sample sets of data from Microsoft, about Olympic medals and a small bar, but you'll be able to add your own data in the future.

You won't need to do anything special to build the model of how to arrange your data; Microsoft says Power BI will figure that out, and you can include simple Excel spreadsheets, SQL databases, big data sources like Hadoop or data sets on Windows Azure. Admins can manage connections to data on your own servers and you can see how many queries are getting made against that data.