How to get started with Power BI for Office 365

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Business meeting

Back in July, at the Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft announced a new self-service business intelligence offering - Power BI for Office 365. This is a cloud-based BI solution, designed to deliver easy insights for users working within Excel.

Power BI for Office 365 analyses and visualises the data in a self-service way, working with Office 365 to help customers share insights, find answers and stay connected to their data from a host of different web-enabled devices.

"Business data is continuing to grow at an exponential rate and making sense of all of the incoming information is now fundamental to a thriving business," noted Julia White, general manager of the Microsoft Office Division. "Success can literally be determined by the tools a business makes available to employees as they deal with the flood of data."

Ms White said professionals love Excel for analysing data, and as such, Microsoft has built Power BI for Office 365 right into this experience. This has made Excel a more powerful tool, and enabled more people to discover business intelligence through their data, she noted. Rather than having to start from scratch with a new BI solution, they can draw insights from data in a software package they already understand.

Taking advantage of Power BI for Office 365

So what exactly does Power BI for Office 365 include? Users can take advantage of Power Query, which enables them to easily search and access public data and their organisation's data, all within Excel. Previously, this function was known as Data Explorer. Another feature is Power Map - a 3D data visualisation tool for mapping, exploring and interacting with geographic and temporal data.

Power BI for Office 365 users can also take advantage of Power Pivot - for creating and customising flexible data models within Excel - and Power View for creating interactive charts, graphs and other visual representations of data.

"We know that it's not only essential for people to have the ability to easily identify new insights from their data, but also to collaborate and provide access to that data in a trusted environment," noted Ms White. For this reason, Power BI for Office 365 extends beyond organisations' existing on-premise systems, she added.

The service offers a range of additional features, including Power BI sites - dedicated collaborative BI workspaces in Office 365 for sharing data and insights with colleagues - new natural language query capabilities, dedicated native apps for Windows 8, Windows RT and iPad, enabling users to stay connected with their reports wherever they are.

How to get started with self-service BI

Businesses and organisations can get started with Power BI for Office 365 by trialling the preview of the solution. Microsoft is inviting users to test it in waves as it ramps up the service and moves towards a full launch.

First, users need to setup their new Power BI for Office 365 service. This means watching the 'Getting Started' video and 'Provisioning Guide' which offer guidance and assistance through this process.

To use Power BI for Office 365, users require Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office 365 ProPlus, and need to be working on a 32-bit or 64-bit machine. In terms of operating systems, the solution requires Windows 8, Windows 7, or Windows Server 2008 R2 (requires Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0). Another pre-requisite for Power BI for Office 365 is the latest version of Excel along with two add-ins - Power Query Preview and Power Map Preview for Excel 2013.

To get started, download and install Microsoft Power Query Preview for Excel, making sure Excel is not running at the time. Open the folder where you downloaded Microsoft Power Query Preview for Excel to, and then double-click the downloaded installer file and follow the steps in the wizard. After the installation has completed, click 'Finish'. Microsoft Power Query for Excel will appear as a new tab on the Excel ribbon.

Download and install Microsoft Power Map Preview for Excel, and open the folder where you downloaded 'GeoFlow' Preview for Excel. Double-click the downloaded installer file, and then follow the steps in the wizard. After the installation has completed, click 'Finish'. Then, the next time you start Excel, Maps will appear as a new item on the insert tab.

Find out more about Power BI for Office 365 and Microsoft's other business intelligence services by clicking here.

Posted by Sarah Parish