Making Big Data Work for Everyone

This has been a really exciting week for the Microsoft data platform. On Monday, we announced the general availability of Power BI for Office 365. This morning, we announced that support for Hadoop 2.2 clusters is now in preview for Windows Azure HDInsight—our cloud-based Hadoop service. And, I just presented at Strata, one of our industry’s premier big data events, where I talked about making data work for everyone.A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts about the changing nature of data in the modern business enterprise, leading to the conclusion that there is a “new value” of data. At Microsoft, we have a bold vision of bringing big data to a billion people. That’s how we think of big data: a billion people are more informed and have a better perspective of the world around them.

When I say, “bringing big data to a billion people,” I’m talking about changing the way people live and work through data. And, I am talking about everyone, not just data scientists and experts. Big data is valuable for people in all walks of life. It’s certainly valuable for the enterprise; people in businesses and organizations of all types clearly need the power of big data to drive faster decisions and insights. But it’s also valuable for consumers, citizens and people of all generations, whether they are seeking answers and insights for some other aspect of their lives or just satisfying their own curiosity.

Let me share a personal example of “satisfying curiosity.” A week ago, my boys and I were talking about the World Cup and how it’s being hosted in Brazil and how the Winter Olympics are being hosted in Russia. Somehow, this dialog led to us wondering about the populations of countries by continent. I was able to produce the view below in just a couple of minutes using some of our business intelligence tools, Power BI for Office 365 and Excel. I opened Excel, did a Power Query search on country population, found the data I wanted and then added that data to a worksheet. I then searched on countries by continent, found the data and added that to another worksheet. I inserted both worksheets into Power View, linked them together, dragged the right data columns into the Power View canvas, made the continents a slicer (a type of filter), and voila!, I had the information my boys were curious about.

This little story illuminates the art of what’s possible when disparate data sources are quickly and easily brought together for analysis and visualization. Our family had a better, more informed dialog over lunch because of the power of structured information that is accessible in a friction-free way. Now just imagine what the professionals in finance and engineering I work with every day are doing – Power BI has changed how I run my business and organization day-to-day.

At Microsoft, we are striving to put the power of data insights into the hands of the people who are closest to real-world challenges. We want subject matter experts to analyze and visualize data and explore solutions as easily as they can create a spreadsheet. Think of all the different kinds of people that could benefit from this: How would farmers change their planting and animal-husbandry practices? How might law enforcement practices change? How will city planners create better experiences for all citizens of their communities?

Our view is that it takes the combined effect of three elements to bring big data to a billion people: robust tools that everyday people can use, easy access to all kinds of data sets, and a complete data platform.

Today, with the latest additions and updates to our data platform, we are another step closer to our vision. As I mentioned at the outset, on Monday, we announced the general availability of Power BI for Office 365, which brings together Microsoft’s strengths in cloud computing, productivity software, and business intelligence to enable people to easily find, analyze and visualize data in Excel, discover valuable insights, and share and collaborate on those insights from anywhere with Office 365. More than that, it does so in a turnkey way, empowering users while giving IT the ability to help manage and maximize the work. In addition, we are making available a preview of Windows Azure HDInsight with support for Hadoop 2.2. Windows Azure HDInsight combines the best of open source and flexibility of cloud deployment with the security and manageability required to accelerate the adoption of Hadoop in the enterprise. With this new version, we’ve updated HDInsight to take advantage of some key capabilities in the latest version of Hadoop.

It’s a really exciting time in the data industry. We are at the tipping point of bringing bring big data to a billion people. It’s happening now: doctors, farmers, lawyers, teachers and marketing teams are incorporating big data into their daily decision-making and fundamentally reinventing the way they do business.

Quentin Clark
Corporate Vice President
Data Platform Group