Microsoft today said it was making generally available Power BI for Office 365, its business intelligence service that allows users of Excel to analyze and visualize data and to share the results.
The cloud-based service allows users to generate their own business intelligence reports using tools such as the ability to draw on data from on-premises, cloud-based and some public databases; query various databases; and use a Q&A format to find and visualize data. It’s been in preview since July.
The idea is to harness the business insights available through the generation of “big data” — the data sets companies create when gathering, for example, information on what their customers buy — and to make it easier for companies’ employees, who are likely already familiar with Excel, to generate their own analyses.
“Our goal for Power BI is: ‘How do we bring big data analytics to a billion people,'” said Eron Kelly, GM of Product Marketing for SQL Server
Microsoft says that over a billion people currently use Office. Its newer subscription, cloud-based version of Office, called Office 365, is currently in 25 percent of corporations overall, and in 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies, according to Microsoft.
Power BI for Office 365 integrates into one subscription cloud service a number of Microsoft services and platforms including Excel, SharePoint, SQL Server as well as its existing business intelligence tools such as Power Pivot, Power View and Power Map.
The pricing for Power BI for Office 365 ranges from a promo price (good through June 30) of $20 per user per month for existing Office 365 Enterprise E3 or E4 subscribers, to $52 per user per month for those not currently using Office 365.
The offering allows Microsoft to compete with self-service business intelligence companies such as Tableau and QlikView.
“I think it’s a good direction because it’s combining the tools and technologies people are used to on premises – Excel and Power Pivot – and it combines it with SharePoint Online,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with independent research firm Directions on Microsoft.
It also addresses one of the previous issues some users had with SharePoint Online: that it didn’t allow access to on-premises business intelligence data, Miller said.
Now, a company’s IT staff can specify the on-premises data sources they want to make available to the company’s users of Power BI for Office 365 .
“One of the things that is compelling is if an organization is already betting big on Excel and looking at SharePoint Online, this becomes a little easier transition than looking at a third party like Tableau,” Miller said.
Microsoft has created a native mobile app for Windows 8 and Windows RT devices to access Power BI reports. The company says a native iOS application will be available at some point, though it did not specify when. It did not say anything about an Android app. Power BI for Office 365 reports are also accessible through any browser that supports HTML5.