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Why Power BI is the future of Excel

Mary Branscombe | Sept. 4, 2015
Excel isn't going away, but it's going to stop accumulating extra tools like barnacles. Instead Power BI Desktop will become the self-service analytics hub.

Excel has been a business intelligence service for a long time and hasn’t been losing users directly to tools like Tableau because, Phillips claims, all those Tableau users still use Excel as well. “They’re not replacements for each other. I’ve never met a business analyst who doesn’t use Excel.” But they’ve turned to those other tools as well, because they want to get value out of their data in a different way than they can in Excel.

Instead of trying to cram those options into Excel, or bolting them onto the side, Microsoft is now supporting a much broader set of analysis tools – from the Power BI service, to its purchase of Revolution Analytics and its investment in R, to the way the Excel tools have become their own program.

“Instead of saying ‘it slices, it dices, it does julienne fries, you don’t need anything else,’ we’re keeping Excel good at what it’s good at,” Philips says. “Excel offers unbelievably powerful ad hoc analysis. It’s great for analyzing any kind of data. It’s effectively a programming environment for data. Really, it’s beautiful! But the interactive designer, where you can slice and dice and do visualizations for your reports, is Power BI Desktop.”

Like the rest of Power BI, that’s on an aggressively fast schedule. “We’re shipping every month,” says Phillips. “That pace of innovation I expect to actually accelerate. We’re on a massively fast track to mature this thing.”

In August, for example, Power BI Desktop got an option for importing Power Query queries, Power Pivot models and Power View worksheets…and there will be more import and export options to Excel in the future (you can already get data from a wide range of databases, file formats and Azure services, now including HDInsight Spark and Azure SQL Data Warehouse).

That’s in addition to all the ways you can bring data into the Power BI service itself, which can connect to both cloud services and on-premises data (which you don’t have to move into the cloud to analyze). The free version of Power BI works with cloud services and gives you a limited amount of storage; the subscription version adds connections to your own data, as well as more storage.

That combination is what makes Power BI so appealing. It can already pull data from a wide range of cloud services, including MailChimp, Zendesk, Salesforce, QuickBooks, Twilio, GitHub, Uservoice and even Google Analytics. Sage and Adobe Analytics are coming soon, and there’s a long list of others on the way. “We've gotten a cadence where we’re releasing at least one content pack every single week,” says Phillips. “We’re really on a rocket ship road. If we only ship one a week, with the commitments we already have, we could sustain another year of weekly content packs.”


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