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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.

Organizations can create their own content packs for getting data from their on-premise systems and the cloud services they use. What the content packs do is give Power BI the data model of the services it gets data from, so it can automatically build dashboards and charts to expose useful data, and so you can use the natural language Q&A feature. That lets you type in a question like “what are the best selling products in each territory in spring” and get a map showing that data without typing a single line of code.

Power BI Desktop is for when you want to go beyond the built-in visualizations, and Microsoft’s vision is for it to be much more than a companion to Excel.

Opening up visualization

Phillips says he hopes that Microsoft’s regular updates to Power BI Desktop won’t be the only way it gets more features. Microsoft has released both the desktop software and the visualization stack that powers it as open source on GitHub. “That’s all the Power BI visualization stack and all the native visuals,” he says. 

“Very soon, we are going to offer the ability to make custom visualizations. You will be able to go crazy with visualizations. People talk about other vendors having a lot of visualizations; we’re completely unshackling the notion that your BI provider should tell you how to use visualizations.”

Microsoft is hoping that other data analytics services will pick up Power BI Desktop; that would give users some degree of interoperability between different services, Phillips suggests, and it would also mean more developers working on improving the software. Israeli BI vendor Pyramid Analytics is already adopting it.

“Arming a business analyst with visual reports should not cost an arm and a leg,” claims Phillips. “It should be free to start modelling data and visualizing it.”


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