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Goals in Power BI a new data-driven performance tracker

Microsoft unveiled a new performance-tracking tool for Power BI that enables organizations to create key business objectives and metrics and measure their progress.

Microsoft on Tuesday introduced Goals in Power BI, a new tool that enables users to track key business metrics and objectives using data.

Goals was unveiled during the Microsoft Business Applications Summit, a one-day virtual conference. It is now in public preview and is expected to be ready for general availability by September, according to Arun Ulag, corporate vice president of the business intelligence platform at Microsoft.

Goals enables Power BI customers to curate metrics and business objectives -- goals -- and assemble them in a single location for a unified view. Users can then measure progress against those metrics and objectives using data curated in Power BI to create performance scorecards, share updates and take proactive measures when goals aren't being met.

Goals integrates with the rest of the Power BI cache of tools so that the platform's augmented intelligence capabilities can detect performance dips, explain the reasons behind the dips and offer suggestion for how to remedy the drops in performance.

It's that combination of AI and performance tracking that makes the introduction of Goals one of the more significant developments in Power BI in years, according to Ulag.

"It brings our AI capabilities seamlessly together with a customer's intent, so it's not just about tracking but going way further to improve performance," he said. "This is a huge deal. Goals plus artificial intelligence is really the future of BI."

Analysts didn't view Goals necessarily as the future of business intelligence, but they said the tool is a significant addition to Power BI's capabilities.

Wayne Eckerson, founder and principal consultant of Eckerson Group, noted that scorecards have been around for many years and were a common tool in the 2000s, but when data visualizations rose to prominence in the 2010s scorecards disappeared. They remain, however, a useful tool for measuring progress.

"The wave of self-service BI tools, of which Power BI is a leader, never focused on scorecards or reports -- just visual analysis and dashboards, so it's good to see Power BI branching out," he said. 

The progress of an employee's initiatives is displayed in a Goals in Power BI dashboard.
A sample Goals dashboard in Power BI displays the progress of an organization's initiatives that relate to a given employee.

Eckerson added that scorecards became a niche for specialty vendors, and as a result the addition of Goals is a differentiator for Power BI among general analytics vendors, though it likely won't force competitors to react.

"I'm not sure it will cause a stampede to reintroduce scorecards to the market," he said.

Similarly, Doug Henschen, principal analyst at Constellation Research, said Goals is a significant addition to the Power BI toolkit.

Analytics platforms generally tell what happened, why it happened and what's likely to happen next -- they're descriptive, diagnostic and prescriptive. A scorecard tool like Goals, however, is different, and before Microsoft combined BI with a data-driven goal-tracking feature in Power BI, scorecards and analytics were generally separate.

It's not just about tracking but going way further to improve performance. This is a huge deal.
Arun UlagCorporate vice president of the business intelligence platform, Microsoft

"It adds a layer of business or organizational context on top of the analytics, and it's used to characterize performance levels," Henschen said. "Analytics are just measures of conditions. Goals are explicitly defined targets of what the conditions or performance levels should be, and can be used by organizations to formally set, communicate and collaborate around expectations."

Unlike Eckerson, however, Henschen said Microsoft's introduction of Goals could lead to a reaction by other vendors.

Some of the larger tech vendors that offer BI platforms in addition to other hardware and software products already have goal-measuring tools. Henschen pointed out that Oracle, SAP and IBM have historically enabled goal setting with on-premises tools and now -- with Oracle Enterprise Performance Management, SAP Analytics Cloud and IBM Planning Analytics -- do the same with their cloud systems.

In addition, general purpose analytics platforms enable customers to informally define performance levels on reports, data visualizations and dashboards with colors such as green, yellow and red, Henschen continued.

Nevertheless, the introduction of Goals could spark the release of similar, formal tools from Power BI's competitors.

"Given Microsoft's move, I could easily see mainstream BI and analytics vendors that don't address performance management formalizing or adding more goal-setting and score-carding functionality," Henschen said.

Goals was developed as a result of a combination of customer feedback and Microsoft's own sense that applying AI to enable users to reach their goals was the next logical step for Power BI, according to Ulag.

He said Power BI -- like other BI platforms -- informally enabled customers to define objectives and track performance against those objectives, but it wasn't easy before Goals.

"We, ourselves, were tracking our own performance in Power BI and ran into the exact same problems as our customers," Ulag said.

Once generally available, Microsoft plans to build out the functionality of Goals, according to Justyna Lucznik, principal program manager at Microsoft.

Among the plans for Goals are a mobile experience, formatting capabilities that will enable users to customize scorecards and what Microsoft calls Cascading of Goals. Cascading will transform Goals from a self-service tool to an enterprise capability by enabling users to define a hierarchy for their initiatives, basing the hierarchy on such factors as geographical location and product importance.

"There are lots of exciting things on the roadmap," Lucznik said.

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