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Power BI platform adds new data prep, mobile capabilities

Microsoft added more than 40 features to its main analytics tool this month, including enhancements to data preparation capabilities and upgraded mobile formatting options.

New data preparation and mobile analytics capabilities highlight Microsoft's most recent additions to the Power BI platform.

The tech giant delivers new features to Power BI on a weekly basis, and each month releases a blog post summarizing all the tools being added to the platform throughout the month.

Posted on Feb. 17, the February summary includes more than 40 new capabilities.

Top capabilities

Among them, Dynamic M Query Parameters to support SQL Server has the potential to be particularly useful to Power BI platform users, according to Doug Henschen, an analyst at Constellation Research.

Dynamic M Query Parameters is a data preparation tool that enables Power BI users to specify the parameters of a query without having to write code.

When first released, however, it only enabled connections to M-based data sources, which are data sources provided directly by Microsoft or those that were accessible through DirectQuery, such as Amazon Redshift, Snowflake and Google BigQuery.

Now in preview, Dynamic M Query Parameters is able to access new data sources through DirectQuery, including SQL-based Microsoft data sources such as SQL Server, Azure SQL Database and Azure Synapse Analytics, as well as non-Microsoft data sources such as Oracle, Teradata and the SAP HANA relational database.

Henschen called the extension of Dynamic M Query Parameters to support SQL Server and other data sources that Power BI did not previously support "an update of note."

The new mobile formatting options are important and overdue.
Doug HenschenAnalyst, Constellation Research

"It was obviously important for Microsoft to support its own products, including SQL Server, Azure SQL Database and Azure Synapse Analytics, as well as Oracle, Teradata and SAP HANA," he continued.

In addition, new mobile formatting options are important additions to the Power BI platform, according to Henschen. Also in preview, users can format visuals for their mobile layout and have those formatting changes affect only their mobile view rather than desktop or web views as well.

"The new mobile formatting options are important and overdue," Henschen said, noting that leading analytics platforms enable users to author reports, dashboards and other assets once and deliver them in various forms.

But getting those analytics assets to work in all forms -- particularly mobile -- can be tricky, so adding easy-to-use formatting options for mobile viewing will be useful.

"It's tough to get [the view] right for all form factors, so Microsoft has added mobile formatting options to better optimize the mobile viewing experience without compromising the desktop version of the same asset," Henschen said. "This will help report authors avoid kludgy workarounds and redundant versions of assets to best serve desktop and mobile experiences."

Partner-developed features

In addition to the new capabilities developed by the Power BI team, the tech giant added tools developed by Lumel Technologies, a Microsoft partner, to the Power BI platform in February.

Lumel is a startup founded in 2021 and based in Plano, Texas, that custom-builds BI and analytics products for its customers.

Using Power BI's SDK and API framework, Lumel developed Inforiver, an end-to-end analytics and performance management platform for Power BI that comes packaged as an importable custom visual.

Among the capabilities Inforiver includes that are now available as part of the Power BI platform are forecasting and simulations for planning, paginated reports, export of tabular reports to Excel, PDF generation and a complete audit log of changes to aid with governing self-service users.

The addition of Inforiver's capabilities to Power BI is significant for two reasons, according to Donald Farmer, founder and principal of TreeHive Strategy.

"First, the existence of a powerful and complementary third-party application validates the Power BI SDK/API strategy," he said. "Without an excellent SDK and comprehensive APIs, the integration would not be possible. Second, Inforiver offers really good no-code implementation of features Power BI users have been clamoring for."

Farmer, who helped lead Microsoft's BI team during a 10-year period before leaving for Qlik and then starting his own consulting firm, noted that the capabilities added through Lumel's Inforiver are some Microsoft might have had difficulty building for Power BI.

"With Inforiver, Lumel has taken Power BI in a direction Microsoft themselves would struggle to achieve," he said. "There's a quality, consistency and above all an agility [with Inforiver] that has caught the attention of the community."

Additional capabilities

Beyond the new data preparation and mobile capabilities in preview, other new tools for the Power BI platform unveiled in February include:

  • new connectors to Amazon OpenSearch Service, OpenSearch Project and Digital Construction Works Insights;
  • updated connectors to Azure Databricks, BQE Core, MicroStrategy and Starburst Enterprise;
  • sensitivity labels for data sets that when applied remain on reports and dashboards built from that data set;
  • default label policies that enable users to define a baseline level of protection for existing Power BI files;
  • mandatory label policies that enable organizations to ensure that sensitivity labels are applied to new Power BI content;
  • three new capabilities in Goals, a planning tool introduced in May 2021, including notifications, multiple owners of a single goal and a My Workspace function;
  • added embedded analytics capabilities;
  • a new category list for Power BI visuals in AppSource; and
  • 14 new visuals in AppSource.
Screenshot of employee progress 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.

"There are many incremental improvements in this update, but the sheer number of updates add up to some notable improvements around key themes," Henschen said.

He noted that the three data label features give organizations better control over sensitive information, while the additions to Goals demonstrate that Microsoft is responding to early feedback.

"There are also a slew of data connector and data visualization updates that are incremental individually, but they add up to real progress," Henschen said.

A missing piece

But while Microsoft continues to add new functionality to Power BI, and the tech giant's commitment to the platform ensures that it is among the most complete analytics suites, it remains lacking in one key area, according to Henschen: Power BI does not match many of its competitors in its support for clouds other than its own Microsoft Azure.

Vendors such as MicroStrategy, Qlik and Tibco that aren't owned by cloud giants are cloud agnostic. And even Looker and Tableau, once independent but now subsidiaries of Google and Salesforce, respectively, support multiple clouds.

Power BI, however, lacks that neutrality, according to Henschen.

"The most obvious gap for Power BI compared to independents is multi-cloud support," he said. "Power BI can certainly tap into data sources on premises or on any cloud, but I have yet to hear anything about using Power BI services anywhere but on Azure."

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