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The ability to safely share data between organizations and new integrations with the Microsoft 365 suite of tools highlight the latest Power BI platform update.
Microsoft unveiled the update on Wednesday at the start of Microsoft Ignite, the tech giant's annual user conference.
Power BI is Microsoft's primary business intelligence platform.
Recently, the vendor updated it to include a new version of Metrics, a performance tracker that enables customers to establish key business objectives and milestones, collect them in a single location within Power BI, and use data curated in the platform to measure progress against those objectives and milestones.
Power BI now includes cross-tenant data set sharing, which enables organizations to securely share Power BI data sets and analytics assets such as reports and dashboards with partners or customers to foster collaboration beyond an organization's own walls.
To ensure data is shared between organizations securely, Power BI system administrators have the ability to set limits on which users and groups are authorized to share data across tenants. And if desired by their organization, administrators can entirely disable cross-tenant data sharing to make sure data remains in house.
Power BI competitors such as ThoughtSpot and Qlik have added collaboration capabilities to their platforms, but those tools are aimed at collaboration within a single organization.
Adding a feature that lets users collaborate across organizations is a significant step because it recognizes that data-driven decisions aren't bound by the confines of a single enterprise and organizations often work together, according to David Menninger, analyst at Ventana Research.
David MenningerAnalyst, Ventana Research
"The cross-tenant sharing of data and analytics between organizations recognizes the reality that the boundaries between organizations are blurring," he said. "Partners and suppliers need to be part of your information network, so the ability to exchange information with them is important."
Power BI isn't the only data and analytics vendor to enable cross-tenant sharing.
Cloud data platform vendor Snowflake offers similar capabilities, noted Wayne Eckerson, founder and principal consultant of Eckerson Group. He also said the feature nevertheless has the potential to benefit Power BI users.
"I love the multi-tenant sharing capabilities," he said. "They're making it as seamless as Snowflake. No one has to move data sets. They just provide access to selected users. And they've made it easy to find external data that has been shared with you."
In addition to cross-organizational collaboration capabilities, new integrations with Microsoft 365 tools can benefit Power BI users, according to Menninger.
In May, Microsoft launched integrations between Power BI and Microsoft 365 tools PowerPoint, Outlook and Office Hub that enable users to embed analytics assets created with Power BI in workflows throughout the Microsoft 365 suite.
Now, with new integrations with OneDrive and SharePoint that are currently in private preview, customers can also interact with reports and dashboards developed in Power BI while working in those tools, which are also part of Microsoft 365.
OneDrive is a service hosted by Microsoft that enables users to store, organize and share files. SharePoint is a web-based collaboration platform on which users can manage and store documents.
"Microsoft shops are probably pretty happy to see further Microsoft 365 integration," Menninger said.
Meanwhile, Kim Manis, Microsoft's director of product management for Azure Synapse Analytics & Power BI, said the integrations with OneDrive and SharePoint are part of the tech giant's attempt to make Power BI more like Office and bring the analytics platform into Office users' familiar workflow.
"We don't want them to have to go hunting around for their data," she said. "Now, it's where they get their work done."
Another key addition to the Power BI platform is an automated tool to help users migrate their analytics workloads from Azure Analysis Services (AAS) to Power BI Premium.
AAS is a platform as a service that is fully managed by Microsoft and provides developers with a space to build and work with data models. But according to Microsoft, Power BI Premium's functionality has now surpassed that of AAS, and while the company will continue to manage AAS and has no plans to eliminate the platform, it is encouraging users to move their workloads.
The vendor first unveiled the migration tool at Microsoft Build in May, and it is expected to be available in all regions in November.
"It looks like they are doubling down on Power BI and turning it into a complete data and analytics platform for building any type of analytics application," Eckerson said.
Beyond the integrations with Microsoft 365, automated migration tool and new data sharing capabilities, the latest Power BI platform update includes the following:
- automatic installation of Power BI for users of Microsoft 365 as part of the Office 365 installer;
- the ability to embed Metrics in applications;
- a new SDK that enables users to quickly customize and embed auto-generated reports;
- data model editing on the web so that users can navigate a data set and collaborate just as they would in the traditional Power BI environment; and
- an integration between Power BI and Power Apps, which is a set of pre-built applications for developers to quickly build their own custom applications.
All except data model editing on the web and the integration between Power BI and Power Apps are generally available. Data model editing on the web is in private preview, while the integration between Power BI and Power Apps is in general preview.
Combined, the capabilities in the Power BI platform update are designed to simplify access to analytics, according to Microsoft's Manis.
"There are things for a business user trying to make a decision in their daily life, and it includes things for the BI pro who is working with big data," she said.
Looking beyond Ignite to future Power BI platform updates, Manis said Microsoft aims to continue adding capabilities that enable organizations to build a data culture.
Power BI's integrations with Microsoft 365, which embed data in the tools where employees do the majority of their work, are designed toward that end.
Meanwhile, she noted that as the amount of data that organizations collect -- and the number of sources from which they collect data -- continues to surge, Power BI needs to evolve to keep up.
"The opportunity in the market is that data is only getting bigger and faster and harder to make sense of," Manis said. "It's not slowing down -- it's only speeding up. We know that, and as this market grows and changes, and as the needs for data analysis change, we need to change with it."
The new automated migration tool is an attempt to help customers manage increasing data workloads, as is support within Power BI for large data set creation, but more capabilities to address big data are needed, Manis continued.
In addition, she noted that collaboration and the development of a full-featured platform that enables users to work with data from data ingestion through analysis and insight are focal points for Power BI.
Menninger, meanwhile, said Microsoft has been slow to add cloud-based versions of Power BI capabilities.
Vendors such as MicroStrategy and SAS have rebuilt their entire platforms for the cloud while still supporting their on-premises users. Others including Domo and Looker were cloud-based from their inception. But Power BI is still too dependent on its desktop version for too much of the analytics process, according to Menninger.
"Microsoft is still overly reliant on Power BI Desktop for authoring analyses," he said. "There's no reason applications can't or shouldn't be cloud-based services."