Key PASS Business Analytics Conference Takeaways

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virtual computer screenLast week was the second annual PASS Business Analytics Conference targeting Microsoft business intelligence, business analyst, data architect, and data scientist audiences. For those of you that have been in the Microsoft BI community for a while, this new conference replaced the former Microsoft Business Intelligence Conference. The conference track content was also extended to include Excel analytics audiences. The shift towards business analytics from traditional business intelligence (BI) is a market trend that we are seeing across the entire technology industry right now.

So, what is business analytics?  Business analytics means interacting with information at the speed of business. Business analytics is continuous, iterative, and fact-based data exploration and decision making using statistical, quantitative, explanatory, and predictive analysis techniques. Where traditional business intelligence was historically focused on measuring past performance with querying, reporting, OLAP, and dashboards answering what happened, how many, how often, and where type questions. Business analytics answers why and forward looking questions such as what if these trends continue, what will happen next and what is the best that can happen?

Significant Improvements to Power BI for Office 365

In the PASS Business Analytics Conference opening keynote, Microsoft Partner Director Kamal Hathi and Microsoft Technical Fellow Amir Netz showcased a series of game changing, significant improvements to the new Power BI for Office 365 offering that pleasantly surprised Microsoft BI insiders and MVPs in the community. Here is a quick summary of the key announcements.

  • 12,500 Power BI tenants activated and over 2 million Power Pivot, 100,000 Power Query, and 55,000 Power Map downloads as of May 2014
  • Microsoft's Power BI native Mobile BI app for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone) will finally be released to the Apple store this summer after years of promises
  • Device agnostic, Power View HTML 5 development is nearing completion with keynote demonstrations shown on a Google Chrome device
  • Classic Reporting Services has been integrated into Power BI in Office 365 including direct connectivity to on premise data sources eliminating data copies to the cloud
  • New Forecasting, tree map visualizations, a KPI editor, and a chart combining overlay feature in Power View for Power BI in Office 365 was showcased

That is not all Microsoft has been up to lately. Additional news is expected at the upcoming World Partner Conference (WPC) in July. Typically, business intelligence news from Microsoft is released at PASS or SharePoint events. However, last year the launch of Power BI was released during WPC since that event that gets a much larger audience of Microsoft's core extended, partner channel sales people.

Key Messages for the Microsoft BI Community

There are already a few articles that dive into the specific announcement details. I'd like to share my thoughts on what this news actually means for Microsoft BI professionals and customers.

Related: New Forecasting Capabilities in Power View for Office 365
                   Forecasting in Power View for Office 365

First of all, the Power BI component adoption rates are telling. Clearly, for all razzle, dazzle of Power Map, the practical and fantastic Power Query is far more useful. The Power BI tenant count is most likely skewed with small Microsoft pilot customers, MVP, and partner demo sites. Although rapid, monthly release cycles for Office 365, Office 2013, and Power BI have been filled with enhancements changing the entire Microsoft customer value experience in a positive way. The per-user pricing has been a major point of contention in the Microsoft BI community. Prior to these announcements, Power BI for Office 365 business value has not been compelling. With the latest additions of mobile-friendly BI for iOS and Android, Reporting Services, and direct connectivity, business value is improving. I expect Power BI adoption numbers to continue to slowly grow until pricing is revisited, but there should be wider adoption for mobile BI and operational reporting use cases.

Device Angnostic, Cross Platform Mobile Computing

Since Satya Nadella has taken over as Microsoft CEO, we are seeing a myriad of encouraging changes in corporate development philosophy. One of those changes is in device agnostic, cross platform mobile computing. Microsoft finally is delivering on the native mobile BI for Apple iOS promise made several years ago and showcased a keynote demo using a Google Chrome device. These actions spoke volumes to the business intelligence community that in the past was given almost no information in regards to roadmaps for the world's most popular mobile device platforms.  Listening to Microsoft insiders, there is an undeniable sense of joy, relief, and excitement that I have not heard in a long while. The new CEO is already making a commendable impact externally and internally in his new role.

Typically when Microsoft does not enhance or showcase a product in marketing literature, demos, or news, they have reduced development. Having been released over 10 years ago and with shiny Power View on center stage, classic Reporting Services was getting a lot less marketing coverage. Reporting Services is tried-and-true, highly mature, robust, flexible, and is simply loved by the Microsoft BI developers and customers alike. Often Reporting Services is the only Microsoft tool that can fulfill common dashboard requirements today. Since Power View was released and the investment in Reporting Services and Report Builder came to a halt, the future for classic Reporting Services was looking bleak. Folks around the world voiced concerns and disappointment that their favorite Microsoft BI solution had been getting neglected when no new features were added to SQL Server 2014.

Renewed Investment in Reporting Services

Seeing classic Reporting Services with ancient AdventureWorks bicycle demos being shown at the 2014 PASS Business Analytics Conference keynote was absolutely beautiful. That demo truly means Microsoft heard you—their customers—and delivered. It has been a difficult few years for Microsoft BI with agile, niche vendors taking noteworthy market share. Microsoft seemed to be drifting in different directions and then shifted to a "cloud first, cloud only" focus with Power BI. Cloud Power BI was not a customer-request driven direction nor was there a strong market desire yet for Cloud BI. By sharing news of renewed investment in Reporting Services and in on premise solutions, Microsoft sent a welcome and much needed message to restore Microsoft BI community morale.

Other revealing announcements in the keynote regarding tree maps, combination charts, direct connectivity, and new predictive forecasting being immediately released drove home the points that not only has Microsoft been listening, but they have been secretly working on a ton of business intelligence projects.  I can't wait to see what will be shown at the upcoming World Partner Conference (WPC).

Save the Date

The PASS BA Conference keynote exceeded expectations and rejuvenated hope that Microsoft truly is listening to their partners and customers. There's still a long road ahead, but the future outlook just got a bit brighter in that one hour keynote session. True to history, Microsoft Business Intelligence and Analytics Conference keynotes do seem to be dramatic and loaded with critical community updates. For information on next year's event, register on the 2015 PASS BA Conference website.

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