Over the holidays Microsoft quietly released a public preview of Power BI’s recent innovations.  This humble release was by design.  If you want more information, don’t fret.   Additional deeper dive details will be announced and shared with you over the next few weeks and months.  In the meantime, you can sign up for a free Power BI Preview account, no Office 365 or Excel 2013 required, to play hands-on and explore the enhancements.  Keep in mind that the new preview is just that – an early preview of what is in development.    

Modern HTML5 Analytics Platform

The Power BI Preview showcases mobile-friendly, touch enabled, HTML5 dashboards and reports in a true, turnkey analytics platform.  Report viewing, authoring and Q&A natural language querying are all available right within the web browser.  The preview currently supports both Chrome and Internet Explorer browsers. 

If you take a peek at the data sources available under the Get Data menu, you will find a variety including Excel, Excel on One Drive and Analysis Services. There are also out-of-the-box SaaS template dashboards for popular applications like Salesforce, Dynamics CRM, SendGrid, GitHub, ZenDesk and more. The Power BI Preview YouTube Video Library includes an excellent video demonstration of Salesforce that illustrates the tight SaaS integration for easy button, instant dashboards with your own data.

Direct Connectivity to Analysis Services

In addition to uploading files and directly connecting to SaaS services, you can now directly connect to on premise Analysis Services Tabular models with full support for role-based security.  This is a warmly welcome feature for BI professionals.  Getting the new Power BI Analysis Services connector set up is simple and merely takes a few minutes for an Analysis Services administrator to configure. However, you do need to authenticate via Azure Active Directory for Analysis Services to resolve the user name and then apply the appropriate role-based security.  For more information on getting that set up, check out the Power BI Preview Knowledgebase.

New Power BI Designer

Another significant enhancement is Power BI Designer (32-bit and 64-bit), a new stand-alone, Power BI desktop content authoring tool that can be installed side-by-side with any version of Office or Excel on Windows.  That means if your organization is unable to upgrade to the latest Excel 2013 version or can’t seem to install 64-bit Office, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy Power BI.  You can install and create Power BI content on your desktop with the new Power BI Designer.  

Power BI Designer unifies the formerly separate power brand tools: Power Query, Power Pivot and Power View into one enriched user experience and one power name.  Currently Power BI Designer loads data with embedded Power Query functionality in a Power Pivot in-memory engine behind the scenes.  Once data is transformed and loaded, you can use automatic relationship detection to blend or mash-up a wide array of data sources.  You do not need to flatten your data into one table to work with Power Designer.  In fact, many-to-many relationships between different data sources are supported in the current preview. Now that is truly powerful data modeling! 

Now that you data is report ready, you can use the embedded Power View reports for authoring fully interactive, contextual reports by dragging-and-dropping fields onto the canvas and filters. You can also create flexible, user-defined, visualization drill-down paths by stacking fields on an axis.

More Data Visualizations

As you create Power View reports, you will notice several new data visualization types including:

  • Combination charts
  • Dual axis combination charts
  • Tree maps
  • Filled geospatial maps
  • Funnels
  • Gauges

You can also merge two charts together if they share the same axis.  This cool feature is called bump and shake.

Native App for iPad

Another long waited, exciting new feature is a new native app for Apple iPad.  If you have an iPad, you can download and use this new app right now.  No more waiting or wondering.  The Mobile BI iPad app for Power BI is finally here!  Check out the introductory video.

The new mobile app displays fluid dashboard tiles and Power View reports that automatically scale to fit device screen size and orientation. The mobile-friendly, responsive design allows for a design-once, deploy anywhere approach to mobile BI.  You can tag favorite reports, drill in to see a specific chart in a larger view and send a snapshot in an email. 

Developer Portal and REST API

Another delightful surprise for BI professionals and application developers is the new Power BI REST API.  This API allows you to authenticate to the Power BI platform and programmatically create data sets, tiles and reports.   There are a few samples showcased in the Power BI Developer Portal.  Samples are provided in a variety of programming languages including but not limited to Java, JavaScript, PHP, Python – not just C# and VB.NET. 

Stay Tuned For More Updates

There are many more enhancements that I have covered here.  As mentioned earlier, Microsoft is being discreet about the preview right now.  However, you will hear more soon.   In the meantime, I know your engineering minds want to dig into the details on what was released.  The best way to do that is to sign up for a free Power BI Preview account and check out the following resources:

New Power BI Microsite Tour

Getting Started Overview

Knowledgebase and Tutorials

YouTube Video Library

Developer Portal