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Archive for the ‘Office 365’ Category

Some Thoughts About Power BI

with 51 comments

By now you’ll probably have seen the Power BI announcement from Microsoft. It’s an important one, and if you haven’t seen it I suggest you take a look at the official announcements and website here:

http://blogs.office.com/b/office-news/archive/2013/07/08/announcing-power-bi-for-office-365.aspx
http://blogs.office.com/b/office365tech/archive/2013/07/07/what-powers-power-bi-in-office-365.aspx
http://blogs.technet.com/b/dataplatforminsider/archive/2013/07/08/introducing-power-bi-for-office-365.aspx?WT.mc_id=Social_TW_OutgoingEvents_20130708_25941_SQLServer
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel/power-bi-FX104080667.aspx
http://blogs.msdn.com/b/powerbi/archive/2013/07/07/getting-started-with-pq-and-pm.aspx

Andrew Brust also has a good summary of the news here:
http://www.zdnet.com/microsoft-announces-power-bi-for-office-365-7000017746/

There’s no point me repeating what’s already been said, so I thought I’d post my initial reaction to it:

  • Proper Mobile BI! HTML 5 Power View! It works on iPads too! Hurray! At-bloody-last! The mobile BI solution will allow you to find, interact with and share “Excel and Power View content”, so I guess that includes Excel worksheets (with PivotTables, slicers etc) as well as Power View reports (a close look at the screenshots in the blog posts above back this up).
  • Making Power BI available only via Office 365 is going to be a very controversial strategy in the MS BI partner community. To be clear: as far as I understand it, Data Explorer (now Power Query), GeoFlow (now Power Map), mobile BI and all of the cool stuff that’s just been announced is only going to be available through Power BI, and therefore Office 365. Unfortunately the biggest companies, with the biggest BI budgets, are often the ones who are slowest to upgrade to the latest versions of Office and a lot of cases this won’t change just because someone wants to see their reports on an iPad. Where IT department inertia, worries about data privacy and company politics mean that Office 365 is not an option, Microsoft will lose out to the pure-play BI vendors who offer standalone solutions.
  • If you look at this from a different point of view, though, some of the things that I (as a BI Pro) feel least comfortable about in Microsoft’s BI strategy are also its greatest strengths. The way I see it, MS is not treating self-service BI as a solution in its own right, but selling self-service BI as a feature of Office. This makes a lot of sense from Microsoft’s point of view – it’s building on the fact that Excel is the tool of choice for data analysis for 99% of users. What I think is going to happen as a result of this is that, rather than partners selling BI as a standalone solution as in the past, we’re going to be talking to people who have already got Office 2013 or Office 365 and are looking to make the most of the BI features that come as part of that. The MS BI partner community is going to have to adjust to this because I doubt MS is going to change this strategy soon.
  • The same can be said of the Office 365-only strategy. If Microsoft is going to be successful with its cloud-first strategy then it’s going to have to prioritise cloud functionality over on-prem functionality. I think MS is doing the right thing with its cloud-first strategy, so therefore, even though I’m going to find it painful when I have to deal with customers that won’t or can’t move to Office 365, I can understand why MS is making Power BI Office 365 only. Beyond the hype (MS says that 1 in 4 of its customers is already on Office 365), it does seem like the uptake of Office 365 is quite strong, especially in SMBs, so hopefully there will be a large potential customer base.
  • I’ve been presenting sessions on the Excel 2013 BI stack at various user groups and conferences over the last few months and it’s gone down very well indeed. A lot of people have come up to me after seeing my session and said that they had been looking at QlikView and Tableau for BI, and would now consider Office 2013 as another alternative. The BI functionality on its own is pretty good, and good enough for a lot of customers even if it isn’t as mature as some of the competing offerings; the fact that the BI functionality comes baked into Office is the killer. While it may be expensive to upgrade to Office 2013/Office 365 this is a cost that many businesses will be considering anyway regardless of their BI requirements; you also have to compare this with the cost of QlikView and Tableau licenses and remember that not every user will need the most expensive SKUs of Office 2013.
  • The ability to refresh data in Excel workbooks deployed to Sharepoint Online, even when the data sources are on-prem, is a key feature and one that I’ve been waiting for. I wonder what the performance will be like?
  • For anyone of a certain age, the first reaction to the news of the natural language querying capability is two words: English Query. I haven’t played with it so I can’t pass judgement, but it’s going to have to be pretty impressive if anyone is going to use it for more than just sales demos. We shall see…
  • I am quite curious about the enterprise data search capabilities. Leaving aside the ability to query them in natural language, the ability to search for data across the enterprise will be useful. I think this is what happened to Project Barcelona.
  • Similarly, it seems as though this search capability is going to be significantly expanded on the public internet. At the moment, in Data Explorer Power Query we’ve seen the ability to query Wikipedia for data. Being able to query many other public data in the same way will be very powerful. There are a number of sites like Quandl that already make public datasets very easy to find and download, and the new search and query capabilities could leapfrog them.
  • No announcement on pricing has been made as yet. Please, please be ridiculously cheap!
  • We don’t have a date for the preview yet, but if you sign up here you’ll be notified when it’s available. It’s meant to be coming “later this summer”.

UPDATE: Some more things to add…

  • Something I didn’t pick up on at the time, but which emerged on Twitter later, is that PowerPivot has had a name change: it’s now Power Pivot with a space, to make it consistent with PowerV View and so on. This might seem minor, but for those of us who write books and have to sweat these details, it’s quite important!
  • I sense I’ve hurt a few feelings at MS with my comments on the natural language query. Let me be clear about my position here: I’ve not played with it, so I can’t pass judgement yet. I can imagine that natural language search for data will work well, but I will be very, very impressed if natural language query works well enough to be used on real data by real users. Real data is dirty and complex and user expectations will be very high and easily dashed. My guess is that the main issue will be that users can’t distinguish between what is a query and what is a calculation, and while the product can probably do queries well (eg “Show me the sales of widgets this year”) it may struggle with calculations (eg “Show me the customer churn by month this year”). But as I said, we shall see.

Finally, and as always, I reread this post this morning and worried that I sound too negative when in fact I’m very positive overall. To summarize:

  • The fact this is is all in Office and specifically Excel = the killer feature.
  • Mobile BI = good, even if it’s very late.
  • Power Query = very, very, very good indeed. I love it already and I think it’s going to be as big, if not bigger than Power Pivot. Power BI is worth buying for this alone.
  • Office 365 requirement = a problem for some customers, maybe, but understandable from Microsoft’s point of view.
  • Cloud requirement = again, a problem for some, but understandable and a big advantage for SMEs who can’t afford the cost of hardware and time to configure Sharepoint on-prem. The ability to refresh in the cloud from on-prem data sources is the key feature here.
  • Power Map = OK. Useful for customers who need geographic analysis, but it’s main use is that it’s great for demos (and this should not be underestimated – all products need some wow).
  • Power View goes HTML5 = relief. The Silverlight dependency undermined its credibility no end.
  • Natural language search for data sources = potentially very useful.
  • Natural language query of those data sources = see above. I remain to be convinced.
  • Data stewardship features = I haven’t seen enough of these to be able to comment.

More blog posts worth reading on this subject:
http://www.jenunderwood.com/blog.htm#O365PowerBI
http://www.jenstirrup.com/2013/07/power-business-intelligence-for.html

UPDATE #2: even more things to add…!

You can see the video of Amir’s demo from WPC here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jsa-5LGx_IY&feature=youtu.be

Some more details (which should be accurate) from a friend of mine at the conference:

  • The Power View standalone app is still Silverlight based, it’s only the mobile app that uses HTML5
  • Power Query queries can be shared between users via BI Sites, but the execution of these queries always takes place in desktop Excel. Queries will appear in searches when they’re published to a BI Site.
  • Excel workbooks connected to on-prem SSAS (Tabular and Multidimensional) will also be refreshable from a BI Site
  • Natural Language queries (what I think is being called “Q&A”) will also work against SSAS Tabular models. The Categorization property that’s in the Advanced tab in the PowerPivot window, and also in SSDT, is partly used to help Q&A do this.
  • External users can be given access to reports in BI Sites.
  • There will be a “Data Steward Portal” which will help you monitor who is doing what on your BI Site.
  • No comment on when this will arrive in Sharepoint on-prem. My feeling is that MS have no plans to do this at all, or maybe will only do it if a lot of people complain…?

Written by Chris Webb

July 8, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Office 2013, Office 365 Editions and BI Features

with 30 comments

By now you’re probably aware that Office 2013 is in the process of being officially released, and that Office 365 is a very hot topic. You’ve probably also read lots of blog posts by me and other writers talking about the cool new BI functionality in Office 2013 and Office 365. But which editions of Office 2013 and Office 365 include the BI functionality, and how does Office 365 match up to plain old non-subscription Office 2013 for BI? It’s surprisingly hard to find out the answers…

For regular, non-subscription, Office 2013 on the desktop you need Office Professional Plus to use the PowerPivot addin or to use Power View in Excel. However there’s an important distinction to make: the xVelocity engine is now natively integrated into Excel 2013, and this functionality is called the Excel Data Model and is available in all desktop editions of Excel. You only need the PowerPivot addin, and therefore Professional Plus, if you want to use the PowerPivot Window to modify and extend your model (for example by adding calculated columns or KPIs). So even if you’re not using Professional Plus you can still do some quite impressive BI stuff with PivotTables etc. On the server, the only edition of Sharepoint 2013 that has any BI functionality is Enterprise Edition; there’s no BI functionality in Foundation or Standard Editions.

[For those of you thinking of upgrading from Excel 2010 PowerPivot to Office 2013, Marco has all the details on compatibility of PowerPivot workbooks across different versions here.]

Office RT, which runs on Windows RT, has several limitations on its BI functionality: there’s no PowerPivot, Power View or Excel Data Model. Luckily, Kasper has summarised what it does do in a blog post here, so I won’t repeat what he says.

Moving on to 2013 functionality in Office 365, and specifically BI in Sharepoint Online, things get more complicated. Although feature support information for Office 365 is on Technet here, the best place to start is Andrew Connell’s blog post and corresponding feature matrix that is viewable through (appropriately enough) the Excel Web App. The feature matrix makes it very easy to filter Office 365 features by workload so you only see the BI-related ones:

image

image

As you can see, the short answer is that you need either Office 365 E3 or E4, or SharePoint Online Plan 2 to get BI functionality. The Office Professional PlusE3 and E4 plans are also the only plans to include subscriptions to the desktop versions of Office Professional Plus, and they allow it to be installed on up to 5 machines per user. The other thing you’ll notice is that PerformancePoint is not available at all in Office 365 (read into that what you will); it is of course available in Sharepoint 2013 Enterprise Edition on-premises.

There are other functionality differences between Sharepoint Online in Office 365 and on-premises Sharepoint too. The details are here, but the important ones are:

  • At least for the moment, Excel workbooks can be no larger than 10MB
  • The Excel Data Model will only refresh successfully if it sources data from the workbook itself; no external data sources are supported (though again I’d be surprised if that restriction isn’t lifted in the future)
  • There is no PowerPivot for Sharepoint functionality such as the Gallery, usage reporting or scheduled data refresh.

These are quite significant restrictions, it’s true, but if you are a purely self-service BI shop and you just want to use Sharepoint Online to publish PivotTable or Power View reports that don’t need to be refreshed (or can be refreshed manually on the desktop and then uploaded) then this functionality should be sufficient. This is the kind of scenario I showed here, and I think a lot of customers with no existing BI will still be impressed with it; obviously it’s a problem if you want to do any kind of corporate BI.

BUT. At the time of writing the Enterprise plans for Office 365 haven’t been fully updated for Office 2013 functionality, so all this BI functionality isn’t actually available yet to most subscribers. This means that the desktop versions of Office you can download are still 2010 and not 2013; online, while you can get the latest Sharepoint features if you’re part of the Office 365 Preview, if you’re currently an Office 365 subscriber you’re probably still on Sharepoint 2010. The official line on when the upgrade to 2013 functionality will take place is a bit vague – it will take place “in the course of 2013” – and there seem to be a few upset customers out there (see here for example). February 27th seems to be a significant date.

Finally, apart from Office 365 it’s also possible to view Excel workbooks via SkyDrive. However pretty much no BI functionality is available when you do this: no Excel Data Model, no external connections, no Power View, just the ability to view (and not alter) PivotTables. These restrictions seem to be more or less the same if you use just the Office Web Apps server on-premises without Sharepoint 2013 – see the relevant table here for details.

In summary: my head hurts! All these editions and licences… it would be nice if it was less complicated.

UPDATE: some new information, and some clarifications, since I first wrote this post

1) Office Professional Plus 2013 will be available via Office 365 on February 27th 2013. The cheapest subscription option that includes Excel on the desktop with PowerPivot and Power View is, as far as I can see, this one, an Office Professional Plus subscription, that is included in the E3 and E4 plans.

2) Office Professional Plus is only available via Open, Select or EA licensing (see http://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/licensing/default.aspx for more details on what these options are). Excel 2013 standalone is only available via Open or Select. This means that no regular retail editions of Excel include PowerPivot or Power View, you can only get them through a Volume Licence Agreement or Office 365 (ie you need to be working for a big company with deep pockets unless you buy yourself an Office Professional Plus, E3 or E4 Office 365 subscription); compare this with PowerPivot for Excel 2010 worked with any edition of Excel. Existing PowerPivot users are not particularly happy about this when they find out: see here and here for example. Is this a good strategy? Hmm…

3) Right now, I’m told there is a problem with how the addins are packaged with Excel 2013 standalone which will be addressed in a future update.

UPDATE  2: I’ve just found out that standalone Power View is not supported at all in Sharepoint Online/Office 365. Only Power View sheets inside Excel workbooks are supported.

UPDATE 3: Power Pivot is now available in standalone versions of Excel too as of August 2013 - http://www.powerpivotblog.nl/power-pivot-and-power-view-now-available-in-excel-stand-alone

Written by Chris Webb

February 1, 2013 at 8:04 am

Posted in BI, Office 2013, Office 365

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