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AI, UX and embedded features all pillars of Power BI platform

As Microsoft adds new features to Power BI, augmented intelligence and embedded analytics will continue to be a focus, Microsoft revealed during its Inspire user conference.

Augmented intelligence and embedded analytics are key focal points as Microsoft expands the capabilities of the Power BI platform.

Arun Ulagaratchagan, vice president of the business intelligence platform at Microsoft, outlined the development strategy for Power BI at a session on Wednesday at Microsoft Inspire, the vendor's virtual user conference.

Going forward, he said, Power BI's platform will be built on the three pillars of improving user experience, incorporating more of Microsoft's AI and machine learning expertise into Power BI, and continuing to embed Power BI into other Microsoft tools to bring analytics to users while they work rather than forcing them to toggle between tools to get insights.

"Power BI is about all of your data and everyone," Ulagaratchagan said.

User experience, according to Ulagaratchagan, begins with the creation of a workspace that's both functional and visually pleasing. Ultimately, Microsoft wants Power BI to be as easy to use and as familiar to the eye as Power Point and Excel.

"This is the beating heart of Power BI, the ability to get beautiful insights that are very simple for the end user to consume," he said.

With respect to adding more AI features to Power BI, the May platform update included smart narratives, a natural language generation tool that enabled report builders to incorporate interactive narratives and give business users explanations about their data as that is automatically updated. In June's platform update, Microsoft added AI Insights in Power Query to Power BI, giving users access to a series of pretrained machine learning models to help their data preparation efforts.

Arun Ulagaratchagan, vice president of the business intelligence platform at Microsoft, discusses Power BI during Microsoft Ignite, the vendor's virtual user conference.
Microsoft vice president of the business intelligence platform Arun Ulagaratchagan discusses Power BI during Microsoft Ignite, the vendor's virtual user conference.

As for embedding Power BI into other Microsoft products, Ulagaratchagan said there's a lot being done to blend Power BI into Azure Synapse Analytics and that it's already embedded in tools such as Office 365, Teams and Excel.

Usage-Based Optimization is a feature Microsoft plans to add to the Power BI platform. The tool, according to Ulagaratchagan, will help Power BI and Synapse work together, optimizing Synapse based on usage patterns of users in Power BI.

This is the beating heart of Power BI, the ability to get beautiful insights that are very simple for the end user to consume.
Arun UlagaratchaganVice president of the business intelligence platform, Microsoft

"When I think about action, this is really about completing the loop from insight to action to automation with the Power Platform," he said.

While the development focus for Power BI is centered around the three pillars of customer experience, AI and machine learning and embedded analytics, the ultimate goal of the platform is to help organizations develop a data-driven culture, Ulagaratchagan said. And with many enterprises struggling to survive amid the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, data-driven decisions are more important than ever.

The chaos that has developed in 2020, he continued, is akin to driving a car as a rainstorm begins, then having the headlights fail, followed by the windshield wipers shutting down. Meanwhile, there's no GPS.

A data-driven culture, however, can bring clarity amid the chaos and help organizations navigate the pandemic.

"That's how we think about a data culture," Ulagaratchagan said. "Helping customers create a data culture is about helping everyone in the organizations make better decisions with data. It's about everyone, and all the decisions they make, the ability to harness all of the data and translate that into insight to drive your business forward."

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