Some exciting announcements were made today about the new Power BI cloud-based business analytics service.  Today Power BI is an add-on service for Office 365 that requires an enterprise-level license – about $50 per user per month.  Data transformation queries, data models and dashboard visualizations are all created using add-in tools for Excel 2013.  All of the content is managed in SharePoint Online.  The new Power BI designer and hosted dashboard elements won’t require any Excel add-ins and use a streamlined cloud service with a list of mobile options.  The best part is that the price also went way down – about $10/month for designers and it’s free for anyone who just runs reports and dashboards.  Yea… free!

James Phillips, Microsoft General Manager of Data Experiences posted “Today is an incredibly exciting day as we unveil the new Power BI – a service we believe will fundamentally transform the “business of business intelligence.” Power BI can help every company adopt a data culture with easy-to-use, accessible tools and innovative technology that lowers the barrier to entry, for all.”  Read his entire post here.

The new Power BI Preview is available to try out for free to anyone with a US email address.  It’s actually been available to limited audiences for a couple of months but this is the first official announcement.  Just go to the Power BI site and get started using the preview.

New pricing details are here.

This new direction raises many questions about the investments many have already made into Microsoft BI tools and the options we’ll have to continue to use those tools or migrate to the new platform.  We are seeing a lot of open dialog from the Microsoft product teams and leadership to address these questions in advisory councils and forums like the MVP Program.

I’ve been playing with the preview and it’s quite impressive for being so new.  Several features aren’t quite as capable as the full Excel-based suite in Office 365 today but the tiled dashboards & new visualizations are very nice.  The designer is lean and simple.  It contains a light version of Power Query, an ultra-light modeling tool in lieu of Power Pivot and a very robust visualization experience that in many ways is ahead of Power View.  In all it’s a nice tool that is being updated rapidly.  I’ve provided quite a bit of feedback using the “smile” and “frown” buttons in the designer and the product teams have responded very quickly with bug fixes and answers.  They’re obviously committed to getting this right.  The preview is probably not something you’ll want to use for real business BI projects right now but certainly a tool to take very seriously in the months ahead.