Friday, March 25, 2016

Microsoft Data Insights Summit Recap

I am traveling back from Seattle after attending the inaugural Microsoft Data Insights Summit (MDIS) in Bellevue on March 22 and 23. I thought it would be good to write a quick summary for those of you who were unable to attend. Microsoft was also good enough to record the sessions and you can find the recordings here:

Power BI Momentum

Microsoft announced that Power BI has surpassed 5 million subscribers, which is quite remarkable since the solution is barely one year from general release. I do not know exactly how many customers attended MDIS but it looked like there were more than 750 non-Microsoft employee attendees.

New Features Announced for Power BI

Microsoft continues to add features to the Power BI service on a weekly basis and releases a new version of the Power BI Desktop on a monthly basis. Among the more notable features planned for release in the next month are:

Role-based Security

For those of you who have used role-based security in Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), this is a critical feature for enterprise roll-outs of Power BI. Being able to create a single dashboard and filter the data based on the logged-in user is super critical. Microsoft provided a preview demonstration and indicated that we should be seeing this feature in the April timeframe.

Deeper Excel Integration

What is also exciting is the very close partnership between the Microsoft Excel and Power BI teams. Some of the key new capabilities announced at the conference include:

  • Analyze in Excel – Another feature many of us SSAS Tabular users leverage is being able to analyze a model in Excel. This is helpful in quickly troubleshooting DAX formulas. Currently, if you want to analyze a Power BI file in Excel you need to start the model in Excel Power Pivot and import to Power BI. If you add measures and calculations in Power BI, these would need to be replicated in Excel Power Pivot. Microsoft demonstrated the ability to analyze a Power BI model in Excel using the Power BI service. This will be also valuable for those users who do not have access to Power BI but do have Excel Power Pivot.
  • General availability of the Publish to Power BI Excel add-in – Many of you may have downloaded the preview of this capability to pin Excel objects to Power BI dashboards. This add-in is now is in general availability and is an exciting feature for users who want to quickly share Excel charts and tables in Power BI without the need to import the data to a Power BI model.
  • Open Excel Object in Power BI – If the user pins an Excel chart or table to a Power BI dashboard, the user can open the Excel object directly from the Power BI service without needing to download it.

Visualizations Update

One of the most common visualizations used within Power BI is displaying data in a table. Microsoft readily admitted at the conference that compared to the display flexibility of tables in Excel, Power BI paled in comparison. Of particular importance is the ability to conditionally format values (e.g. negative values in red, positive in green). The Microsoft announcement that conditional formatting of Power BI tables would be forthcoming in the next month was greeted with quite a round of applause. In terms of custom visuals, Microsoft, announced that five new custom visuals ( ) are available, bringing the total to more than 50. Of particular note are:

  • TimeBrush
  • LineDotChart
  • SandDance


Microsoft has offered drill-down capabilities in Power BI visuals for quite some time and many users take advantage of this. For those of us familiar with the Power Pivot capability to drill-through to the underlying data, we were gratified to learn that this capability will be coming to Power BI in the next month.

Data Size Limit Increase

This one is unofficial and was not formally announced but I did hear from a reliable source that the data size limit on models will be raised from 250mb to 1gb. I am not sure when this will be announced but be on the look-out for this. Remember that with the average compression ratio of Power BI model of between 10:1 and 20:1, users would potentially be able to upload more than 10 gb data sets to Power BI.

Handling Boolean Logic in Power Query User Interface

Previously if you wanted to use Boolean logic (If, else…) you needed to write M code in the Query editor or write a DAX formula after loading the data to the model. At the conference, Microsoft demonstrated a new UI enhancement that provides the ability to create a new column using Boolean logic from data in an existing column or calculation.

SharePoint/Office 365 Sites Integration is on the Roadmap

Speaking selfishly for Rightpoint, the one new Power BI feature that we were most looking forward to that was not announced is the ability to embed a live Power BI tile or report in SharePoint or Office 365 (Sites) and have an authenticated experience (filter data based on logged-in user). However, Microsoft did announce that they were working on this with the SharePoint/Office 365 product teams. This would be an exciting capability to enable to deliver of self-service business intelligence throughout the organization while maintaining an appropriate level of data security.


I came away from the conference with a strong feeling that Power BI momentum we have seen over the past year is only getting stronger and more powerful. The compelling value proposition of self-service BI is really permeating organizations, both large and small. Organizations who take advantage of this wave of innovation in self-service BI will truly become the leaders in what is fast becoming a data-driven society.