What does Power BI for Office mean for education customers?

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Over the last year I’ve shared a fair amount of information on the use of business intelligence (BI) in education, with examples of ways that useful information can be unlocked from educational data, as well as looking at the new tools being created to help users get better views of their data. The various Microsoft teams who have been working on BI projects, and our BI partners in Australia, seem to have been moving at breakneck speed on making data more accessible, visual and meaningful to users, and there’s been a special focus everywhere on self-service BI, to help every day users who don’t have the high level skills of traditional data analysts.

Power BI demonstrations screen, showing the natural language queriesA lot of that work has focused around the traditional Office apps, and that whole story has just come together with the announcement this week of Power BI for Office 365, which adds powerful analysis features on top of Power Pivot and Power View, which were core innovations of the last couple of years. We’ve added Power Query to help users discover, access and combine data sets, and Power Map to help users map visualisations of their data. And packaged it into a powerful Power BI system within Office. And by enabling it within Office 365, it means that the self-service BI capabilities in Excel now add easy ways to host interactive data views and workbooks, so that individual users can access your standard reports and visualisations as well as create their own.

I think the best way to see what I’m talking about is to watch this video, taken from a keynote during the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this week, where there is a rapid demonstration that shows the kind of scenarios that are possible.

I loved the examples that are shown, because I could imagine very similar scenarios in education – the ability to connect internal and external data sets, and highly visual presentations of data, and especially the ability to ask a natural language question to see the answer. Can you imagine if the same level of data was available for your organisation?

And that’s the question the video left in my head: How many education organisations have the kind of published data sets (internally or externally) that will help them to turn data into information? I’ve historically seen projects that have relied on scooping data up into the equivalent of locked containers – they tend to produce canned reports that project owners think that users want. There’s often less focus on self-service BI projects, where there’s a focus on collecting/publishing data sets for others to use. I wonder if the kinds of possibilities opened by Power BI for Office will change that?

In the video we can see an example where the query “top rock classics” is automatically translated into a query of “Show rock songs where era is 70s and 80s sorted by weeks on chart”. So we potentially have a system that would allow a user to ask it for “top performing schools in my area”, or “university distance learning courses with the lowest dropout rate”, or “which TAFE course has the highest employability impact”. But do we have the published/unpublished data sources to help us answer those type of question?

Learn MoreThere’s plenty more about Power BI for Office below:
– The announcement of Power BI for Office – short and longer version
The story of the technology behind Power BI for Office 365
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