A service called Power BI was the first product Microsoft released under CEO Satya Nadella when he took the reins in 2014, and it's remained near and dear to his heart — Nadella uses Power BI to keep tabs on Microsoft itself.
The idea behind Power BI is simple: Take data from anywhere — from Excel spreadsheets to accounting systems to outside software like Salesforce and Oracle — and mash it all up into charts and graphs that show how your business is doing right now.
On Monday, at Microsoft's Data Insights Summit in Seattle, Corporate VP and Power BI head James Phillips took the stage to announce that Power BI Premium, a high-end service for its largest customers, is now available. The goal, says Phillips, is to take what Microsoft already loves about Power BI and make it more accessible to everyone.
"It's, by far, the most widely-used service that we use inside the company other than Office 365 email," says Phillips. "Everyone is using Power BI to run their businesses."
'Grown like wildfire'
With Nadella as its biggest fan, Power BI has "grown like wildfire" within Microsoft, says Phillips.
By his telling, you can't walk into a building on Microsoft's campus without seeing some kind of screen with Power BI running. "We use it for everything, from Satya on down," says Phillips.
Microsoft Power BI Microsoft
Nadella's right hand man, cloud boss Scott Guthrie, has said that he checks Power BI first thing in the morning to see how the company's cloud businesses are performing. CFO Amy Hood uses Power BI to manage the company's $158 billion treasury. The Surface hardware team uses it to track the supply chain. The Office business uses it to track active users. Even the customer service department uses Power BI to track incident resolutions.
The fact that Microsoft is such a heavy user of Power BI is actually a boon to the company's sales efforts, says Phillips: He cites a recent "two hour" meeting with Bill Gates to show off the progress of Power BI. Rather than give Gates hypothetical uses, Phillips was able to demonstrate how he himself actually uses Power BI, and show the impact.
"He loves it," says Phillips. "He's a huge fan. "
'Not well understood'
By Phillips' reckoning, it's good to be able to tell that story.
Because while Power BI's technology appears solid — analyst firm Gartner ranks it favorably against competitors like Tableau, Oracle, and Salesforce, and praises Microsoft's "ability to execute" — Phillips fears that perhaps the service is "not well understood" by the larger market, as customers wonder if this is "just a small project for Microsoft."
Microsoft does not disclose Power BI customer numbers, noting only that customers have created 11.5 million data models, the official term for mashed-up data templates, with 30,000 more added daily.
Bill Gates (left) and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Microsoft
By Phillips' reckoning, Power BI plays a vital role in the modern business that will prove itself out. Services like Microsoft's own Office 365 productivity suite and the Dynamics customer relationship management (CRM) software result in a massive pile of data that's hard to make sense of. That's not to mention the data that connected devices like thermostats, cameras, and other sensors are starting to pour into business IT systems.
Power BI can suck all of that in, along with outside data from sources like Salesforce, Google Analytics, and Oracle databases, and make it legible to the average human. Phillips calls Power BI "the foundation beneath Office 365 and Dynamics."
"The pace of innovation at this company is breakneck," says Phillips.
Phillips says that the plan is to keep hammering away at the product, with the goal of making it clear that Power BI is, and will remain, a big focus for Microsoft going forward.