Microsoft sharpens Office 365 tool to slice and dice data

Power BI for Office 365, still in preview mode, aims to give regular users the ability to do advanced data analysis

Microsoft has added features to Power BI for Office 365, a data analysis tool to complement Excel that the company hasn't yet released in final form.

The preview of Power BI for Office 365 now offers users the ability to mine data using natural language, question-and-answer-type queries.

This Q&A feature "interprets the question the user is asking and serves up the correct interactive chart or graph," Microsoft said on Wednesday. The company posted a short video demo about the feature on YouTube.

Microsoft also improved the Power Map functionality, which was formerly called GeoFlow. This Excel add-in lets users overlay geographic and temporal data on Bing Maps.

Enhancements include "immediate geo-coding of geospatial elements of data coupled with new region-based visualization that color-codes these geo-political areas: zip code, county, state, country/region," according to Microsoft.

"Users can also take the interactive tours designed in Power Map to create videos optimized for mobile, tablets/computer, and HD displays," the blog post reads.

Finally, the Power Query add-in's online search capabilities have been improved, and the number of available datasets increased.

Additionally, "Power Query now supports different merge options for more flexibility in building your queries," the post reads.

Microsoft announced Power BI for Office 365 in July, describing it as a set of cloud-hosted tools designed to let regular business users do "self-service" advanced data analysis on Excel without the need to involve BI (business intelligence) experts. The data to be analyzed can be stored locally on users' machines or in the cloud.

People interested in getting access to the preview version of Power BI for Office 365 can make a request on this page.

It's not clear when Microsoft plans to release Power BI for Office 365.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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