Herzliya-style vision helps power Microsoft's Power BI for Office 365

Microsoft's Israeli R&D team has been doing a lot of work on business intelligence, some of which has been rolled into Microsoft's latest cloud offering.

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Microsoft's Think Next event in Tel Aviv. Image: Microsoft

Before Steve Ballmer ceded his CEO seat at Microsoft to Satya Nadella , he set out a fresh direction for the company  — one that would see it put hardware and online services at the forefront of its thinking.

Israel has been figuring strongly in Microsoft's repositioning of the company based on the "new vision built around devices and services ," according to Yoram Yaakovi, head of Microsoft Israel's research and development lab. Among the areas that Israel has been helping to lead that "new vision" is the development of business intelligence products, including Microsoft's new Power BI for Office 365.

Yaakovi was speaking at last week's Microsoft ThinkNext event in Tel Aviv, the sixth time the event showcasing new technologies both from Israel and abroad has been held. 

"In the past year, Microsoft has changed more than in any single year," Yaakovi said at the event. "We have developed a new vision around devices and service, with hardware and software development. We are changing ourselves from an incumbent to a challenger."

A chief element of that vision was the growth of big data analysis systems that are being developed at Microsoft's R&D labs in Israel, said Yaakovi. "The Israel R&D center grew 25 percent over the last year, and much of our growth is due to the work being done on big data analysis systems and technologies."

Big data is a big element in Power BI, a new cloud-based product for Office 365. Power BI is "a Microsoft tool that lets people whio do not understand business intelligence make graphs and charts from data," said Yaakovi. "It's a modernization of business intelligence that lets anybody manipulate data and use it productively."

Power BI is a menu-driven self-service business intelligence product that has natural language capability , allowing users to use simple phrases to manipulate data from Excel spreadsheets and other sources to build presentations.

Using high-level verbal phrases, users can access information from databases (both local and public) that IT departments put at their disposal, or from publicly available data available from Microsoft's Azure Marketplace, or any Odata source.

With the phrases, users can request information from the databases, insert them into Excel spreadsheets, and use Power BI tools for Power View and Power Map to build professional-looking presentations.

A team at the Herzliya R&D center has been toiling away to help develop these capabilities for Power BI, Microsoft said. 

Power BI is emblematic of the new Microsoft, said Yaakovi — cloud-centric and innovative, giving users new ways to interact with computers. "Human interaction will change the way we work with computers. We expect computers to undersrand us more. and to do more, and we in Israel doing our share to achieve this".

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