Now ​Microsoft puts Cortana to work on key Power BI data

Power BI users can now switch on Cortana to help quiz business datasets accessible through its analytics platform.

Power BI users can now turn to Microsoft's Cortana digital personal assistant for questions about key business data. Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has released the public preview of its Power BI integration with Cortana, which promises to help users quiz their business data using natural language.

Power BI users keen to experiment with the Cortana integration can now give Microsoft's digital personal assistant a whirl to ask questions and extract answers from key business data.

Cortana's role in the integration with Power BI is as an intelligent question-and-answer interface for Power BI data, which allows users to ask questions by voice or keyboard and will provide considered answers in the form of reports, maps or charts.

Cortana's features in this context are based on different capabilities in Power BI. For example, Power BI's natural language feature, dubbed Q&A, is helping Cortana "intelligently reason" over Power BI data to provide "data-driven answers" to questions about business information.

The idea is that businesses will use Cortana in conjunction with the Cortana Analytics Suite to solve big business problems, though Cortana can be used independently of the suite.

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Microsoft in July announced Cortana Analytics Suite, which included Power BI and several Azure services, including machine learning, and speech and text analytics.

Cortana can also lean on Power BI's data-visualisation features to present answers ranging from simple numerical values, such as "revenue for the last quarter", to full reports, charts or maps, such as average customer spending in California by city.

The new integration is available to Windows 10 users with the November update, version 1511. Users can activate Cortana for Power BI by selecting a data source in Power BI and checking 'Enable Cortana to access this dataset'.

"After that any user who has access to the dataset in Power BI, via regular Power BI sharing, groups and content pack features will be able to get answers from the dataset in Cortana in Windows 10," explained Patrick Baumgartner, principal program manager for Microsoft Power BI

Users will also be able to create custom Cortana answers on Power BI for the desktop.

In addition, Microsoft announced a new Quick Insights feature, which allows users to run a variety of analytical algorithms to scan data quickly and spot subtle trends that the user might not have thought to look for.

"Through a partnership with Microsoft Research, we're honing a growing list of algorithms to discover and visualize correlations, outliers, trends, seasonality, change points in trends, and major factors within your data, automatically, within seconds," Baumgartner said.

Users can test Quick Insights by selecting the feature for datasets that have been uploaded to Power BI.

"For 10 to 12 seconds Power BI will iterate across your data searching for subsets of data you may find interesting. If we find something that meets the criteria of one of our insight categories we visualize it, along with any other insights we've found, for you to browse," Baumgartner said.

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