Microsoft hosted a “Data Insights Summit” event in Bellevue, Washington on March 22 and 23rd, 2016, and videos of the content (but not the PPT slides) are available on Microsoft’s Power BI YouTube Channel. Jessica Cook did a great job of summarizing both days here and here.

The YouTube Channel is nicely organized:

Keynotes – Microsoft Data Insights Summit

Workshops – Microsoft Data Insights Summit

Products – Microsoft Data Insights Summit

Developers – Microsoft Data Insights Summit

Big Ideas – Microsoft Data Insights Summit

During the kickoff keynote, Microsoft Technical Fellow Amir Netz previewed some much anticipated new (as of April, 2016) features, including:

  • Row level security with a new “Security” tab on PowerBI datasets controls. It looks like a conceptual port of the top level security in SQL Server Analysis Services Tabular, which makes sense. An administrator will create roles for a dataset, map users and groups to those roles by email address, then build a DAX expression to define horizontal filters that apply to that role.



  • New features in the admin center. Including Usage Metrics reports. These are key for governance in the I.T. curated, user empowered business analytics environment that enlightened businesses are striving for in 2016.

  • “Analyze in Excel” command to kick off an Excel spreadsheet connected to the PowerBI data model. “Excel sees PowerBI as one big Analysis Services… and it can work live against the data!” Very welcome news, and a little funny. PowerBI is a software as a service implementation of SQL Server Analysis tabular models, which is a server side implementation of PowerPivot for Excel, originally shipped as an Excel add-in in what, 2009?
  • Innovations in Excel 2016, by Olaf from the Excel team at 36:00 in the video. (By the way, if you ever wonder if Microsoft is going to abandon Excel, consider this quote: “… I’ve been at Microsoft for nineteen years [Amir and his brother Arial came in with the Panorama acquisition that led to Analysis Services 1.0]. My second week at Microsoft I already met with the group program manager for Excel and started this amazing partnership between the BI Group and Excel… and Excel still is, probably forever will be the core tool for every business analyst.“)
    • Tree map visualization (similar to that in PowerBI)
    • Waterfall chart (used within Microsoft for years, and always painful to create before now)
    • Azure Machine Learning Office Add-in for Excel. Text sentiment analysis right there in Excel. Mind blowing.
    • “One-click forecasting”. It looks like the old, rickety Data Mining Add-ins from SQL Server 2008 have been freshened up and built in, both in the menu structure and in the formula library! Very welcome news.
    • Pin Excel 2016 visualizations to PowerBI dashboards.
    • Excel online natively as a “first level report” in PowerBI.
  • Significantly expanded Q&A capabilities, with a revamped, easier to use UI.
    • Richer auto-complete, with easy disambiguation.
    • Auto-suggest by term, rather than for the whole question
    • Integration with existing reports, filtered appropriate to the question being asked. Example: A “trip summary” report will come up when someone asks a question about “trip summary” in Q&A.
    • Support for Q&A against on premise tabular models through the enterprise gateway.
    • Windows 10 Cortana integration.
  • A “focus mode” added to the quick insights capability. (Demo fail!)
  • An Apple watch app (available as soon as Apple sees fit).
  • Augmented reality with reports prompted by QR scan. Questionable value, but very cool.
  • PowerBI Desktop (demo by Nico at 56:00).
    • Rudimentary trend lines
    • Drill-through(!!)
    • Table design improvements, including conditional formatting, gridline control, background colors, etc…
  • Custom visuals. Fifty to date! The Sand Dance custom visual from Steven Drupal of Microsoft Research was demonstrated at 1:02 in the demo. Absolutely amazing. Available now in the PowerBI visuals gallery.


    Here’s a Sand Dance visual of the City of Austin Employees average salary vs ethnicity and age:

Amir used the first five minutes of his demo to show a nice, simple introduction to PowerBI, highlighting the existing Enterprise Gateway for connecting to on premise data.

Overall a great keynote. I’ll post more summaries as I consume the rest of the event.