Why Microsoft says one of its biggest bets is 'years ahead' of Salesforce and IBM

Microsoft CEO Satya NadellaMicrosoftMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella

Today, Microsoft announces that Power BI — its tool for helping businesses make sense of their huge-and-growing storehouses of data without the help of an IT pro or developer — will be generally available on July 24th (though it’s had plenty of customers using it in a paid preview for months now).

Power BI was the first product released by Microsoft after CEO Satya Nadella took the reins last year, and he’s repeatedly pointed to data management and analysis as a major focus area for the company. Since then, the company has promised that it was “tripling down” on the product.

The opportunity here, says Power BI product leader James Phillips, is to establish Microsoft as the leader in cloud-based business analytics, a market where there isn’t already a single runaway success story.

“We see it as an opportunity to grow the business analytics market by ten, a hundred, a thousand times,” Phillips says.

Salesforce came out of nowhere to dominate legacy players like Siebel with its browser-based customer relationship management (CRM) technology, and Workday may have disrupted PeopleSoft, but the same phenomenon just hasn’t happened with analytics, Phillips says. Microsoft stands poised to make that happen.

So while high-profile startups like Tidemark, Tableau, Good Data, and most recently Domo (recently valued at $US2 billion) all claim to make it super-easy to take huge stores of data and visualise them, none of them have Power BI’s ease of use, Phillips says.

Check it out:

A major point of pride at Microsoft is that you can get started and get productive within 5 minutes of creating your Power BI account, creating charts and “slicing and dicing” your business data in cool and interesting ways, like so:

“You can’t do that with Domo,” Phillips says. “You just can’t.”

Of course, larger companies have analytics products, too: Salesforce Wave and IBM Watson Analytics both do the same kind of thing. But once again, Phillips says that the ease-of-use is a major differentiator: Where those target the business analyst, Phillips says, Power BI is for the non-technical user anywhere in a company. That easy user interface is itself a big technological step forward, he says.

“It’s years ahead of IBM Watson and Salesforce Wave,” Phillips says.

The other thing Power BI does well, Phillips says, is take advantage of the fact that Microsoft technology is everywhere in most enterprises. While Power BI can connect with data from the likes of GitHub, Salesforce, and plenty of others, it can also load up the statistical models from older Microsoft products like Excel and work with that.

In other words, Power BI is forward-looking, with an eye towards supporting modern data types from mobile apps and wearable devices. But it takes into account that plenty of potential Power BI customers have data that’s been sitting around for a decade, Phillips says.

“If you’re smart — we’re not always smart, but we’re learning — you meet customers where they are,” Phillips says.

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