Image by: 4kodiak, ©2018 Getty Images

Microsoft is bringing all of its considerable artificial intelligence (AI) power to its self-service business intelligence and analytics offering Power BI, announcing four major AI features. These latest enhancements leverage the work pioneered in Azure by Microsoft and are aimed at helping businesses search through their data, automatically find patterns, provide insight into what that data means, and predict future outcomes to help drive business results.

These new AI features are currently available in a private preview for current users of Power BI, including:
  • Azure Cognitive Services for image recognition and text analytics to extract information from documents, images, and social media feeds
  • Creation of machine learning models using Azure Automated Machine Learning
  • Integration of Azure Machine Learning models built by data scientists or shared models by users
  • Analysis of key drivers to understand what influences critical business metrics/key performance indicators
Certainly, the keystone to this latest round of product updates is packaging easy-to-use AI tools using no-code development within the notoriously complex business intelligence realm for quick and efficient results. Complex tasks that typically required specific technical skills will now be possible with just a few clicks.

In a comment on last week's announcement, Microsoft's General Manager of Engineering said, "Power BI is building on years of work in Microsoft Research and Azure and bringing these capabilities to any business user, regardless of their coding skill."

Microsoft seems determined to place the power of AI in the hands of users, but that may be an uphill battle. While there is and continues to be a lot of excitement around AI, we're far from duplicating human thought and reasoning. Most of the work in AI is focused on machine learning models, and Microsoft is no exception. However, Azure Machine Learning does employ distributed deep learning, which uses massive clusters of graphical processing units (much like the human brain).

In September at their annual user conference, Microsoft seemed laser-focused on bringing AI to the masses, saying its automated machine learning capability offered as a preview feature in Azure Machine Learning service (as well as their recently announced software development kit for the Python programming language) will make "AI development available to a broader set of Microsoft’s customers."

Building machine learning models in Power BI. ©Microsoft

The latest integration of this specific feature in Power BI only seems to extend Microsoft's heavy investments in AI. This doesn't even account for their other AI-powered tools in Microsoft 365, including a unified search experience and embedding AI capabilities within PowerPoint, Excel, and Word.

Microsoft is continuing to display their affinity for taking on the challenges found in business operations. Users have been asking for the ability to automatically surface business insight using a no-code approach for the past few years. Not only does this hand more control and power to the user, it also frees up information technology (IT) personnel to focus on more strategic initiatives.

This announcement sends the message that Microsoft is serious about removing the complexities associated with business applications. Their competitors should take note.

Bob Larrivee is a recognized expert in the application of advanced technologies and process improvement to solve business problems and enhance business operations. He reports on the latest information management technologies for DOCUMENT Strategy. Follow him on Twitter @BobLarrivee or visit