A Little History
Prior to the release of SQL Server 2016, Microsoft published its reporting roadmap. This outlined the future plans for reporting and BI on the Microsoft data platform, and provided assurance that SSRS really does have a long-term future. For all the clever, interactive graphics of Power BI, business still have a significant need for standardised, paginated reports. The trend towards ever greater mobility was, we must assume, a key driver behind Microsoft’s acquisition of Datazen. The Datazen mobile reports sit somewhere between Power BI and SSRS. It is neither a rigid, pixel-perfect reporting tool nor a truly interactive data exploration tool. It allows the flexibility to define different layouts on different devices and be sure of how those layouts will render.
At the time of publication of the roadmap, these channels were rather disparate. This created a problem that users had many different places to get their reporting and was in danger of creating a confusing situation. This is what the reporting roadmap was intended to address in its key points:
- Reporting Services was to become a one-stop shop for on premises BI
- Power BI reports can be published to SSRS
- Mobile experience will be delivered by a single app
- On-premises and cloud offerings will be harmonised
Where are we now?
The release of SQL 2016 made the first significant step towards a fully unified BI experience, introducing the Power BI Report Server:
This represents the first steps in bringing together “traditional” SSRS reporting with Power BI and Mobile reports. It also added a new KPI feature that seems to be a step towards making the reporting portal itself into a form a dashboard.
On the subject of dashboards, that’s a feature still missing from the on premises offering. As a result, whilst this is a huge step forward, there is still clearly a distance to travel.
The Data and BI Summit in Dublin in April was illuminating as to Microsoft’s direction in BI. It would be safe to say we can expect a greater harmonisation of features between the cloud and on-premises offerings. Whilst no specific release dates have been even hinted at, it would be reasonable to assume that a version of SSRS for Azure is being worked on, and that dashboards will be coming to the Power BI report server.
One thing that is already here is mixed reality. Now, if I’m entirely honest, I don’t see many business users walking around wearing HoloLens devices to view reports, but I do see an interesting use-case via the Power BI app. Imagine a production line with a machine streaming telemetry data to a Power BI report. If we open that report in Power BI online, we can generate a QR code for it:
If that QR code were placed on the machine, scanning it with the Power BI Mobile app would open the report. Unfortunately, the Power BI app is so efficient at scanning the QR code, I can’t actually get a screen shot of it in progress…
What about Excel?
Excel remains key to Microsoft’s BI strategy, and rightly so. Excel offers easy, ad-hoc analysis in a familiar environment. It is even possible to add Excel workbooks to the Power BI Report Server and connect Excel workbooks to Power BI models. Once again, some of the integration is still in its infancy, but I think we can expect a tighter integration to Office 365 in the near future.
This is just my personal opinion, but I think we can expect an ever more integrated future for Microsoft BI, especially with the forthcoming Common Data Service for Analytics.