Raw Data By P3 Adaptive
Corporate Vice President of the Business Intelligence Platform at MicrosoftListen Now:
Who better to talk about the past, present, and future of BI than Microsoft Corporate Vice President of the Business Intelligence Platform Arun Ulag. We’re all excited for the upcoming Microsoft Business Applications Launch Event on April 6th!
References in this Episode:
Monty Python Camelot Scene
- 1:20 – Arun’s data journey, and the death of Power BI V1
- 17:20 – The story behind the new Power BI icon, why Gartner’s magic quadrant favors Power BI
- 35:20 – Arun’s shares what keeps him up at night, the future of Power BI, and PBI Adoption
- 52:30 – Power BI improves lives, especially Excel and V-Lookup people’s lives and the evolution of P3 Adaptive
- 1:07:20 – Wolfram Data Types, the Azure Data Market, and some cool futuristic Power BI features announced at the Power BI Business Applications Summit
Rob Collie (00:00:00): Welcome, friends. Today's guest is Arun Ulag, and if you don't know, his role at Microsoft is, he runs this thing called the Intelligence Platform, comprising, oh, I don't know, some things you might have heard of like Power BI, analysis services, reporting services, the Power Platform, so if you're in the data and Power BI and Power Platform podcasting industry, he's what is called a good get. Like always, in this industry, we talk a lot about the personal things, like his personal history and his career arc, but given his position, it's totally natural that we spent a lot of time talking about the product, talking about the Microsoft data platform, where it's headed, where it's coming from, the challenge, the excitement, the background evolution of Microsoft. Through it all, I think you'll see that Microsoft definitely has the right person in this role.
Rob Collie (00:00:50): We really appreciate him doing this. We had a lot of fun, so let's get into it.
Speaker 2 (00:00:53): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?
Speaker 3 (00:01:00): This is the Raw Data, by P3 Adaptive Podcast with your host Rob Collie, and your cohost Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Raw Data by P3 Adaptive is data with the human element.
Rob Collie (00:01:23): Welcome to the show. Arun Ulag, how are you today?
Arun Ulag (00:01:26): Excellent, excellent. Thanks for having me, Rob. So excited to be here.
Rob Collie (00:01:29): Oh my goodness. The pleasure is definitely ours. What's your current job title? What do you do at Microsoft?
Arun Ulag (00:01:36): Sure. My official job title is corporate vice president, Intelligence Platform. What I do is I run all the business intelligence products for Microsoft, so Power BI is where I spend most of my time, but we also run a lot of our pro dev BI products, so Azure analysis services, SQL Server analysis services, SQL Server reporting services, so all the BI products here at Microsoft, basically. I run both engineering and product management.
Rob Collie (00:01:59): I love that name, the Intelligence Platform.
Arun Ulag (00:02:03): It makes us sound smart.
Rob Collie (00:02:04): It's like, at any meeting you're just sitting there with this sign in front of you that says, "The Intelligence Platform," and everyone else is sitting feeling not as smart by comparison.
Arun Ulag (00:02:15): I should try that some time. It sounds like a good idea.
Rob Collie (00:02:18): It's like those things where, like, one person at the negotiating table gets a chair that's eight inches taller than everybody else.
Tom Larock (00:02:27): Nice.
Rob Collie (00:02:27): That's awesome. What's your path to getting there? Were you and I both at Microsoft? Did we overlap? I think we did, but we just didn't know each other.
Arun Ulag (00:02:35): Yeah, we absolutely did. Like many of us, I started out as a programmer, but the thing I really wanted to do was go start my own company, so I was foolish enough to do that at 22, and I got lucky. I was in the Silicon Valley, started a telecom network management software company, found a customer, believe it or not, in the first couple of weeks, so that really helped us grow. We grew quickly. It was profitable for six years, grew to 50, 60 people. I was an engineer selling to engineers. That's the kind of company I built, and then I got stuck. I kind of found that I couldn't grow it anymore, because I didn't know how to build a whole company, so I said, "All right. Let's take a reset," so I sold the company. I went to business school, got my MBA, and then I came to Microsoft, mostly because I wanted to practice sales and marketing, see how it's done, and then relax for a couple of years at a big company and then go back to the Valley and do another startup.
Arun Ulag (00:03:22): That was my big idea, so I joined Microsoft in 2003 and then, lo and behold, 17 years later I'm still here, so I've done marketing, I've done sales, and now I run product.
Rob Collie (00:03:32): That story, like, I founded a company by engineers, for engineers, and then realized that business was a little bit more challenging than just that. That doesn't sound familiar to me at all.
Arun Ulag (00:03:42): You know a thing or two about that, Rob, so you and I share that.
Rob Collie (00:03:46): Yeah. Our business really took off, not coincidentally, when I realized that I was at the limits of my powers, and I was overdue. I realize that. I didn't take that lesson terribly gracefully, and I can look back on it now and go, "Okay, you know," but when I finally relinquished unanimous grip on the steering wheel, that's when we really hit our inflection point. Obviously, it's not addition by subtraction. It's the fact that that gave room for Kellan to do his thing. He is really good at these other things, so that resonated with me.
Rob Collie (00:04:23): Okay, got your MBA, which is a pretty tried and true career re-vectoring move, and when you landed at Microsoft newly minted as an MBA, what did you do when you first landed there?
Arun Ulag (00:04:37): We didn't have a lot of choice. As a fresh MBA, they kind of said, "Do you want to work in enterprise software or consumer software?" I said, "Enterprise software," and that's all I got to say. I started out in the security business. I did that for a couple years, and those were the really, really dark years for Microsoft and security, 2003. We were trying to figure out how we build a security product portfolio, so that was my first job. I was the antivirus product manager, trying to figure out what to do about antivirus software.
Rob Collie (00:05:03): Oh, wow.
Arun Ulag (00:05:05): That's kind of how I started. I spent a couple years in security, so we did a few acquisitions, started to build out a security portfolio. That was my first job.
Rob Collie (00:05:12): Like, the Windows malware removal stuff? Was that something that you had something to do with?
Arun Ulag (00:05:17): No, that was a different team but we led the antivirus software acquisition. We led an antimalware software acquisition, and [inaudible 00:05:25] called a giant software company, and it was all two people in New York. It sounded really big, and then I led the acquisition of a company called Whales Communications. They built SSL VPN devices, so we built a security portfolio one piece at a time, so I did that for a couple years.
Rob Collie (00:05:43): Through friends of friends, I know some of the people who started CrowdStrike who had originally been Microsofties. I was just wondering if you had crossed paths with any of them.
Arun Ulag (00:05:53): That doesn't sound familiar.
Rob Collie (00:05:54): Yeah. We're not here to talk about antivirus, though. Let's not pretend. So, security for a little while. How'd you start crossing over into the Intelligence Platform?
Arun Ulag (00:06:07): It was accidental. The guy who ran security, Ted Kummert, I had a ton of respect for him. He moved over to run SQL server on the engineering side, and I had a ton of respect for Ted so I decided to move to SQL, as well. That was my step in to data for Microsoft, so I ran SQL Server enterprise marketing for a few years, got to know the whole SQL Server community, the field, the salespeople, the partners, and that was awesome. SQL was on fire, was growing like crazy. We were taking a ton of share. It was an exciting time to be in SQL Server, so I did that for a few years, and then there was an opportunity to move to sales, and I really did want to think about, what does it take to land gravity, like, carry a quarter, and also experience a different part of the world.
Arun Ulag (00:06:47): There was an opportunity to run the cloud and AI business for the Asia-Pacific region, so I moved to Singapore with my family and it was a really, really fun and exciting move, so I was based out of Singapore for about four years. I ran the APAC cloud and AI business for Microsoft and the field organization. Ton of fun, so many good friends over there. Such an interesting part of the world. Spent a bunch of time in Australia and Korea and Singapore, in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, so India wasn't part of Asia-Pac for us. China wasn't part of Asia-Pac. Japan wasn't part of Asia-Pac, but outside of these three big markets, the rest of Southeast Asia was part of my territory.
Arun Ulag (00:07:26): It was a lot of fun, just absolutely loved it, and it was the days when Kevin Turner ran the field organization. I would describe that as a schooling. For those that know Kevin, he's a pretty tough operator, and I learned how to do more with less. I learned what being held accountable meant, and it was awesome. I loved it. It was an incredible set of career experiences.
Rob Collie (00:07:48): You got to love those formative experiences. They might not be necessarily a ton of fun while they're happening, but they're things that you look back on later and go, "Wow, I really value that."
Arun Ulag (00:08:01): Absolutely. Absolutely. Kevin was pretty phenomenal. He was tough, but he was fair and I learned a lot from him.
Rob Collie (00:08:08): Sounds like the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. "I am hard but I am fair."
Arun Ulag (00:08:16): Yes. It sounds very familiar.
Rob Collie (00:08:18): Oh, yeah. We could explore that metaphor for a long time, but we won't. Did you cross paths with Tom when you were in that SQL era? Do you know SQL Rock Star?
Arun Ulag (00:08:32): It sounds familiar. I don't know if we actually crossed paths, Tom.
Tom Larock (00:08:36): I don't think so. It's okay.
Rob Collie (00:08:37): I mean, come on. He was president of PASS.
Arun Ulag (00:08:41): We did have a lot of interactions with PASS, and Tom, we probably bumped into each other, because there's a lady on my team who is representing SQL in the PASS community, I think, for [inaudible 00:08:51], so, yeah, we probably crossed paths in some way but I don't know if I made any big impression on you so you don't remember.
Tom Larock (00:09:00): I remember Ted, and I interacted with Ted, I want to say, for a couple of years right before he retired. I remember Ted retiring. I think I was there his last day. I happened to be on campus or something. I haven't heard Ted's name in years, so when you said Ted, I'm like, "Oh, I remember Ted," but I'm not sure you and I, because when I looked at your LinkedIn I saw the years that you were doing certain things. I was really just coming on the board executive and interfacing with the Microsoft execs, so I think as I was getting there, you were heading to Singapore.
Arun Ulag (00:09:34): That's probably right.
Rob Collie (00:09:35): Because, otherwise, you clearly would know each other.
Tom Larock (00:09:37): Yeah, we would have interacted more than once, I think, I'm hoping in a positive way, but who knows.
Arun Ulag (00:09:44): I'm sure. I'm absolutely sure.
Rob Collie (00:09:46): Ted was in charge of that division when I was there working on Power [inaudible 00:09:50].
Arun Ulag (00:09:50): Oh, is that right?
Rob Collie (00:09:51): Yeah, so this is also a name well known to me in addition. All right, so, let's turn the corner. You come home from Singapore. Is that when the Power BI leg of your journey begins?
Arun Ulag (00:10:04): Yeah. It's a funny story because I was super excited about Power BI version one when it was being demoed and when it launched. You guys all know Amir Netz. He's a phenomenal storyteller, phenomenal demoer, so he demoed Power BI version one at our sales summit. It was called MGX, and he got a standing ovation from, like, 15,000 salespeople. He riled the whole crowd up. People were on their feet cheering, like, you wouldn't believe this was a BI demo. It was like a rock star event, and I was so excited. I was like, "Man, this thing's going to take the world on fire. I'm going to sell a bunch of this stuff. It's a tiny part of my portfolio but it's going to be so impactful. It's going to be huge," and then Power BI version 1.0 was really hard to sell.
Arun Ulag (00:10:48): It had so many dependencies. You needed SharePoint. It was priced very high. You needed Excel as the authoring tool, so it was very complicated to set up. It was hard for customers to adopt, and so when we tried to go big with it, I found that I really couldn't. It was a much smaller business than we expected, and I got really frustrated. At that point, James Phillips had just taken over the Power BI team. It was five, six years ago, and I was introduced to him by a mutual friend, Mark Souza, who now leads the Customer Success organization for Microsoft, awesome guy. He and I go back to our SQL days together, and Mark said, "Hey, you guys should just meet. Use this as a power pivot and Excel to run the APAC CNAI business. You've taken over Power BI. Maybe you guys should chat," so I wrote to James, saying, "Hey, James. I have some feedback for you. I've tried to sell this thing that you've taken over and I'm not having a lot of success. Do you want to chat with me?"
Arun Ulag (00:11:39): The thing about James is he's incredibly focused on, externally, customers, partners, field. I was shocked because I got a response back in, like, two minutes, literally. I'm not kidding. Two minutes, I got an email back with, "Hey, Arun. Would love to meet. Let's set up some time together." I was like, "Wow, this guy's incredibly responsive." From my perspective, I was just giving him field feedback, so I said, I was going to be in Redmond for some reason or the other. I spoke to a bunch of my salespeople, I spoke to a bunch of our partners, and then I wrote a paper. I said, "Hey, James, these are the issues I see. Here's what we're getting wrong. Here's what I see going on in the market, and here's what I would do if I were you."
Arun Ulag (00:12:15): I sent him this paper a couple of days before we meet up. I think he had just been promoted a CVP at that point. I was like, "How many CVPs read a 12 page paper from a field guy who's not part of the organization who has some ideas?" He had read the whole paper, he had mocked it up with comments, and I meet with him, we have this incredible hour where we just brainstorming ideas, we're riffing off each other on a whiteboard, and I was incredibly impressed. The fact that he took the time, he cared deeply, he was so passionate. This was a new Microsoft. I was really blown away, and at the end of the meeting, he was like, "Arun, I like some of your ideas. Why don't you come work for me? We'll figure something out."
Arun Ulag (00:12:53): He didn't have a job open. I had just persuaded my wife, like four years ago, to move to Singapore. She works for Microsoft, too, so she had taken a new position, like, a year ago in the APAC region, and here was James saying, "Well, come work for me." He didn't have a job open, I wasn't looking to come back, I was just going to take next big job in APAC, and here was this guy saying come work for him. I was like, "Man ..." I was incredibly energized, and I had not worked in product for, like, 12 years, so it was a pretty risky thing to do, go from marketing to field and then go into product with a guy who was not really well known, with a product that wasn't really killing it, with a job that was completely undefined and I had to bring my whole family back, but I decided to go for it.
Arun Ulag (00:13:31): I talked to my wife. She was like, "Well, if you're so passionate about this and you love data and you love Power BI and you have some ideas and you think this guy has some great ideas, too, then let's give it a shot," so that's what I did. That's kind of what brought me to Power BI. I literally started in the Power BI team a few weeks before Power BI became generally available in 2015.
Rob Collie (00:13:49): Awesome. We've yet to have anyone on the show whose path was direct, you know?
Arun Ulag (00:13:56): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:13:56): The circuitous route, all the little bounces and little left or right decisions, like Bugs Bunny at Albuquerque. Like, where do you turn? It's amazing where that zig zaggy path can take us. I think it's safe to say that that risky move, stepping off the plank into the abyss, that's worked out well.
Arun Ulag (00:14:20): It's worked out all right.
Rob Collie (00:14:20): You can probably call it a success move.
Arun Ulag (00:14:24): I love it. I can't complain. I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to come to Power BI. It's awesome. I love it.
Tom Larock (00:14:30): Rob, that's now the second time we've had James Phillips mentioned. At this point, he's got to come on the show.
Rob Collie (00:14:39): He comes up a lot.
Tom Larock (00:14:41): Yeah, he does. He comes up a lot.
Rob Collie (00:14:41): You know who else comes up, is Amir.
Tom Larock (00:14:43): It's the first time we've heard Souza's name, surprisingly. I'm actually surprised we haven't heard that name before, and I've known Mark through PASS for a long time.
Rob Collie (00:14:52): Obi-Wan Souza, now there's a name [crosstalk 00:14:55].
Tom Larock (00:14:55): The godfather. We call him the godfather.
Arun Ulag (00:14:57): He's a really cool guy.
Tom Larock (00:14:59): The stories I have ... Anyway, here's the thing. Amir gets in front of 15,000 salespeople and he does a demo and everybody loves it. Now, Rob, might I remind you, I believe it was you who told me, "Anything you see Amir demo won't be available for at least 18 months."
Rob Collie (00:15:20): That's the old Amir. The new Amir has been properly shackled.
Tom Larock (00:15:28): When Arun says, "I couldn't sell it," I'm like, "Of course you couldn't sell it. Didn't you know? If it's going to be 18 months before [crosstalk 00:15:34] be available."
Rob Collie (00:15:35): It's even now part of Amir's mantra onstage, like, "I am not allowed to show you anything that isn't going to be in the product in the next three months," or something like that.
Tom Larock (00:15:44): He would do these demos at PASS Summit that would just be phenomenal, and then Rob would be like, "Take it easy. Calm down, Tom. Everything you just saw, he won't get for a while. It'll come eventually."
Rob Collie (00:15:56): He's a really funny guy. You know the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "Camelot. Camelot," and then they go, "It's only a model."
Arun Ulag (00:16:12): All I can say that, hey, Amir, these days, what he does demo, we do ship.
Rob Collie (00:16:18): That's right. That's right.
Arun Ulag (00:16:21): One of the things we're careful about is we don't demo stuff that's too far out, and if we do we call it out. "It's too far out. Beware. This is just early, early previews," but, no, we are very, very disciplined these days about being thoughtful about what we show and make sure we ship it.
Rob Collie (00:16:37): Yeah, I agree.
Arun Ulag (00:16:39): I wouldn't use the word shackle. Shackle is the wrong word. I would say he's empowered, because, look, it's great to dream up ideas. He's even more excited when we ship it, and even more excited when customers use it.
Rob Collie (00:16:51): Yeah, so, what you're really saying is that you can't shackle him. There is no chain strong enough.
Arun Ulag (00:16:56): You don't want to shackle Amir. You want to unleash Amir. He's such a asset for the Power BI team. He's such a force of nature. I'm so glad he's on our side. I'm so glad he's thinking about making Power BI take over the world as opposed to somebody else take over the world.
Rob Collie (00:17:14): That's right. That's right. We've been joking on Twitter about dirty DAXing lately. Nobody puts Amir in the corner.
Arun Ulag (00:17:20): That's so funny.
Rob Collie (00:17:21): Let's talk about Power BI, and I thought that one of the funniest places we could start is, let's talk about this new Power BI icon, shall we?
Arun Ulag (00:17:29): Really? That's where you want to start, Rob?
Rob Collie (00:17:33): I just feel like it's a nice, light, fluffy, but also still kind of interesting, isn't it? Yeah, have you seen this, Tom? The first time I got a glimpse of this under super secret double handshake NDA threat of death, for a moment I thought, "Oh my gosh, I am being trolled. They're testing many. They're giving me a fake icon to see if I'll leak it, and if I leak it they'll know who did." I'm like, "I'm not falling for that." It's just a three bar column chart. That's all it is, and it's not even really something that you can render without gradient. It seems to break many, many rules of icon and logo design, and I know that there are some people in the community, some relatively prominent voices that are incredibly dismissive of it.
Rob Collie (00:18:26): They're like, "Oh, you mean that logo that's not a logo?" But the more I thought about it, I thought, "This might be the biggest flex ever, this icon." It's like, "We're going to take something that's so iconic about data, just a column chart, and say, "Yeah, that's us." It's a very, very, very, kind of aggressive move. Now, as a thought experiment for you, Arun, this is what I want to ask you. Let's say someone had a really bad day. They ate some bad food or something and in a delirium they, instead of hiring whoever they did branding-wise for this icon, you just accidentally hired me instead.
Arun Ulag (00:19:09): Oh, God.
Rob Collie (00:19:10): I came to you after deliberation and whatever large sum you were paying, and I brought you that icon, that logo, and said, "Let's do this," you would have kicked me out of the room, right?
Arun Ulag (00:19:25): For all that money, you come up with a bar chart.
Rob Collie (00:19:29): That's right. That's right. It's only when it comes from an incredibly reputable place, that you can trust something so bold. If I'd come in with it, you'd been like, "Okay. You did five minutes of work and you didn't do anything."
Tom Larock (00:19:43): Is it the four bar one or the three bar?
Rob Collie (00:19:49): It's three.
Tom Larock (00:19:50): The four bar, which kind of looks like the old All Valley Tournament fist, right? It's just this three one, I see, just this little stacked bar chart, that's the new icon?
Arun Ulag (00:20:01): Yeah, that's the new icon.
Tom Larock (00:20:05): Okay.
Rob Collie (00:20:06): Tom, you're actually pointing out something interesting which is that, by choosing this, Microsoft has left themselves open on the flank. I'm going to come out with a product that's got the four bars.
Arun Ulag (00:20:17): Oh, God. We never thought of that one.
Rob Collie (00:20:20): It's like the seven minute abs in There's Something About Mary.
Tom Larock (00:20:26): This version of Power BI is 25% less than what we had before?
Rob Collie (00:20:33): Oh, come on. The bars are fatter, man.
Tom Larock (00:20:40): Yes, that's true.
Arun Ulag (00:20:40): You get more for less.
Rob Collie (00:20:41): Is there anything at all you can tell us about that process?
Arun Ulag (00:20:43): I would say, I love it. I had nothing to do with it. We have a phenomenal design team. It's led by a gentleman called Jonah Sterling. He's awesome, and Jonah's team drew up the whole process. How they do their magic, it's up to them, but I really do like it because Power BI is really about getting BI in the hands of everyone, I mean, everyone with data, and the idea that it's a bar chart is really simple. People get bar charts. They've seen them everywhere, so I love it. It's easy. It's simple. It appeals to everyone. We really want anybody thinking about data, anybody thinking about analytics to think about Power BI, and I think it accomplishes that goal.
Rob Collie (00:21:19): That's the flex part of it. I like it.
Tom Larock (00:21:20): The one thing I used to tell people about bar charts, because the product that I was working, that's what we had. Basically, our interface and dashboards were bar charts to show SQL server wait time, and you drill through from there, and I'd be in front of customers all the time, and I'd always say, "Yeah, it's a bar chart, because even the manager can understand the bar chart," and then the room would go silent, and they'd stop, and I'd be like, "Hey, Steve, you understand what the bar chart says," and he'd be like, "Yes, I do." I go, "See? Even the manager can understand what the bar chart is conveying. It's the simplest way to display information to that end user."
Rob Collie (00:21:58): This is an expert from Tom LaRock's book, How to Get Promoted.
Tom Larock (00:22:05): You got to speak the truth.
Arun Ulag (00:22:06): A must read.
Rob Collie (00:22:08): Yep. Speaking the truth always gets you ahead.
Tom Larock (00:22:09): I never once had a manager say, "No, I don't understand what this is communicating to me."
Rob Collie (00:22:16): Then, they make a note, like, never promote this guy.
Arun Ulag (00:22:20): Don't invite him to meetings for god sakes.
Tom Larock (00:22:24): Both of those things seem to be my ... Yeah, that's exactly how I live. I'm not in any meetings and I'm not promoted. Yeah, all right.
Rob Collie (00:22:35): When you've reached the point where you've got so much air, so much white space between your dot and the other dots in the revered Gartner Magic Quadrant, you kind of earn a little bit of a right. It gives you a little bit Of air cover for such a bold icon choice as the bar chart, so, heady days, right? I don't remember there ever being someone with this big of a linear inches lead.
Arun Ulag (00:23:00): It's awesome, and I think when it came out, one of the things that really made me laugh was a tweet by one of our community members that said, "Power BI's the only one following social distancing."
Rob Collie (00:23:13): Oh, wow.
Arun Ulag (00:23:15): I was like, "Wow." That really made me laugh.
Rob Collie (00:23:20): I got to go find that tweet. That's great. Yeah, definitely got to track that down. I do, like probably 99% of the world, I just glance at the Quadrant. It's like a scoreboard, and then I move on. I never bother to read the report that goes with it or anything like that. I'm a soundbite consumer when it comes to this sort of stuff, but you, of course, talk to Gartner. You also probably read their report. Why such a lead? What do you attribute it to?
Arun Ulag (00:23:47): I'd say a couple of things. First of all, I would say Gartner does have an incredibly rigorous methodology. Having been through this process a few times, they do ask us a lot of detailed questions and you can't just answer it. You have to show them demos. You have to submit them. You have to point to public documentation so they can verify it. You need to submit customer reference, but then there's a whole bunch of signal that they get directly from customers. They talk to thousands of customers a year who come to them for inquiry, so they hear directly from customers what they're interested in, what their questions are, and where they decide to go.
Arun Ulag (00:24:16): Gartner introduced something called peer insights which is a public forum. Anybody can go in and submit reviews and talk about products, and so they get that signal directly, and then we get, literally, 45 minutes to tell our story. That's what we get, and we use every last second of it, believe it or not. That's the methodology, and if you look at what I would attribute our position to, I would say it's about two things. They look at the ability to execute which is one axis, and there, literally, the world is moving to Power BI. Every day I hear of customers standardizing on Power BI, rolling it to everyone, expanding access to people who never had access to a BI platform before, because it wasn't easy or it wasn't economically feasible to go give BI to everybody, and in the process, migrating from legacy and expensive BI platforms like [inaudible 00:25:05] and BusinessObjects, MicroStrategy, Tableau, Qlik.
Arun Ulag (00:25:08): Every day I hear of customers migrating it, and guess what [inaudible 00:25:12], so the ability to execute, I think, is just obvious in terms of just the momentum, and you guys know it. You're in the space. You talk to customers every day. The second aspect of it is completeness of vision. When we started out six years ago, we started talking about how do we help our customers drive a data culture, and we were the only ones using those words at that point, and if you go back six years, not many folks were talking about a data culture. BI was still more of an elite thing that wasn't for everybody, and now a lot of the other vendors have started adopting our language.
Arun Ulag (00:25:42): Everybody's talking about driving a data culture these days, and that's interesting and that's exciting because I think the industry has shifted its perspective. The thing I think that differentiates Power BI in terms of its completeness of vision is that we translate that into clear things that our customers can identify with, and it's really about three things, Rob, and you've heard this before from me. It's about how we empower every individual, and that's office-like experiences that are instantly familiar, infused with a ton of AI capabilities that automatically find patterns in your data.
Arun Ulag (00:26:13): On the AI front, we can build on a lot of the capabilities that Microsoft has in the Azure AI team or MRS, so it isn't really a fair fight. We get to steal IP and then create business outcome focused experiences, and we are seeing massive success there. We have over 80,000 customers using the AI capabilities in Power BI, by far, I would say, the largest footprint in the industry. The second one is really about empowering every team, and BI's all about teamwork. It is a team sport. The insights that we share are much more valuable than the insights we keep for ourselves, obviously, but that's where Power BI has really done a really good job working with our colleagues in Microsoft Teams, in Excel, which is the world's most popular tool for working with data, by far, by far, and then the rest of the Power Platform, so you can take your insights and translate them into action with Power Apps or into automated business processes with Power Automate.
Arun Ulag (00:27:05): Our vision around empowering every team is really, really exciting, and there's a brand new capability that's coming out. It's going to be demoed for the first time at the Business Applications Summit. I could tell you about it but then I'll have to ...
Rob Collie (00:27:17): We'd have to edit it out.
Arun Ulag (00:27:19): We'd have toe dit it out, but watch out for MBAS. It's going to be awesome. There's a brand new [inaudible 00:27:25] empowering every team, and then, when you think about empowering every organization which is our third pillar, I would say two things. Security is massive for us, and we've made a whole bunch of investments there and it's so far ahead of what's there in the industry, so customers really trust Microsoft and Power BI to get it right, and the second aspect of it, Rob, this is one that I think is going to be massively important. It's already very, very important for us today, it's about empowering the business analysts, the tens of millions of Excel developers who are advanced Excel users, but to help them build entire data solutions. Bring data in at scale, do sophisticated data preparation directly on Azure Data Link to be able to use cognitive services, use automated machine learning, build massive OLAP models, build pixel perfect [inaudible 00:28:10] reports, create Power BI reports, put them together in applications.
Arun Ulag (00:28:14): All of these capabilities were always in the hands of the professionals. Now you can build a full stack BI solution without writing any code or using Excel-like formulae. That has never before been possible, and now with premium per user coming out, it's going to be available for purchase literally next week. It's all available at 20 bucks per user, so that's a crazy price point. I think this vision of really being able to empower every individual, every time and every organization and put all of this power in the hands of the business analyst is really exciting. It's exciting for us, it's exciting for our customers and it's exciting for partners, so, long answer, but that's why I think we have so much momentum.
Rob Collie (00:28:53): Microsoft, as an end to end enterprise provider is a very, very difficult competitor for anyone else to match up against. It's funny, some of the same things from yesteryear, they were well-intentioned but they didn't work out right. They're still being used but now they're working much better, so the integration with SharePoint in those early versions was exactly the right spiritual thing. There were some really important details in that story that didn't go so well, but fast forward to today, Power BI runs, from an administration standpoint, in an office.com tenant. Okay. That's amazing. That is a really, really big deal. You're not adopting some separate administration framework.
Rob Collie (00:29:42): You're not doing something different with your Active Directory, it's just right there in the foundation, in the skeleton of your company already. You mentioned security. Of course that ties in with all of that even within the Power Platform itself, like you hinted at. I was talking before we recorded about just jaw dropping success that we've had just this week with getting a Power BI model going to track our podcast stats. It is a very, very, very unfriendly non-Microsoft service that's ultimately the place where all of our stats are tracked, the Federation system, the syndicator, they offer, like everybody else, export to Excel, and is there one big button you can press to export all of your stuff to CSV? No. There are many, many, many buttons.
Rob Collie (00:30:31): In fact, there's one more button every week because we add another episode, and the fact that we have now written an automation script that goes once a night, identifies how many episodes there are to download, first of all, as a variable, and drives basically mouse and keyboard automation to drive CSV download from a system that has no API, puts that, guess where, into a SharePoint document library where Power BI can pick it up on a scheduled refresh a couple hours later. Like, unbelievable.
Arun Ulag (00:31:06): It's crazy. It's crazy. If I may ask, how long did it take you to do this?
Rob Collie (00:31:11): Okay, I didn't do it. Kellan did it.
Arun Ulag (00:31:12): How long did it take Kellan to do it?
Rob Collie (00:31:14): Not very long. I think it took him just a couple of hours. The only thing that took him a little while was figuring out how to get it to run unattended. I don't know what the breakthrough there was but he had that breakthrough. That's just the other day, but, really, think about it, maybe like, I don't know, four hours total, and most of that time would not be repeated if we needed to do a second version of that. Like, now, with the knowledge that we've gained, it would probably only take him 30 minutes to do the same thing over again, and, yeah, you could imagine a software consultancy charging five, six figures, at least, for something far less capable than what we've got running.
Rob Collie (00:31:54): How long did it take me to build the Power BI? So far, 45 minutes. It is amazing what can be done.
Arun Ulag (00:32:02): It is absolutely crazy. That is kind of where business is going these days, the ability to build these entire systems in hours, minutes even, or maybe a couple of days, as opposed to weeks and months and years, and to put all of this power in the hands of business in a way that still IT gets to govern and have visibility, too, so they're not really getting upset, that's the Power Platform. When COVID hit, I think the world really woke up to the Power Platform because they needed to move the business forward with speed, with agility, and the Power Platform was right there, and you can argue that others have similar deals. That's great. However, Microsoft has all of them that are designed to work together from the ground up and they're already deeply integrated, and I think the world is just starting to wake up to this because you do need to evolve your processes as your business conditions change and you need to be able to do it instantly, and for you to be able to do it instantly, you need something that is already designed to work together and can effect those changes, so, yeah, I'm really excited to hear your story, because that's so similar to what all of our customers are going through, so, absolutely.
Rob Collie (00:33:05): Even for a company our size, it's pretty easy for us to very quickly acquire a similar footprint in terms of number of line of business systems as you would encounter at least at one division of an enterprise. It's not remotely proportional to the size of the company. It's proportional to the size of the number of needs, and there's different functions, and we have as many functions as an enterprise does, so we've got the same number of line of business systems, and the fact that we've been able to use our own tools, your tools, the Power Platform, and also, honestly, it's a hodgepodge of assortment of many different vendors, but the Microsoft stuff at the core of it has allowed us to exist in a region of the market that is otherwise very, very inhospitable.
Rob Collie (00:33:55): I keep saying this because I love it, but we operate on a business model that is really, really great for the customer, very, very difficult for the consulting firm, and the Power Platform ... I'm not just saying this to suck up or whatever, it has made us possible. I've been calling this lately, like the second age of middleware, like the second era of middleware, because you do, you have all these systems and yet you need so much custom functionality that spans all of that. You think about Power BI, it itself is a form of incredibly flexible middleware. It's eating data from whatever systems you've got. They're certainly not all Microsoft systems, and BI is usually read-only. We're going to get to talking about that, so in terms of what keeps you up at night, my guess would be, the only competitors that really have a shot at doing damage are ones with a similar or at least some fraction of Microsoft's end to end footprint. We've watched Salesforce with their acquisition of Tableau. Did they complete the acquisition of Slack?
Arun Ulag (00:35:06): I don't believe it has completed yet but I'm not really keeping tabs on it so I might be mistaken.
Rob Collie (00:35:10): Okay, yeah. It's pretty clear that the battle lines are being drawn, but as you pointed out, they're having to go and buy completely separate companies to fill these gaps, whereas Microsoft's been growing them internally. I don't want to lead the witness. With such a successful market position as of today, what does worry you? Do you have things to worry about?
Arun Ulag (00:35:32): Absolutely. I would say, two things. First of all, security really does keep me up at night, because customers are really bringing their most critical business data to Microsoft, to Power BI, and we take it very, very seriously. This is a world in which, it's the world of the cloud. It's the world of remote work, so we're making massive investments in security. Just a month or two ago, we had a big security moment where we talked about an end to end security story and investments, but that's really important for us, is how do we secure our customers' data and how do we help our customers secure their data. That's important today. It was important a year ago. It'll only grow in importance, and this is when I feel like, as an industry, we have to really take it very seriously for customers to really trust that we can take their data and give it the respect it deserves.
Arun Ulag (00:36:16): The second aspect of it, I would say, is really complacency. We are just getting started in Power BI, so I don't want us to think that we have somehow, in some way, achieved success. I really do worry that we get complacent and that's a very, very dangerous thing to do, so for us, every customer matters. Every partner matters. Every community member partner matters. Every escalation where we fail to meet our customers' expectations is painful. We have a section that does that by our customer advisory team that Mark Reguera leads, and our friend Cass was a part of.
Arun Ulag (00:36:49): They do something called a customer story section, and you would think, to looking at the name, it's about customer stories, it's about wonderful things. It really isn't. It's about three hours of us basically looking at all the painful cases where Power BI failed to live to our customers' expectations. I attend it rigorously every month, as do 40 other people in my team, and nobody makes them attend, but they're curious. They want to learn, because every time we fail to meet our customers' expectations, we care. It's painful. Every competitive loss is painful. I want to know. I want to know why we lost. Like, we didn't we measure up? We care deeply about it, and we're constantly learning and adapting, from the community, from within Microsoft, from the industry, we have to re-earn the trust and our customers' business every single day.
Arun Ulag (00:37:35): What we did last week or last month or last quarter, really, the customers don't care about, so for me, this one is really, really important to me to make sure that we are on our toes, that we are hungry, and we do recognize that we want everybody on planet earth to use Power BI at some point in their career, and we're just getting started.
Rob Collie (00:37:53): In my 13, 14 years at Microsoft, it seemed like we always needed a bogeyman. We always needed someone, even if we were sort of exaggerating the threat. I'm not saying that that's still what it's like. That was what it was, right? For a while there it was network computers. The NC was coming for the PC, and what was it, Scott McNealy at Sun, he was the villain in all of this, and then it was Netscape. Here comes Netscape. I was gone from Microsoft, gone from Office by the time Google Docs became a real threat. It's like, Office never had a bogeyman when I was there. They got one. They got a good, good bogeyman for a while. Is that culture still kind of the same? Do you still need that like we used to?
Arun Ulag (00:38:40): I think the culture has materially changed, especially after [inaudible 00:38:43] took over. The thing that we really, really care about and I wake up every day thinking about is usage, and the second thing I think about is satisfaction. If we can get usage right and if you can get satisfaction right, everything else will take care of itself, so we don't really think about, at least in my team, and most of Microsoft these days, we don't think about the bogeyman. We really think about, hey, can we get our customers to use our product? Can we get them to love it? Can we get them to be evangelists for it? Can communities form? Can people bring other people into the fold?
Arun Ulag (00:39:13): That gets us excited because it's a positive emotion. It's about being useful. It's about being valued. It's about people loving the thing that you're making. Like, just the story that you shared, with Power BI and Power Automate, like, being able to do things they couldn't do before, people building businesses they couldn't build before, and that is such a positive thing, so I think Microsoft has fundamentally changed and we've always been, at least in the Power BI team, we've always been about, hey, let's get every user. Let's make them happy. Let's get the next user. Let's make them happy, and that's what really, really excites us.
Rob Collie (00:39:44): I could definitely see where that would be a positive change. It served its purpose back in my day. It was the antidote for complacency. There are multiple potential different antidotes for complacency, but you do need at least one. Of course, we did see some of the downsides of the old antidote, the bogeyman antidote. I think it's a very close cousin, at least, of the trouble that Microsoft landed in in 1999, 2000, with the feds. Even if the actions that Microsoft was taking at the time, you could argue them one way or another, the attitude that went with it did not play well. I remember, we were sitting there as employees at the time, watching our executives in their depositions going, "We're the bad guys."
Rob Collie (00:40:35): It was kind of a, "Yeah, are we the bad guys?" It didn't feel good. Every other aspect of working at Microsoft had always felt good. That was a dark time, not just for the company but even just for the esprit de corps of working there. I think I wold much prefer the new antidote to the old. With such success, how far away from a saturation point are we? When automobiles were first introduced, for a while, the goal was to sell an automobile to every family that didn't have one, and so there was sort of a gold rush growth period of that flavor.
Rob Collie (00:41:09): It's not like the auto industry died after that, but it definitely changed from that first acquisition of an automobile to, now we've got to think about, how do we appeal to people that already have one. If we were going to use that metaphor, where do you think we are in the Power BI colonization story? How much longer do we have before we run out of that one dimension of growth? Where do we start reaching diminishing returns on that?
Arun Ulag (00:41:36): It's a really good question. I'll make the argument for why I think we're just getting started, and you tell me if you buy it. Let's look at it in terms of three dimensions. Our objective is to help our customers drive a data culture, where everyone can make every decision on the data. If you look at the workforce on the planet, it's approximately three billion people. Everybody from frontline workers to customer service representatives, to manager, everybody, how many of these folks have data on their hands that they can use to make decisions today? Not very many. I would say, hey, in terms of reaching people who need access to data to make better decisions, we're just getting started. If you look beyond the working population and to students, and we have, I would say, approximately, maybe a billion and a half or so students on the planet, and if you go look at middle school and above, maybe it's about somewhere over a billion, how many of them can learn with data?
Arun Ulag (00:42:30): How many of them get data literacy as they get into middle school and above? Not very many, so there again, we're just getting started, and then let's look at the third dimension that I like to think about which is, if you look at the volume of data out there, not just your transactional systems or record, the forms of data that have existed for quite a while, but your IoT systems, your human interactions, your product telemetry. How much of that is available and used for analytics today, even in the best companies? I would say, a trickle, so if you look at all of these three dimensions, the workforce, the learning population, and the amount of data available or useful for analytics or can be used for analytics, we're just getting started, so it feels to me that saturation is just so far away. It just feels like we're at the very beginnings of a massive opportunity here. What do you think? You live this world, too.
Rob Collie (00:43:21): I buy that. I think, in a way, you just described my side of the business. I'm working my way around like Socrates to this self serving angle here in this line of questioning. I'll just clear that upfront, but the three dimensions you talked about, loosely, with some exceptions here and there, but loosely I could sort of put them under the umbrella of adoption, and I used the word we when I asked you the question originally, and it's a bad habit of mine. I still feel like I'm part of the Microsoft crew.
Arun Ulag (00:43:51): You are.
Rob Collie (00:43:52): I'm waiting for my paychecks to come in.
Arun Ulag (00:43:55): They do. It just comes in a slightly different way.
Rob Collie (00:43:57): Yeah. You guys have lost my address. Let me get you my direct deposit info. I wouldn't mind a little supplement. Okay. I didn't know really anything about the field, how it was organized, when I worked in Redmond. There's still a lot of mystery there, to be honest, but I have a much, much, much clearer picture of it now, obviously, as a Microsoft partner. There's a level of customer, where there's enough seats at a potential customer, that they start to get direct Microsoft attention. I completely agree that within an organization that has signed on the dotted line and started to adopt the Power Platform at the highest levels, there's a tremendous, tremendous amount of runway of adoption, and I agree with you. We're in the single digit percentages completion of that story, for sure, but in terms of the number of nodes that are more central in towards Microsoft in terms of the number of enterprise customers, I'm really asking you, from your perspective, how much longer do you expect to be in that phase one growth in terms of getting big enterprise customers to buy in at a high level?
Arun Ulag (00:45:11): The way we think about adoption is, it doesn't start with enterprise customers signing on the dotted line. It really starts with people choosing to adopt Power BI, and so, literally, every organization almost, pretty much, without exception, every organization that's using Power BI, they got started because somebody went to powerbi.com and downloaded Power BI Desktop. It's typically somebody did that at some point, and that's completely free, because we don't want to choke content creation. That was radical, believe it or not, when we shipped Power BI Desktop, to make it completely free, and we update it monthly, so that's how it starts, and starts with people adopting Power BI because they want to do something with data, and then they find something interesting and then they share it with somebody else, and that gets the adoption of the service going.
Arun Ulag (00:45:55): The final adoption really just is how Power BI gets started. Somewhere along the way, IT notices and the next data project, they say, "Everybody is using Power BI. Why not use it to build a data project?" Further along the way, somebody goes and says, "Hey, maybe we should standardize on this BI platform. We have 18. Let's look around and see which is the one that people are using and which is the one they like. Oh, well it looks like it's Power BI," and by the way, it's the industry leader. Gartner says so, Forrester says so, let's look at the price. Oh, God, is it really a quarter of the price of what we're paying for everybody else?
Arun Ulag (00:46:28): They're like, "Come on, why wouldn't we go with Power BI?" That's typically what I say, and the way we always think about it is, Microsoft salespeople are most efficient when we're not trying to heavily sell the product, where there is strong customer demand. That is viral adoption, and then the salespeople can come and help customers figure out the most efficient way to buy it, buy it with something else, talk to procurement, talk to the CIO. That's kind of how we see the balance. We really do think that adoption has to grow first, followed by sales, and there, I will still go back. There are three billion people in the workforce. There are a billion and a half people who are studying.
Arun Ulag (00:47:05): There's a tiny amount of data in the world that's being analyzed by Power BI today, and so, it does really feel like we're just getting started.
Rob Collie (00:47:12): Something that I say all the time is that every day you open up your web browser and you'll see something to the effect of, "The next big thing in data is X," and it's like, short attention span theater, we can't sit still very long. We've got to have something new and hot to talk about, and of course, it's just how the media works. Tech media is no different than regular media, and I'm just, no, no, no, no, no. The next big thing in data is really getting the basics, the fundamentals done right for the first time ever." That's how much green field I think there is, and I think this is something where it's kind of funny, like, listen, there's no bad news here. The Gartner Quadrant position, the evolution from, as you said, we made Power BI free. That was kind of a rogue move.
Rob Collie (00:48:01): It wasn't that long ago where this whole technology stack was considered a rogue entity, for no good reason.
Arun Ulag (00:48:08): It was just new.
Rob Collie (00:48:09): The technology was solid. It did have some very provocative messaging to it, this notion of culture, this notion of bottom up, this notion of citizen developer, the original wording of self service. It was a very threatening message to many, many, many people. It was almost like a guerrilla campaign promoting this stuff out in the world for a long time, and our earliest clients reflected this. Some really aggressive early adopter, like people who were looking for revolution. There aren't that many of those running around. We're well into the early majority now. There aren't many of those revolutionaries out there. We ran out of those years ago, so this is all really good news. Last month, we sold an amount of work, and keep in mind, when we sell work, we don't sell single large projects.
Rob Collie (00:49:02): You don't expect us to have a lot of variation month to month. Not much variance. It's lots of fast projects, because that's what the Power Platform allows, and we lean into that fully. The amount of work we sold in February is equivalent to 25% of last year's total.
Arun Ulag (00:49:22): Wow. Congratulations.
Rob Collie (00:49:23): Unreal, right? Everything we're talking about here, like becoming the responsible choice, becoming almost like a default choice in some cases, and this is all good news. I'm not complaining, and yet, at the same time, oh, I've got to have something to be dissatisfied about, so there's something almost lost when people say, "Hey," and I see this, they go, "Oh, look, Power BI sure looks a lot like Tableau. It's being used by about as many people in the organization today as Tableau, and it costs a lot less and it's easier to manage. Just go with it," as if it's a commodity, and it's not. It is not a commodity. Power BI is magic.
Arun Ulag (00:50:09): I love it. Yes.
Rob Collie (00:50:11): It is life changing magic, so I'm benefiting from this notion of, no one ever got fired for hiring IBM, that old saying, like Power BI being this responsible, kind of boring choice, is good for the bottom line a lot of ways, and yet, when I start hearing these tools mentioned as if they're equivalent, I go, "Oh, no. No, not equivalent." I don't really have a question there, to be perfectly honest. That's just a statement, really.
Arun Ulag (00:50:43): I see where you're going. I don't know if it's a choice, necessarily, because in the past, it has been a choice. You go pick one of these legacy BI platforms and make it the platform and people hate it. They just hate it, and they hated it for good reasons. The user experiences were terrible, the performance sucked, and these tools rarely changed. If you look at Power BI, adoption always starts at the ground up, even when IT has stepped in and they say to standardize on Power BI, and folks who may have used another platform are moving to Power BI, you will see some things that are still true.
Arun Ulag (00:51:17): One is the fact that Power BI's about people. It's about teams. It's about viral adoption, so people are always sharing and discussing and collaborating, so it's alive in many ways. The second thing is that Power BI's always changing. We ship new features on the service every week. We ship a new release of Power BI Desktop every month. People thought that was cute when we started. We've been doing it for five and a half years, and it comes out like clockwork, and a lot of our innovation is user driven. There are 23,000 ideas on ideas.powerbi.com. 23,000 ideas, okay?
Arun Ulag (00:51:46): Well, there are some that are redundant, but still, that's a lot of ideas that customers want to go build, and we take a lot of pride in getting those votes off the table, to say, "How many votes did we ship in this week, in this month, in this quarter, in this semester?" The fact that it is responsive and it's alive and it's changing keeps creating a community, keeps creating fans, keeps creating enthusiasm, so even in the case when somebody didn't choose to use Power BI, maybe the day they started, somebody said, "Hey, you got to go use this today," but then they get sucked in because they see a team, a product, a company that's listening, that's evolving, that's growing, and that's exciting. People want to be part of something like this, so that's why I'm so excited.
Arun Ulag (00:52:30): Each time we come up with a new feature that takes votes off the table, we celebrate. That's my reaction to what you just said.
Rob Collie (00:52:35): You and I have never had an argument. There's never been anything like that. We've always gotten along really well. The places where we, backstage, occasionally have a difference of opinion or something, I've been thinking about this, and I've come to the following theory. I wanted to share it with you and see what you think about it. If you ask me if I care about adoption or selling, in terms of Power BI, I'm of course going to say, "Well, I care about both. If the C-suite signs off on Power BI being the tool, or even just an approved tool and is providing support for it, then things are going to be a lot better than if they don't. We're not going to get the service stood up without their help." I'm not going to say no to either of those, and the same thing for you. Of course you're going to need to care about both of those things.
Rob Collie (00:53:31): It's just that the nature of our roles, yours versus mine for a moment, each one of us is a little closer to one end of that spectrum than the other. It is a spectrum. My company is more on the adoption side than on the convince the CIO it's the right move side, or address the CIO's concerns or whatever. Every now and then we are. Again, this is not 100%. We work with a lot of the Microsoft field, and actually been making an effort to do more of that. We originally grew our company with nothing, no cooperation at all, which of course makes total sense, me being ex-Microsoft, we would never work with Microsoft, but we've been doing a better job of that over the past couple years, and you can't take a pass on adoption, either, but if a CIO has a complaint or a concern or something, you're likely to be talking to them, whereas we're closer to the trenches.
Rob Collie (00:54:24): It's just the difference in our jobs, really, and the things that we see. I'll just go ahead and put all my cards on the table. What I'm really hoping is that, sooner or later, because you kind of run out of new, large enterprise accounts to convince, that we're going to find ourselves increasingly talking about almost exactly the same things. Those two ends of the spectrum are going to start to collapse into each other, and the things that I care about, the things that I'm seeing, I don't know that they would be appropriate today for them to be your primary concerns. It just wouldn't make any sense.
Rob Collie (00:54:59): A secondary concern, for sure, but for me, they're all primary, and so. I'm not sure I'm going to land that. This is an example of instructions to loop. I don't know what the hell I'm going to do here, man. You're going to have to bail me out in editing so I don't sound stupid. I agree with you. Adoption is very, very early, and that's really, really exciting, so this brings me around to the Excel user, and this is, of course, fantasy. If all Microsoft were, were two products, Power BI and Excel, there would be a very different integration story than what we're seeing today, and the reason I say this is that out in the world today, in terms of future Power BI authors, people who would actually build models, build data sets, the number of them that are currently VLOOKUP and Pivot people is so large that the rest of the audience rounds to zero.
Rob Collie (00:56:07): That's the audience. We talk about growing adoption. What we say about growing adoption's also all of those other things you're talking about, all those data sources that are the variety of data that's not being analyzed, that's not being intelligently inspected at all, that's really the same problem as penetration into this VLOOKUP and Pivot audience, and again, the shift from Power Pivot to Power BI, yeah, I was a little grumpy about it at the time, I'll admit, but whatever grumpiness I had was misplaced, again. It's been very, very good for our business. This has been a good thing. I'm not complaining, and yet, this holy grail of how do we ... We again. How do you, Microsoft ...
Arun Ulag (00:56:53): No, we.
Rob Collie (00:56:53): Okay, fine. I do include myself in it, because we're part of the same crew in this sense. How do we reach those people, because I still run into people all the time who are up to their eyeballs in manual work in the old, traditional VLOOKUP and Pivot and they have no idea that Power BI is essentially like modern Excel for them, and this is the shame. The other thing we were talking about before, like Microsoft being this big company with all these incredibly lateral resources and all this integration that we get and everything, we benefit from that. The flip side, though, is that when you have important products with different incentives, it's very hard to get the level of intensive investment that's required to do something that if the whole company was just those two products, it would be relatively easy to align for, so my only criticism, it's not even really a criticism.
Rob Collie (00:57:49): It's more like a criticism by omission, about the Excel integration features that we're seeing these days, is that they're all downstream from model creation. They're all downstream from data set creation. The thing that keeps me up all the time, the thing I not really worry about but it's like my hobby that I obsess about, is, how do we save these people? We're literally improving their lives. We're not spreading awareness like wildfire through that crowd. We're allowing so much suffering to continue. Ignore the money for a moment.
Rob Collie (00:58:22): A big part of what keeps me going, keeps us going as a company, at least originally and to this day, really, is just how much people light up, they just become happier. I just want there to be some future in which something that's deeper than lip service, that's deeper than a skin deep functionality, that does something about this. Even with Power Pivot today, it's off by default. To get to DAX, you have to go into COM add-ins. It's like, we couldn't hide this functionality from those people better than what we are today. This is obviously something that's near and dear to my heart. You knew it was going to come up.
Arun Ulag (00:59:04): Let me share a couple of thoughts. First of all, we've always been working with the Excel team closely. The last 24 months, our partnership has gone to a completely different level. The head of Excel product management is Brian Jones, awesome guy. He and I talk, like, twice a week, and we've been talking twice a week for a couple of years. His teams and my teams are working very, very closely together. We are acting in many ways as a single product team. Obviously, they have a much larger population with all the caveats, but we are really trying to figure out how we serve our customers together, and it helps the fact that Power BI is sold through Office and licensed through E5 in many cases, really helps, because the incentives are aligned across their management chain and ours, so I'll start with that.
Arun Ulag (00:59:43): Then, I'll break it down into two things. Let's talk about consumers and let's talk about creators. For consumers, our vision is that, hey, it shouldn't matter if you choose to consume in Excel or Power BI. Regardless of whether you choose to consume in Excel or Power BI, you should be able to work with the same data sets in Power BI. They should be automatically [inaudible 01:00:01]. The right security logic should apply. They should be MIP labeled appropriately. They should have the right level of organizational certification. You should be able to put this content together into a single Power BI application and distribute that through Teams.
Arun Ulag (01:00:16): All of that, the consumption experience, are deeply intertwined, because you shouldn't force anybody to rebuild their Excel workbook as a Power BI report. It's pointless. Excel's great at a number of things that Power BI isn't great at, and Power BI is great at a bunch of things, so at the consumption level, our vision is to enable seamless interoperability between Power BI and Excel and mix and match them together at will, powered by the same underlying semantic models which are Power BI data sets. That's where I've been going with the consumption experience, and it really addresses a huge problem for enterprise customers, because Excel is the world's most popular tool for working with data by far. However, there's lots of Excel disconnected workbooks where people typically refer to as Excel sprawl, which means that people are sometimes not making decisions based on the right data and that drives people crazy because they're making the wrong decision or arguing with each other about whose Excel is right, so, consumption, we're bringing them together and allowing them to mix and match, as well.
Arun Ulag (01:01:11): Let's shift to creators. There, we're taking two different approaches. The first is, even VLOOKUPs are not super simple, and building a Power BI report ain't that simple either, because it has a lot of sophistication to it. What we're trying to do is we're saying, "Hey, for your first step into Power BI, for your first step into modeling, no modeling should be required." Just a few months ago, we took our very first step, here. We shipped something called Quick Read, which is the ability for you to copy and paste a table in. Power BI will figure out what visualizations make sense and give you a couple of clicks, but you can adjust it. That's it.
Arun Ulag (01:01:46): It's designed for the business user who doesn't know anything about Power BI or VLOOKUPS and then it instantly builds a report for you and you don't really think about it as a report. You think about some way to represent your data so you can get some insights out of it. We are seeing really quick adoption for that. Now, imagine this experience everywhere where there are tables of data, everywhere, and our experiences will get better as we learn from consumer behavior. One is, for creators, we're saying, first step is no creation necessary. The service does it automatically for you, and then you can tell us what you're interested in, so that's one angle we're taking.
Arun Ulag (01:02:21): The second angle we're taking, for the tens of millions of advanced Excel developers, is really to put a ton of power in their hands. VLOOKUP was amazing, because imagine ... I remember the time when I discovered VLOOKUP in Excel. I said, "Oh my God. Look what I can do now." Everybody's gone through that, and then you see Power BI and see what it can do and it opens your horizons to all these things that are now possible, data, so [inaudible 01:02:44]. You can visualize with hundreds of visual, all these things that Power BI makes possible, but look beyond that. Where we're going is to say, "Hey, you can do everything to build a full data solution, full data preparation at scale, billions of rows of data running on Power BI data flows, AI enrichments, large scale Power BI data sets, hundreds of gigs of data, again, build through desktop without having to necessarily go into professional tooling, the ability to analyze realtime data with, again, drag and drop experiences."
Arun Ulag (01:03:14): When you think about the advanced Excel user, we're really thinking way beyond modeling. We're thinking about the full data experience, the ability to go from where the bytes originate, all the way into full analytical solutions without having to ever call IT, without having to call a pro developer and put this power in the hands of business, all the time making sure that IT has full governance and control, and with premium per user, all of these capabilities start at 20 bucks per user per month, so that's kind of where we're going. When I think about consumers and for creators and create as two different ends of the spectrum, help people just get started with no modeling or design skills required, and then all the way to building full end to end data solutions.
Rob Collie (01:03:55): I'm going to be very deliberate with my word choice here. I look forward to your ever-evolving creator story as it evolves and progresses over time. That's the appetizer. I want to talk about a main course some day. Let me change gears for a moment and say, by the time this podcast goes live, this will be kind of old news, but the long overdue removal of Power Pivot from our name is happening this evening.
Tom Larock (01:04:27): What?
Rob Collie (01:04:30): We have been Power Pivot Pro since 2009 when I started the blog, and Power Pivot Pro was just meant to be my name, my avatar.
Arun Ulag (01:04:39): You are the pro. You're the Power Pivot Pro.
Rob Collie (01:04:41): I was the pro. If I was thinking about it being a company, I would have put an S on the end.
Arun Ulag (01:04:45): Pros.
Rob Collie (01:04:49): Of course, over the years we've become known to a lot of people, in short, as P3. Turns out there's a lot of P3s. There's even a P3 Pro Team Pack running around that even users our color scheme, strangely, and so, we've deliberately executed a two stage process where rebranded our website about a year ago to bring the P3 forward in the logo and to put the Power Pivot Pro text, put that in the background, while maintaining the powerpivotpro.com URL. We are going to be forever known as P3 Adaptive. We're going to be p3adaptive.com. Powerpivotpro will redirect. We will never again put a Microsoft product name in the name of a company or a URL. We've learned our lesson there. We're not going to be, like, Power BI Incorporated or something like that. Uh-uh (negative), because you know what's happening six months from now, is you're just going to rename yourself Chart.
Arun Ulag (01:05:51): Nice.
Rob Collie (01:05:52): Or Microsoft Data. These are the places where we've had discussions in the past, which is the ones I'm really talking about. I'm not really in on Power Pivot, really. For me, Power Pivot is almost like a placeholder for this creator evangelism, and I mean the citizen developer creator evangelism, the ones that are capable of VLOOKUP and Pivot today, and these are such an enthusiastic net promoter audience of Microsoft. These people love, love, love the tools that Microsoft has given them and they still don't know about the best ones, in some ways, for their analysis, anyway. This will be forever my religious mission, is whatever the technology solution is, it doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't have to be anything that we've seen so far, but it's almost like we owe it to these people to make this stuff more discoverable, make the on ramp from their existing work to the new world, make that an easier discovery and transition. End of soliloquy, monologue, filibuster. If there's anything you want to react to there you can. Otherwise, we can move on.
Tom Larock (01:07:09): I'm shocked. I will tell you, if you want to avoid having or being tied to a Microsoft product name, just don't use the word power and you'll be fine.
Rob Collie (01:07:20): Or mesh.
Tom Larock (01:07:21): Or mesh. How many meshes do they have?
Rob Collie (01:07:24): All right, so, I'm sure you have. Have you seen the Wolfram dat types in Excel?
Arun Ulag (01:07:28): Yes.
Rob Collie (01:07:29): As data types, I was like, "I don't care," but when I saw all of the rich federated data, like, third party data, that was available through these data types, I just went, "Wow. Give me some of that in my Power BI models." Microsoft is forever unable to comment on plans, but is this something that interests you, this Wolfram stuff that's showed up in Excel.
Arun Ulag (01:07:57): It absolutely interests me, and I would go so far as to say we would love to have that in Power BI. Some things have to happen for that to be true, and we are working on it, so it will become true at some point. I don't have a specific date for you, Rob, but I'd love to see that in Power BI. However, there is a capability that not everybody's already aware of, which is Power BI data types in Excel. What Wolfram gives you is the ability to take your objects and essentially associate them with a single cell, so the single cell no longer is about a specific value. It can represent a whole city with any of the properties of the city, or it can represent a celebrity, or it can represent anything in real life.
Arun Ulag (01:08:31): Now, with Power BI data types for enterprise customers, you can do exactly that. You can go define the entities that make sense for you, your customers, your products, your suppliers, et cetera, and associate those tables with Power BI, and publish them to Excel, so, essentially, you get the ability to have enterprise data types live and work in Excel just magically, and they're all relevant and important for enterprise. This is was the single biggest point of feedback that Excel got when they demoed their data types capability to enterprise customers. They were like, "We love it," and we want to make sure that we can do it for our own data types.
Arun Ulag (01:09:05): The good news is that we work closely with the Excel team. That's in the product today. Everyone can go try it.
Rob Collie (01:09:10): That's encouraging. Again, no promises, no timeline. Were you around and paying attention when Azure Data Market was a thing?
Arun Ulag (01:09:17): Yes.
Rob Collie (01:09:19): I was so excited about that. I know that the team that was working on it was, as well, and I understand some of the headwinds that they ran into. It's just such an obvious connect the dots. All this data out there, that, whether you're paying for it or not, whether it's free, public domain, or whether it's premium, it should just be so easy to connect to it and cross reference. Oh my gosh, Power BI is a cross referencing tool for the ages. That's the thing about data models, I think that most of the world hasn't woken up to yet, is just how powerful, spliced across silo, data sets are. It's just mind blowing. I go to developer conferences sometimes where everyone's a big data specialist. They're developers. I'll throw a demo out there across multiple fact tables, and I'll just say, "Look, I'm the least technical person in the room and I can do magical things that you can't."
Rob Collie (01:10:17): I just throw down the gauntlet, and it lands. They're all jealous. They're like, "How are you able to do this?" It's just magic, and every time you get some data like that that you can cross reference against, gosh, things about markets and demographics, and temperature trends and so many things that would trigger whole new lines of thinking, and Power BI has really got the kind of ecosystem that this sort of thing can plug into. This is another one of those ideas, it's like, the first couple times that maybe it emerges above the water line, it isn't quite in the form that it's ultimately need to be, but this is an idea that's going to keep coming back.
Arun Ulag (01:10:53): Yeah, and, look, it is a real need, and I'm sure we'll figure something out here. I'm sure we'll figure something out here. I can't say more about that right now unfortunately.
Rob Collie (01:11:02): I totally understand and appreciate you saying what you have. All right, so, as we wrap up here, five years out, what do you think's going to change? Do you think, five years from now, Power BI has moved closer to association with Azure, has moved closer to association with Office? I badly want to make you ... Like, the congressional hearings. You have to choose one or the other. Yes or no.
Arun Ulag (01:11:25): If I had to pick one, I would pick Office, and here's why. Our objective is to put Power BI in the hands of everybody so they can make decisions with data, and most people on planet earth, they are familiar with Office, so if I want to get Power BI in the hands of everybody, I would say, "Hey, Office is where most of the users are." That's what I lean towards, because if we don't have users, then nothing else matters.
Rob Collie (01:11:48): All right. Ding. That was the correct answer. Okay. Moving on.
Arun Ulag (01:11:51): Rob from the Office team says, "Correct answer."
Rob Collie (01:11:55): These demonstrations are always meant to capture the imagination. That's what they do, but the Mesh, which used to mean something different ... There was a former Microsoft product called Mesh that was a file sharing tool. We were watching the Mesh thing and going like, "Oh my God, we've been talking about dashboards all these years, this two dimensional metaphor for the control panel of your business or whatever." With Mesh, are we going to go 3D? Are we going to have cockpits? If so, I just want to be on record as being, just like data culture, Microsoft was the first to talk about it, you heard cockpit here first.
Arun Ulag (01:12:31): Love it, Rob. I think you're onto something. I think we do need to bring Power BI in to the real world, into the world that we live in and work in every day. You know that Power BI's the only BI product today that supports mixed reality, that we actually have a Power BI app in production in HoloLens and we have real customers using it today. One of the best demos I saw from our team in Israel which is a core part of our Power BI development team, is that they actually have a brand new building in Herzliya and it's close to Tel Aviv and they have maintenance apps for their building elevators with Power BI reports that are pinned right next to the elevator, so you wear your HoloLens, you walk down the corridor, and right next to the elevator, hovering in air over there is a Power BI report, and you can see the stats with that elevator right there. That's crazy. You can say, "Hey, that's great that you have it in HoloLens, but how many headsets do people have?"
Arun Ulag (01:13:26): I would say this, we're really ahead of the curve. The price of these headsets will drop. The user experience will improve. The field of vision will increase. The battery will lost longer, and it will get much lighter. That's what happens with technology, and as we do that, Power BI will enter more and more in the real world. There's one other thing that I want to say that's going to be another exciting announcement at MBAS, the Microsoft Business Applications Summit. I can't tell you what it is yet, but it'll take a giant leap forward where we'll show you how Power BI comes into your physical world with very, very broad adoption, so come to Microsoft Business Applications Summit.
Arun Ulag (01:14:01): You're going to be blown away. Three major new capabilities will be demoed for the very first time. I'm so excited to tell you about it. I have to hold myself back, otherwise my team will kill me, especially my marketing team.
Rob Collie (01:14:13): Will all three be in the keynote?
Arun Ulag (01:14:15): Yes. They will all be in the keynote, and I think this time we might have to do two keynotes because each one is 30 minutes, so we might have to do two of them back to back, so attend both, please. It's going to be exciting.
Rob Collie (01:14:26): We'll definitely set time aside to do that. I'm contractually obligated to ... Now, I'm really excited. Normally I'd put it off, but not anymore. Three things? That's a lot of things.
Arun Ulag (01:14:39): Never before seen in public.
Rob Collie (01:14:41): All right, well, is there anything that we didn't talk about that you'd like to talk about?
Arun Ulag (01:14:45): There's lots of things we didn't get to talk about, Rob, and we could spend the rest of the day and I'd have so much fun, but I'd say, hey, thank you so much, Rob. We love the folks at P3 Adaptive. You guys have been such a huge part of the Power BI story. We love our community so much. You guys are a core part of the community itself, so, thank you.
Speaker 3 (01:15:00): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data, by P3 Adaptive podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Have a data day.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.