KDnuggets Exclusive: Interview with Quentin Clark, CVP, Microsoft Data Platform Group

KDnuggets talks with Quentin Clark, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Data Platform Group. In the interview, we discuss Power BI for Office 365, Big Data trends and Microsoft’s strategic decisions.

Quentin Clark, Microsoft
As corporate vice president of program management for the Microsoft Data Platform Group, Quentin Clark oversees the design and delivery of the entire family of SQL Server and BI products as well as the Azure Data Platform services. Clark joined Microsoft in 1994, and held a variety of roles mostly in systems technology prior to joining SQL Server several years ago, including the Internet Information Server team and System Center. Clark graduated with a degree in Natural Sciences (Physics) from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and doubled-majored in Computer Science. He lives in Bellevue, WA with his wife and two boys.

Microsoft LogoQuentin recently delivered a keynote at Strata 2014 on “Bringing Big Data to One Billion People”. He mentioned that Microsoft’s vision is to change the world through making Big Data accessible to a billion people. He shared a few user stories demonstrating real-life impact and talked about the endless opportunities Big Data provides for the progress of mankind.

For reference: here are the slides and video of his keynote at Strata 2014

Here is my interview with him:

Anmol Rajpurohit: 1. Let me start with saying that "Power BI for Office 365" is amazing. The idea as well as its execution. Congratulations. What features of this great product do you like the most? Why?

Quentin Clark: Thank you! The team and I are proud of the work we did for Power BI for Office 365, and it’s a key component of the evolving role of data in business.

There are a few areas of the product that I think are key differentiators. Significantly, it’s part of Office.

Power Bi for Office 365
Over 1 billion people use Office, and Excel is the most commonly used analytical tool for business users – it truly is accessible to anyone. In fact, Copy/Paste/Export to Excel is one of the most requested capabilities of any new BI tool and with Power BI for Office 365 it is Excel – no exporting necessary.

With the accessibility of Excel and proliferation of Office 365, we can lower the barrier of entry for businesses who want to take advantage of the benefits of business intelligence by putting the right analytics tools in everyone’s hands. Another aspect of the product that I think is really important is the integration of data search, catalog and query. We are empowering people to easily find and combine data from public sources, from commercial data providers, and from data that is managed in the enterprise – all from a search experience just built into Excel. This is coupled with an experience that easily allows the user to shape that data for how they will use it.

I have used the example before, but it’s a fun one – my kids and I were talking about the Olympics and the World Cup, and somehow that conversation turned to wanting to understand population size by country, but continent. Just using Power BI in Excel, in two minutes I was able to search and find a dataset of population, a dataset that included countries by continent, and then blend those together and create a Power View sheet my boys could then interact with to explore the information.

Here is an interactive demo for Summer Olympics. Power BI for Office 365 demo - Summer Olympics Way different learning experience then just looking at web pages. And just imagine what kinds of things I can do with the data sources in my work life – our service telemetry, business results data, customer data, and engineering systems data.

Finally, I have to mention how excited we are about Q&A. This completely changes who is able to get value out of data and BI. It allows anyone to type questions they have into the Power BI site in Office 365 – and get instantaneous, visual results in the form of interactive charts or graphs that come from the BI models they created, their co-workers created, or are specifically curated BI models by the enterprise.

The power of this is extraordinary – users don’t have to be Excel experts or understand anything about how to use BI tools to find data sources and create visualizations – they only need to be curious enough to ask a question. That broadens how many people can benefit from data in their daily jobs and lives.

AR: 2. Given the current state of technology and talent, what do you see as the biggest challenges in the way of consumerizing Big Data on a massive scale?

QC: Great question! Data volume is just exploding as you know – growing 10x every 5 years. So too is interest and deployment of BI and analytics tools. This growth in data has fueled the need for solutions that can help business analysts easily access various data types and quickly analyze, visualize and share data from any location and from any device.

Our perspective is that

in order for the value of all of this data to be realized, the key challenge is accessibility

– this is a technical need (scalability of data management and processing), and it’s an experience need. The experiences are super-important – insights from data must reach the broad range of roles people play with varying skill levels – from the analytics developers to the data scientist, to the business analyst and even to the average business user just looking to be more informed.

Our view is that it takes the combined effect of three elements to bring big data to that broadest audience: robust tools that everyday people can use, easy access to all kinds of data sets, and a complete data platform for data on-prem and in the cloud of many types and scales. Microsoft is unique in the industry by delivering against all three of those elements.

AR: 3. In Strata 2013 you talked about "Can Big Data Reach One Billion People?", basically the idea. Just a few months later, you spoke at Strata 2014 on "Bringing Big Data to One Billion People", which had a few example stories. If you were to predict, what would be the title of your presentation at Strata 2015?

QC: Well I really cannot predict what we will be talking about next year. We are certainly committed to the vision we have outlined – the impact of big data on a billion people. There are many ways the conversation in the big data space is maturing – what datasets are valuable, what analytics get the results, the kinds of value being created, the roles people are playing. So what I do know is the conversation will continue to be exciting and rich at Strata.

Here is part 2 of the interview