Eager to simplify your data analysis? Get fast answers from Cortana with this guide.
While virtual assistants like Cortana were something of a novelty just a few years back, many of us have integrated these utilities into our daily tech usage since then. Cortana can be a great help if you’re trying to perform a web search or send a quick email — but she’s also more than capable of helping out with data analysis.
By combining the convenience of Cortana with Microsoft’s robust Power BI service, you can get quick answers about all kinds of data, simply by asking a question out loud. All it takes is a few extra steps as you assemble a report in Power BI, and your virtual assistant will gain a broad knowledge of your data that can be called upon at any time.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to using Cortana alongside Power BI.
Before you can actually use Cortana alongside Power BI, there’s some important groundwork to lay. First, import the data you want to use into the Power BI web client— the method will vary slightly depending on whether you’re using an Excel document or sourcing a dataset from an integrated service, but Power BI will guide you through the process.
Next, click the cog icon in the toolbar at the top of the screen and select Settings.
Once you’re in the Settings menu, head to the Datasets tab, then select the data that you want to use. Open the section titled Q&A and Cortana and check the box labelled Allow Cortana to access this dataset, then click Apply.
Next, we need to give Cortana access to our Power BI account. To do so, you’ll need to add the work or school account used to sign up for the service to your installation of Windows 10. To do so, open up the Settings app and navigate to Accounts > Access work or school > Connect.
Log into the account you used to sign up for Power BI, and you’ll see it added to the page as a connection.
Setting Up a Report
To ensure that Cortana can find your work, you’ll need to set up a report that’s formatted to her specifications. Click on your desired dataset in the Power BI client and then click the paintbrush icon.
Click on the Page Size dropdown and select Cortana in the Type field. Now, we can start building our report.
Above is a relatively simple report that I produced from a single Excel spreadsheet. Make sure that none of the elements included venture past the confines of the template. Now that the content is in place, we’re going to make it as easy as possible for Cortana to access it.
Click the paintbrush icon once again and this time open the Page Information dropdown. Enter a name that’s going to help you find the report that you’ve just created — try to use terms that are specific to this content.
Next, turn the Q&A slider to On. You should be presented with a field ready to accept alternate names. These names will help you and other users access the report, either by talking to Cortana or entering text in the Q&A field within Power BI.
However, since we’re focusing on Cortana, fill this space with terms that will help the virtual assistant find what you’re looking for. Make sure to include plenty of terms that specifically refer to the contents of your report — if they’re too vague, Cortana will be unable to make the connection, and instead direct you to other files on your system or web results.
Next, save the report using the icon in the toolbar. Head to its entry in the Reports section of the left-hand sidebar, navigate to File > Publish to web, and follow the instructions on-screen.
Now that we’ve given Cortana access to our Power BI report, she should be able to deliver this information in response to a spoken query. Referring to particular pieces of information by name should elicit the desired response.
However, the virtual assistant should also be able to seek out visualizations. In the following image, you can see that Cortana actually misheard my request — but she still managed to find the chart that I was referring to.
When Cortana displays a chart made in Power BI like this, you can mouse over individual elements to see a bit more information.
The biggest difficulty in using Cortana in conjunction with Power BI is knowing how to ask for the content that you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to use trial and error to determine which terms work best — the Cortana’s observations of your PC usage and the files already stored on your computer are also factored into your interactions with her, so take that into account when you’re adding a title and any alternate names.
Try to differentiate the terms used in relation to your charts to the content that’s already stored on your computer. For instance, if my hard drive was filled with files pertaining to my ice cream business, it would be more difficult for Cortana to find the content I was looking for. As such, I’d choose different names for my chart that were more specific to the data enclosed.
Planning for Success
Cortana can either be a useless gimmick or an important asset — it all depends on your usage.
To get the most out of the virtual assistant, you need to consider what’s going to be helpful. The next time you’re writing up a sales report and you have to break off to find a particular fact or figure, make a note. That’s the content that you need to make accessible to Cortana, so rather than digging around your documents, you can simply ask her to look it up.
Just interacting with Cortana won’t make you more productive; you need to find ways that she can up your efficiency, then put her to task. For many business owners, the deep links with Power BI described in this article can save time and effort. However, you need to find a way of embedding Cortana’s abilities into your workflow, rather than having the software shape your approach.
Are you looking for help with Cortana or Power BI? Or do you have a handy tip to share with other users? Join the conversation in the comments section below.