How to Use Cortana to Analyze Data With Power BI

Brad Jones 20-07-2016

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 6 Coolest Things You Can Control with Cortana in Windows 10 Cortana can help you go hands-free on Windows 10. You can let her search your files and the web, make calculations, or pull up the weather forecast. Here we cover some of her cooler skills. Read More 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 Microsoft Excel + Power BI = Data Analysis Bliss Need help turning your data into something useful? Microsoft's Power BI can visualize your data and create automated reports. We show you how to set up your first Power BI dashboard. Read More , 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.

Getting Started

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 Need to Learn Excel? 10 Experts Will Teach You for Free! Learning how to use Excel's more advanced features can be tough. To make it a little easier, we have tracked down the best Excel gurus who can help you master Microsoft Excel. Read More 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.


settings menu

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.

cortana access

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 The Pros and Cons of Using a Microsoft Account with Windows A single Microsoft Account allows you to log into a wide range of Microsoft services and apps. We show you the pros and cons of using a Microsoft Account with Windows. Read More 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.

paintbursh icon

Click on the Page Size dropdown and select Cortana in the Type field. Now, we can start building our report.


power bi 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 How to Find Which Windows 10 Apps Work With Cortana Cortana can be really useful, but how are you supposed to know which apps support her? Here's how to find out in the blink of an eye. Read More .

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.

ice cream sales


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 This Cool Website Will Teach You Hundreds of Google Search Tips Anyone can use Google search to a satisfactory degree, but if you really want to get fast and accurate results, you'll want to learn these simple but amazing tips. Read More . 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.

other names

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.

publish to web

Querying Cortana

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 How to Change Cortana’s Language in Windows 10 Want to change the language used by Cortana on Windows 10? With the latest build of the Insider Program, you can! Read More . Referring to particular pieces of information by name should elicit the desired response.

2016 events

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.

sales by flevo

When Cortana displays a chart made in Power BI like this, you can mouse over individual elements to see a bit more information.

mouseover cortana powerbi

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 How to Make Cortana Organize Your Life Your life is so complex, you deserve a personal assistant. Meet Cortana, your virtual assistant ready to serve at the tip of your tongue. We'll show you how to effectively delegate tasks to Cortana. Read More  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 The Best Evernote Alternative Is OneNote and It's Free The market is drenched in note-taking apps competing with Evernote. But there is only one serious Evernote alternative. Let us explain why that is OneNote. Read More . 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.

Related topics: Microsoft Cortana, Power Bi, Virtual Assistant, Windows Search.

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  1. Snowden
    July 21, 2016 at 1:02 am

    Just remember people, if you use power bi with cortana, consider your data as public.. There is zero privacy or security with this solution. And I mean ZERO.