About Gartner Magic Quadrant 2015 for BI

The 2005 Gartner Magic Quadrant is out and according to Gartner, the distance between Tableau and the other leaders is widening. Here is the full report. It’s obvious that Gartner focuses only on the self-service aspect of BI and throws away the entire gamut of tools required to deliver successful BI solutions, including RDBMS, ETL, data models, MDM, etc. But even if we focus on self-service BI, I don’t quite agree with Gartner’s infatuation with Tableau (see my blog “Top 10 Reasons for Choosing Microsoft Self-service BI”). It’s a good visualization tool but based on what I hear, people tend to overestimate its capabilities and get in trouble. Nevertheless, for the most part I agree with the Gartner’s assessment related to Microsoft BI cautions, except:

1. “Microsoft had the highest percentage of customer references citing absent or weak functionality (for example, no drill-through capabilities in Power View) as a platform problem.”

Really? The other vendors have more functionality? Can Tableau import multiple datasets, transform data, have Q&A, scale, share and discover datasets, or have data governance? And, that percentage is probably high, because the percentage of customers using Microsoft BI is high.

2. “However, customers may have difficulty finding external resources with experience in the newer Power BI stack, which requires a different set of skills and expertise than Microsoft’s sweet spot of systems-of-record, developer-focused BI deployments.”

The Power BI stack shouldn’t require that much knowledge.

A successful BI strategy should be much more than just “putting lipstick on a pig”. No matter how nice the lipstick is, it’s still a pig. However, the Gartner’s summary of the Microsoft weaknesses is spot on:

“Microsoft is attempting to address many of these limitations in the forthcoming stand-alone version of Power BI, which does not require Office 2013 or an Office 365 subscription and can access Analysis Services structures and content without physically moving underlying enterprise data to the cloud.”

I’m looking forward to the 2016 quadrant. For now, I like better the Forester Research report (http://www.forrester.com/pimages/rws/reprints/document/115485/oid/1-RN6A25).


Fixing Power View to SQL Server 2014 SSAS Multidimensional

Scenario: You have Power View integrated with SharePoint. You attempt to create a Power View report that connects to a SQL Server 2014 cube. The connection fails with “Internal Error: An unexpected exception has occurred”. The connection used to work or works with SQL Server 2012 SSAS MD.

Resolution: On the SSAS 2014 server, install Cumulative Update 2 for SQL Server 2014. This article provides more details about the issue.

Top 10 Reasons for Choosing Microsoft Self-service BI

Every organization should have a strategy for self-service BI. As a rule of thumb, my advice is that 80% of the BI effort should be directed toward implementing organizational BI solutions (DW, ETL, data model, dashboards, big data, predictive analytics, and so on), while 20% should be left for completing self-service BI analytics. But which tool to choose for self-service BI? With so many vendors on the market, it’s easy to get persuaded by marketing propaganda and eye candy. My advice would be to start with what you already have. And, what you have is probably Excel. It’s common when I talk to clients to find that they don’t realize that the most if not all of their self-service BI needs can be met by the Excel self-service BI capabilities, many of which are unmatched by the competition.

Microsoft has built a comprehensive self-service ecosystem marketed under the Power BI name umbrella that should warrant your serious interest for at least the following reasons:

Flexible Data Schema

Unlike other tools that are limited to importing a single dataset, Power Pivot allows you to import and relate multiple datasets so your business users can build sophisticated models on a par with organizational BI solutions.

Easy Data Acquisition

Unlike other vendors who assume programming and scripting knowledge for data import, importing data with Microsoft self-service BI adopts a wizard-driven approach for importing data. In fact, in Excel business users have several ways to bring data into the data model depending on the data complexity, including Excel native data import (great for working with text files), Power Pivot (great for working with relational and other data sources), and Power Query (even more data sources). Currently, the preferred approach for best performance is to cache the data into the state-of-the art xVelocity in-memory store, but Microsoft is adding pass-through query capabilities as well.

Data Transformation

I don’t think that there is a self-service tool on the market that allows you to transform the data before it’s imported. By contrast, Power Query to Microsoft self-service BI is what SSIS is to organizational BI. Power Query supports a variety of data transformation tasks, ranging from simple tasks, such as combining and splitting columns, to a full-featured M language for advanced transformations.

Powerful Programming Language

A BI solution is rarely complete without business calculations that can range from simple aggregations to rather sophisticated business metrics. The Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) is a full-featured analytical language that you’ll be hard-pressed to find in competing products.

Flexible Reporting

With a few clicks, business users familiar with Excel can use build Excel PivotTable and PivotChart reports connected to the Power Pivot data model. If you need more eye candy, Power View should help. While you might find that the current presentation toolset has left a room for improvement, check what’s coming up in Power BI vNext.

Performance and Scaling

Most popular self-service BI vendors offer desktop-based solutions that import data in files. When it comes to scaling out, these vendors fell short. By contrast, an organization that has adopted Microsoft self-service BI can easily scale out data models originated by Business to enterprise data models powered by Analysis Services and sanctioned by IT.


Your users don’t know how to get started with the BI model someone else built? Everyone loves the Power BI Q&A feature that lets users type semantic questions, such as “show me sales for last quarter”. None of the popular self-service BI vendors have currently a similar feature, although it looks like startups, such as ThoughtSpot, are rallying to offer similar offering.

Flexible Deployment

Don’t use Excel or Office 365? Have SharePoint on premises or cloud? Don’t have or care about SharePoint? The coming Power BI vNext (free and paid versions) and Power BI Designer removes adoption barriers by allowing you to implement self-service BI outside Excel and SharePoint. My newsletter on this subject provides more details.


Cloud on Your Terms

If you are looking for a cloud-based BI platform, Power BI is just that. And, with Power BI vNext you don’t have to upload your data. Data can stay on premises, such as in a Tabular model or a cube, while your reports can be deployed to the cloud. Moreover, you are always up-to-date with the latest features.

Great Partner Ecosystem

One of the greatest strengths of Microsoft is having a great partner ecosystem and readily available talent.


OK, that’s the 11th reason but it’s hard to pass free given that the Power tools (Power Pivot, Power Query, Power View, and Power Map) are either bundled with Excel or available for download) and Power BI vNext cloud offering has a free Power BI Designer and a free cloud edition.

While Microsoft self-service BI is not perfect, it should warrant your interest if you are on the market looking for a tool. Sometimes, all we need to do is appreciate what we already have.


Introducing the Reimagined Power BI Platform

Come and join us for an information-packed meeting of the Atlanta Microsoft BI Group on February 23th. You will learn about Power BI vNext and Panorama Necto. Our sponsor will be Panorama.

  1. Introducing the Reimagined Power BI Platform by Jen Underwood, Microsoft
    You have seen glimpses of the new Power BI platform during the Public Preview reveal. Although it may not be apparent, Microsoft has totally reimagined the Power BI platform and user experience for BI professionals, developers and business users. In this new release, Microsoft has added Power BI Designer, developer APIs, custom templates/apps, hybrid direct connectivity to on-premise data sources without data copying, a native mobile BI app and other top secret enhancements that we can dive into by the time of this session. Please join me to further explore all these great changes and enjoy a fun demo-intensive session.
  2. Panorama Necto – Panorama Necto is advancing Business Intelligence 3.0 to the next level, bringing together the very best of Enterprise BI with Visual Data Discovery, providing enterprises with new ways to collaborate and create unique contextual connections.

Filtering Tables Dynamically in DAX

Sometimes, your DAX calculated measures might need to filter a table dynamically based on a certain condition. For example, you might have a Type 2 table like this one:
















When a change is detected on the existing claim, this design expires the previous row and adds a new one. A common business question would be “How many claims do we have as of a given date?” Tabular is more flexible than MD answering this question because you can directly filter the table. In your first attempt, you might write the following calculated measure:

ClaimCount:=CALCULATE(DISTINCTCOUNT([ClaimID]), [RowStartDate]<=[FilterLastDate] && [FilterLastDate]<=[RowEndDate]))

Where FilterLastDate is another calculated measure that returns the max date if the user has selected a date range, such as an entire month from a Date hiearchy, so that the measure is evaluated as the last date of the user selection. However, this attempt fails with the error “A function ‘CALCULATE’ has been used in a true/false expression that is used as a table filter expression. This is not allowed.” This article provides more context although I personally believe that the explanation doesn’t give all the details as the second argument is Boolean in this case. To fix this you need a more complicated expression that uses the FILTER function:

ClaimCount:=CALCULATE(DISTINCTCOUNT([ClaimID]), FILTER(ALL(ClaimSnapshot[ClaimDate], ClaimSnapshot[RowStartDate], ClaimSnapshot[RowEndDate]), [RowStartDate]<=[FilterLastDate] && [FilterLastDate]<=[RowEndDate]))

The FILTER function does the same filtering logic. If the table you filter on is related to a Date table, such as on ClaimDate, you need to ignore its context. Otherwise, the calculated measure scope will be limited by the Date selection. To do so, you need to use the ALL function but because it returns a table, the result needs to include all columns that you need to filter on.

Finding Duplicates in DAX

A prerequisite for creating a relationship in Tabular/Power Pivot is to have a primary key column in the table on the One side of the relationship. This column must have unique values. If it doesn’t, the relationship won’t get created and you’ll get an error that the both tables have duplicate keys. If you have a relatively large table, it might be difficult to find the duplicates.










However, given the above table design, you can add a simple calculated column to the table to return the count of duplicates for column ID using the following DAX formula


This expression uses the COUNTROWS() function to count the number of rows of Table1. Coupled with the CALCULATE function, this expression will be resolved in the context of every row. To ignore the column that you want to count on (ID in this case), you need to exclude it from the context, so that the row counting happens across the entire table for each ID value. Once the column is created, you can filter on it in the Data View to find out the duplicate rows with values 2, 3, etc.

My Wish List for SQL Server.vNext

In an attempt to give customers more transparency, Microsoft recently published a Cloud Platform Roadmap. The product groups are also actively seeking feedback for the on-premise products (also known as boxed products). For example, if you have subscribed to the Power BI.vNext public preview, you can use the BI in SQL vNext forum to provide feedback (not sure why there instead of on connect.microsoft.com).

So, here is my open high-level SQL Server.vNext wish list:

  • SSAS – Merge Multidimensional and Tabular and take best from both. I like the in-memory engine and flexibility of Tabular but at the same time I miss the MD pro features. To put this in perspective, I’d like to see the following features added to Tabular:
    • Additional relationship types, such as M2M relationships (it looks like this will happen judging by the Power BI features), multi-grain relationships (joining to a table at a higher grain than the key), role-playing
    • Scope assignments
    • Sets
    • MDX support for business calculations – BI pros have been learning MDX for the past 15 years so this knowledge shouldn’t be wasted. Besides, some constructs are better expressed in MDX not to mention that Tabular doesn’t have support for hierarchy navigation.
    • Enterprise scale features – parallel partition processing within a table, ability to define which columns will be hierarchized (measures typically shouldn’t, yet now every column is hierarchized), compression on calculated columns
    • Removal of DirectQuery limitations
    • Custom (non Windows-based) security – This applies to both MD and Tabular in order to allow developers to embed reports in custom applications.
    • Better toolset – No matter how good SSAS gets, it won’t go far if there is no good client support. Excel and Power View need catching up. For example, Excel need to generate DAX natively, optimize MDX queries (especially for detail-level reports), and add Power View support for MD, plus numerous enhancement to catch to modern interactive tools.
    • Tabular Designer enhancements – it’s painful to wait SSDT to refresh after every step.
  • SSRS
    • Report Designer should continue where it left off in 2010 when focus was shifted on Power View. See top requested features on connect.microsoft.com, especially in the area of report parameters.
    • Power View – conditional formatting, drillthrough, SSAS action support, mapping enhancements (region coloring, point-to-point mapping)
    • Ability to embed Power View reports in custom apps.
    • Data alerts on Power View and SSRS in native mode.
    • Q&A on prem
    • Bring Power BI features to boxed products. Since we decouple Power BI from SharePoint, installing it on a local IIS server shouldn’t be an issue.
  • SSIS – Project mode and development enhancements in 2012 were great but the product group should take a look at competing products, especially those that attempt to automate ETL. I don’t care much about the Data Flow since I typically use the ETL pattern, so I won’t comment on the data flow tasks.
    • Data profiling should be built in the data sources instead of separated as a separate task
    • Change management – make it easy to see what source mappings have changed. Don’t make me go through input and output connectors to fix these mappings when they change.
    • Scale out ETL across multiple servers
  • SQL Database Engine – Based on what I do, I need better support for data warehousing.
    • Improve query optimizer for large joins
    • Unify memory technologies – in most cases you want to have both in-memory tables and fast analysis.
    • Enhance clustered columnstore indexes to support additional regular indexes. See my post for more info.
    • Ideally, unify MDS and DQS into a single product as there is a significant overlap.
    • MDS Excel add-in is good but usability needs to be improved. No one wants to scroll a long pick list of a domain-based attribute to find something.
    • Ability to reference an entity from another model.