Q&A in Power BI Desktop

Natural queries (aka Q&A) has been a prominent feature since Power BI Service existed. Wouldn’t be nice to do the same in the Power BI Desktop? You can, but make sure to enable first Q&A from File, Options and Settings, Options (“Preview features”) tab because it’s currently a preview feature. Once you do this and restart Power BI Desktop, you should see “Ask A Question” button in the Home ribbon.

Sometimes the fastest way to get an answer from your data is to ask a question using natural language. For example, “what were total sales last year.” Use Power BI Q&A on the cloud or desktop to explore your data using intuitive, natural language capabilities and receive answers in the form of charts and graphs.

As of this time, Q&A requires data to be imported. It doesn’t work with DirectQuery connections. There are two ways to activate Q&A in Power BI Desktop:

  1. Double-click an empty space anywhere on a page.
  2. Click the “Ask A Question” button in the Home ribbon’s tab.

This adds an empty “Stacked Column Chart” visual and a Q&A area above it that prompts you to ask a question about your data. On the desktop, Q&A works the same way as in Power BI Service. As you type in your question, it guides you through the metadata fields and visualizes the data.

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Once you’re done with the question, you can use the visual just like any other visuals. Unlike Power BI Service, once you deactivate the visual, such by clicking somewhere else on the page, the Q&A box disappears, and you can’t bring it back to see what question was asked.

SSRS Multivalue Parameters in DAX

Déjà vu today with a twist. SSRS multivalue parameters in SSAS reports but this time in DAX. Now that SSAS Designer supports DAX queries, we should be able to do everything we were able to do in MDX, right? Unfortunately, as you will quickly discover, Microsoft “forgot” about multivalue parameters when working on the DAX Designer.

You can use MDX (no shame there) and write queries the old way, but if you are a DAX purist, you’d need to take the road less traveled which goes through the DAX rabbit hole.

Here are the high-level steps in the SSDT Report Designer/Report Builder and I tried my best to simplify this as much as I can:

  1. Do as much drag and drop using the DAX Graphical Query Designer to auto-generate the DAX query, as you won’t have another chance once you switch to a text mode. You can also use the graphical mode to declare your parameter(s) and to let SSRS autogenerate the report-level parameters and queries.
  2. If you let the DAX Query Designer auto-generate the parameter queries, change the Available Values of the report-level parameters to use ParameterCaption field (not the ParameterValue column). If the parameter uses default values, change the Default Values tab to set the default values by captions (not using pipe-delimited format that the DAX Designer auto-generates). Again, that’s because we’d use the parameter caption.
    011218_0216_SSRSMultiva1.png
  3. Go to the properties of the main dataset, flip to the Parameters tab and change the expression to concatenate the parameter values with a pipe “|”, such as =Join(Parameters!DateFiscalYear.Value,”|”). You’ll see why in a moment.
    011218_0216_SSRSMultiva2.png
  4. Now open the main DAX report query and switch to Text mode. Promise yourself never to go back to the Graphical mode (the one that lets you drag and drop). Click the Parameters button and reconfigure the parameter by selecting the empty value in the Dimension column. For testing the query inside the query designer, you might want to enter some pipe-delimited values in the Default column.
    011218_0216_SSRSMultiva3.png
  5. Change the main query to support multivalue parameters. The following query highlights the important changes:

    EVALUATE
    SUMMARIZECOLUMNS (
    ‘Date'[Fiscal Year],
    FILTER (
    VALUES ( ‘Date'[Fiscal Year] ),
    (
                OR (
                    ( @DateFiscalYear = “All” ),
                    PATHCONTAINS ( @DateFiscalYear, ‘Date'[Fiscal Year] )
                )
    )
    ),
    “Internet Total Sales”, [Internet Total Sales],
    “Reseller Total Sales”, [Reseller Total Sales]
    )

I removed the variable (VAR) definitions (not needed after simplifying the query). The filter expression uses an OR condition. If the user selects the parameter “All” value, then all rows are returned. If specific values are selected, the PATHCONTAINS function would return TRUE for that row in the filtered column (‘Date'[Fiscal Year] in this case) that matches one of the selected values. If you have more parameters, simply add more FILTER clauses.

I attach a report to demonstrate the changes.

Power BI Writeback

One of the Power BI most prominent strengths is that it’s a part of the much broader Microsoft Data Platform that spans various on-premises and cloud offerings for data storage, processing, and analysis. After the integration with Visio, Power BI just took another leap forward with the introduction of the PowerApps custom visual. Use this visual to bridge the Data Analytics and Developer worlds. Now your Power BI apps can integrate with Line of Business (LOB) applications in versatile ways. Suppose you have a Power BI report that shows sales by customers. As the user browses the data, he realizes that some changes need to be made. Granted, the user can open the appropriate business app and make the changes there, and then go back to the report to see the changes. But read-only reports and are so 20th century. Instead, why can’t we allow the user to make the changes on the report by integrating it with PowerApps? This scenario is commonly referred to as writeback.

010718_1648_PowerBIWrit1.png

This is exactly the approach my Customer Writeback app demonstrates. The user selects a customer in the table and the customer details show up in the Change Customer visual to the right. This is the PowerApps visual that references my Customer Writeback PowerApps app. The user can make changes in the form and save the changes back to the underlying database. Then he can refresh the report to see these changes. If you have experience with PowerApps, implementing this scenario takes minutes. If this is the first time you hear about PowerApps, don’t worry; it’s take much to learn it especially if you have a developer background. Here are the important implementation details:

  1. Implement your Power BI report first. In my case, I implemented the report in Power BI Desktop. I connected live (DirectQuery) to my AdventureWorksDW2012 Azure SQL Database. Connecting live is preferable for writeback reports because the user can just refresh the report to see the updates. If your Power BI Desktop file imports the data, the user would have to wait for the dataset to refresh to sync the data changes.
  2. Deploy the report to Power BI Service (powerbi.com). Currently, only published reports can create new PowerApps apps (Power BI Desktop reports can only connect to existing apps).
  3. Open the report in edit mode. In the Visualizations pane, click the ellipsis (…) button and import the PowerApps custom visual from the Office Store. With the PowerApps visual selected, add the fields that you want to make available to PowerApps. When the report is previewed, Power BI will pass to PowerApps a dataset with these fields.
  4. In the PowerApps visual, click Create New to create a new app. This will open the PowerApps Web Studio, but you prefer developing on the desktop, there is also a desktop version of the PowerApps Studio that you can install from the Microsoft Store.
  5. My app is as simple as it could be. All is needed is a single form that populates its fields from the same AdventureWorksDW2012 database. The form uses the following expression for the Item property. Although Power BI passes a dataset, in my case the dataset has only one record, so the First function returns that record. When you create the app, Power BI would create a PowerBIIntegration custom data source, which is what Power BI uses to pass the data. The expression filters the form source data where CustomerID in DimCustomer table matches the Customer ID field pushed by Power BI.
    First(Filter(‘[dbo].[DimCustomer]’, CustomerAlternateKey = First(PowerBIIntegration.Data).CustomerID ))
  6. Your app can use any of the PowerApps controls to visualize the data, including toggles, dropdowns, data pickers, buttons, and so on. Because the Toggle control expects a Boolean field, I couldn’t just submit the form to update the underlying record. Instead, I had to rely on the Patch function to translate the Boolean value to ‘1’ or ‘0’ because that’s the values the DimCustomer table stores.
    Patch(‘[dbo].[DimCustomer]’, First(Filter(‘[dbo].[DimCustomer]’, CustomerAlternateKey = First(PowerBIIntegration.Data).CustomerID )),{FirstName:DataCardValue2.Text,LastName:DataCardValue3.Text,HouseOwnerFlag:If(Toggle1.Value=true, “1”, “0”), EnglishEducation:Education.Selected.Value})
  7. Preview the app to test it as you go. To test it from the Power BI report, you need to publish the app. Before you go live, don’t forget to share the app with the same users that will view your report. One of nice aspects of the Power BI integration with Power Apps is that the custom visual references to the published app so that you can test the changes as you develop. However, one thing I encountered is that sometimes the changes are not immediately reflected, so I had to navigate off the report and come back to it to test the latest changes.

The Power BI integration with PowerApps opens exiting new possibilities and redefines the meaning of a report. Because PowerApps integrate with Microsoft Flow, you can integrate your reports with “smart” applications that you can implement with almost no code! Featuring more than 100 data sources, you can use PowerApps as an integration hub to mash data from almost any place and then embed PowerApps screens in Power BI reports.

I attach the source code of the Customer Writeback app. You can open it in the desktop version of the PowerApps Studio.

Applied Power BI Book (3rd Edition)

I’m excited to announce the third edition of my Applied Microsoft Power BI book! When the original book was published  in January 2016, it was the first Power BI book at that time. Since then, I helped many companies adopt or transition to Power BI, and taught hundreds of students. It’s been a great experience to witness the momentum surrounding Power BI.

The third revision added more than 20% new content (the book is now 426 pages) and probably that much content was rewritten to keep the book up with the ever-changing world of Power BI. Because I had to draw a line somewhere, Applied Microsoft Power BI (3nd edition) covers all features that were that were released by early December 2017. As with my previous books, I’m committed to help my readers with book-related questions and welcome all feedback on the book discussion forum on the book page. While you are there, feel free to check out the book resources (sample chapter, front matter, and more). I also encourage you to follow my blog at http://prologika.com/blog and subscribing to my newsletter at http://prologika.com to stay on the Power BI latest.

How to get THE Power BI book?

  • Amazon paper copy (should be available next week)
  • Amazon Kindle ebook
  • Other popular channels coming up shortly

Bring your data to life for a third time! Keep on reading and Happy New Year!

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Prologika Newsletter Winter 2017

Sharing Reports with External Users

Happy Holidays! I hope you’re enjoying this special time of the year – time for sharing and giving. Speaking of sharing, how does your company share BI artifacts with your B2B or B2C partners? Do you still send Excel spreadsheets or embed canned SSRS reports? If so, Power BI offers a better sharing model and I’ll show you how in this letter. And about Power BI, I’m proud to announce that the third revision of my “Applied Power BI Book” should be out in a week or so. Thoroughly updated to reflect the latest of the ever-changing cloud world of Power BI and featuring 20% new content, this book is the self-study resource your organization needs to master Power BI.

Sharing in Power BI Service

Many organizations share reports with external users for Business to Business (B2B) or Business to Consumer (B2C) scenarios. If all you need is granting some external users access to some cool interactive reports and dashboards inside powerbi.com, you can do so by just sharing the content out using dashboard sharing or apps, as you do with internal users. But there are some special considerations though so read on.

Like using Power BI for internal use, external users need to be authenticated by a trusted authority. To authenticate external users, Power BI relies on Azure Active Directory (AAD). Therefore, the external organization and user need a record in AAD. If the user doesn’t have an AAD account, the user will be prompted to create one. Let’s say Elena from Adventure Works wants to grant Matthew from Prologika access to some Power BI content. Elena creates a workspace to host the external content and then she invites Matthew. To do so, she can simply share a dashboard or create an app, and then add Matthew’s email as a recipient. Matthew receives an invitation email with a link to the dashboard or app. Matthew clicks the link to access the content. Azure AAD verifies that Prologika and Matthew have records in AAD. If so, AAD will ask Matthew to sign in with his AAD credentials and grant him access to the shared Power BI content.

About cost, Power BI licensing for external users is not much different from licensing internal users. In a nutshell, the external user must have a Power BI Pro license to access Power BI content in the sharing tenant. This license can be acquired in one of three ways:

  1. The sharing organization is on Power BI Premium – If Adventure Works is on Power BI Premium and the sharing workspace is in a premium capacity, Elena can share content to external users, just like she can share content with internal Power BI Free users.
  2. The sharing organization assigns Power BI Pro licenses – Elena can assign one of her organization’s Power BI Pro licenses to Matthew.
  3. The external organization assigns Power BI Pro licenses – In this case, Matthew has a Power BI Pro license from the Prologika’s Power BI tenant. Matthew can bring in his license to all organizations that share content with Prologika.

Sharing with Power BI Embedded

Sharing in Power BI Service is simple, but it has some important drawbacks:

  • Dependency on Azure Active Directory (AAD) – Every user must have an AAD account.
  • Not adequate support for B2C – AAD is expected to support Live IDs soon, such as outlook.com emails, but you’d need to wait for other providers. Yet, many B2C apps allow external customers to authenticate with email addresses of their choice.
  • Per-user license – Despite that Power BI offers three licensing options for external users, every user must be covered by a Power BI Pro license.
  • Read-only reports – Users are limited to read-only reports. They can change existing reports or create new reports.

Collectively known as Power BI Embedded, the Power BI embedded APIs can help your developers overcome these challenges in a cost-effective way. A developer can integrate any modern web-enabled app to embed Power BI dashboards, reports, and even natural questions, so that they appear as a part of your company’s offering (see the screenshot below), instead of redirecting the user to powerbi.com. Reports not only preserve their interactive features, but also users can edit them or create new reports from scratch (if your app lets them)!

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There are two ways to acquire Power BI Embedded. If your organization is on Power BI Premium, you already have everything you need to embed content for both internal and external users (assuming a P plan as EM plans are more restrictive and for embedding only). Most smaller companies and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) looking for embedding content to external users only, would gravitate toward the Azure Power BI Embedded plans. Starting at $750/month, there are currently six Azure plans depending on how much capacity (memory, cores, and report views) you need. The Azure plans can also result in significant cost savings because they allow you to quickly scale up and down, and even pause them! For example, if the most report activity happens within normal working hours, you can scale it down to a lower plan outside the peak period.

Have you used Power BI Embedded before? When Microsoft introduced Power BI Premium in June 2017, they also revamped Power BI Embedded. Previously, Power BI Embedded was for embedding content for external users only. It was implemented as a Microsoft Azure Service and it had its own content storage and different APIs. The problem was that the old Power BI Embedded didn’t have feature parity with Power BI Service. This all changed with the new Power BI Embedded. Think of the new Power BI Embedded as Power BI Service with its own licensing model that has the same features as Power BI Service. The old Power BI Embedded will be discontinued in mid-2018, so it’s time to migrate and modernize your apps.

Power BI Embedded can deliver tremendous value to your business partners by bringing the powerbi.com engaging experience but embedded in your portals and apps. If you need implementation help with Power BI Embedded, drop us an email at http://prologika.com/contact/. Prologika has successfully helped a few organizations integrate their apps with Power BI Embedded. Learn about the business value from one of our engagements in the Microsoft’s “ZynBit Empowers Sales with Microsoft Power BI Embedded” case study.

As you’d probably agree, the BI landscape is fast-moving and it might be overwhelming. If you need any help with planning and implementing your next-generation BI solution, don’t hesitate to contact me. As a Microsoft Gold Partner and premier BI firm, you can trust us to help you plan and implement your data analytics projects, and rest assured that you’ll get the best service. Regards,

Teo Lachev

Teo Lachev President and Owner
Prologika, LLC | Making Sense of Data
Microsoft Partner | Gold Data Analytics

Field Description Support in Power BI Desktop

I’m a big fan of self-documented semantic models. Business users have a hard time getting their way around complex models and descriptions can go a long explaining the purpose of metadata. After waiting for years for Excel to support field descriptions (the wait is still on), the December update of Power BI Desktop now supports them.

121217_0314_FieldDescri1.png

The new Field Properties window lets you enter descriptions for self-service data models. When connecting to Analysis Services, descriptions just light up on hover. A true Christmas gift! And Q&A in Power BI Desktop makes it ever better.

Power BI vs. Tableau (Part 3)

pbivstableau

Feeling the heat, Tableau has come up with an updated Power BI vs. Tableau battle card as one of my clients pointed out. This time designed as a video. I guess the previous “10 Ways Power BI Falls Short” slide deck, which I discussed in the part 1 and part 2 of my “Power BI vs. Tableau” blog , wasn’t effective enough. I concur given the large number of customers abandoning the tool. Tableau is desperately trying to breathe new life into their aging software by a series of acquisitions to stay competitive but they’re now fighting an uphill battle. And their marketing materials should have a timestamp because Power BI improves every month and points get outdated quickly (see the first part 1 of my blog).

But let’s take a look at the latest battle card so we are better positioned to answer the question asked by Tableau “Which one helped me answer my questions faster?”

  1. 2:17 minute – Tableau shows a bar multiple by Year and Region, with the narrative “it’s surprising that other tools can’t do that”. Here is a similar visual with Power BI.
  2. 4:00 minute – Maps. OK, Tableau is very excited about lassoing points on the map like it’s the Holy Grail of geospatial analytics. What about other features that in my opinion are more important, such as using authoritative spatial data, like ArcGIS? Because Tableau its proprietary visualization framework that doesn’t natively support plugins, this is what you have to do to get it with Tableau integrated with ArcGIS. With Power BI, it’s built in a custom visual, which by the way supports lassoing. So, which one helped me answer my questions faster?
  3. 5:30 minute — The high-density outlier pitch. Alas, this time isn’t taking the central stage. As explained here, as of 9/30 all Power BI visuals except maps are high density so it’s a mute point. UPDATE 1/8/2017: As of the December 2017 update of Power BI, maps are high-density too.
  4. 7:11 minute – Tableau pitches that the tool can connect to lots of, lots of data but shows less connectors than Power BI. Power BI has 80 connectors and more are added every month.
  5. 8:00 minute – Tableau discusses collaboration and how easy it should be to share with coworkers by deploying to on-premises Tableau server. Well, I’d argue that it’s easier to deploy to the cloud, or even better, give the user the choice to deploy to a PaaS platform or to on-premises server. I also find it amusing that a tool that was once considered a “gold standard” for data visualization has run out of  visualization strengths, and harps on collaboration from this point on.
  6. 10:00 minute – I’m losing the pitch as Tableau is demonstrating how dashboards have full fidelity when published. So, do Power BI reports.
  7. 11:00 minute – Recipients personalizing shared reports and dashboards by creating views. Tableau has a point here, the Power BI sharing story needs consistency. Previously, organizational content packs allowed users to create personal read-write copies but apps, which supersede content packs, don’t have this feature (they are read-only to the recipient). About filtering, users can pass filters on the report URL. And users can create reports from scratch if they have access to the dataset, such as members of a workspace.
  8. 13:12 minute – Sandboxing and lifecycle management. The current Power BI Service story is to use workspaces for different environments, but Power BI Premium would most likely improve on this. On premises, you can use DEV and QA report servers which don’t require licensing. Try to get a free server with Tableau for QA/DEV!
  9. 14:00 minute – Auditing. Power BI supports usage metrics on report and dashboard level. Power BI also has comprehensive and integrated auditing with Office 365.
  10. 15:00 minute – More pitch about the Tableau Server governance. Well, SSRS/Power BI Report Server had this for a long time. But it also supports SSRS traditional reports, Excel reports, and Power BI reports. Speaking of a centralized report management, can you deploy anything else than Tableau reports to the Tableau report server, so it becomes an enterprise report portal for different report types?
  11. 16:00 minute – More about auditing. SSRS/Power BI Report Server has an execution log for this.

Then at the bottom of the page, we have a study by someone ex-Gartner, citing lower TCO for Tableau compared to Power BI. I can’t be reading this right. From the Gartner’s 2017 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms, “On an annualized basis, Microsoft Power BI is roughly one-third of the license cost of a three-year perpetual BI license, but 80% lower than other cloud BI products. Low total cost of ownership was cited as the second most important reason for reference customers choosing Microsoft Power BI.” Yet, this researcher has found that “Microsoft Power BI’s total cost of ownership (TCO) to be 29% higher than Tableau”? Pick who to trust. And should business users deal with 20 GB datasets to start with? What about the novel idea of putting all of this data into a centralized semantic layer so we don’t have datasets moving around? Wait, isn’t a Tableau model limited to a single dataset with “data blending” capabilities? What’s the TOC then for all these isolated Tableau spreadmarts?

When you talk to Tableau about Power BI, get them to answer also the points I made in Part 2 of “Power BI vs. Tableau” blog.

Hey Cortana, where is Power BI data?

A Power BI presentation is rarely complete if someone doesn’t ask me to demonstrate the Cortana integration. However, unlike everything else in Power BI that gains features in time, in my opinion the Cortana experience has lost some value. Previously, you could ask natural questions in Cortana across datasets, just like you can use the Power BI Service Q&A to gain insights from dashboards. Unfortunately, Microsoft has removed this feature in favor of searching for report pages that are specifically optimized for Cortana (also known as Cortana answer cards). You can also search dashboards and reports by name but that won’t get you the “vow” effect since 1) you need to know the name and 2) when you click the name Cortana opens Power BI in a separate browser window. So much about natural queries and machine learning. I think the change took place after Microsoft decided to move away from Cortana natural queries to Microsoft’s Azure Search Service.

UPDATE 11/7/2017: I’ve heard from Microsoft about the Cortana change. Previously, you could ask natural questions in Cortana across datasets, just like you can use the Power BI Service Q&A to gain insights from dashboards. However, Microsoft noticed there were a large percentage of cases where customers were enabling Q&A in Cortana simply to search for reports, without intending to ask natural questions. This was resulting in unexpected Q&A ad-hoc results showing up in Cortana answer lists, leading to user confusion. So, Microsoft decided it would be better to restrict results to Cortana answer cards until Power BI supports configuration settings to allow model authors to explicitly control whether ad-hoc answers should be enabled as well.

Back to the Cortana answer cards, they appear to work only for datasets created in Power BI Desktop. They don’t work with the Power BI samples, nor they work in reports connected to dataset created directly in Power BI Service (e.g. by importing an Excel file).

Nevertheless, with the rising popularity of voice technologies (Alexa, Siri, Cortana), you’d probably still get the “vow” effect. And, even better, the reports are now interactive!

110617_2220_HeyCortanaw1.png

Can’t get enough from Cortana or get it to work at all? Try the “Troubleshoot Cortana for Power BI” article at https://powerbi.microsoft.com/documentation/powerbi-service-cortana-troubleshoot/?

Power BI Service in Get Data

Scenario: You have published a Power BI Desktop file with a report to Power BI Service. You want to give certain users access to some pages in the report. This is not a security mechanism although it could be, if you want to control security at the report layer.

Solution: When a customer asked about this scenario, my first thought was to create reports directly in Power BI Service. For example, the report that’s included in the Power BI Desktop file could have some visuals that you might want to share with everyone. Then, you create additional reports for each group of users and share them via dashboard sharing. This approach will work but if someone nukes the dataset, your reports go down with it. True, you can export a report connected to a dataset created in Power BI Desktop but who bothers to back up reports on a regular basis?

Then it dawned on me that you can connect Power BI Desktop live to a published dataset, just like you can connect to Analysis Services (recall that datasets published to Power BI Service are hosted in Tabular).

The major benefit of using Get Data->Power BI Service is that you can still back up the Power BI Desktop file and your reports with it.

Another benefit is that you can treat the published dataset as a “semantic layer” and let users create reports from it without importing data. For example, instead of asking users to call a stored procedure passing parameters and importing data, you can export all the required data and publish it to Power BI Service. Then, all users have to do is to connect to the dataset and start creating reports.

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Power BI DirectQuery with Parameterized Stored Procedure

Issue: You have a parameterized SQL Stored procedure that you want to call in DirectQuery mode. You attempt to use “exec sp parameter” syntax in the Power BI Desktop which works in the Query Editor but it fails to execute due to syntax error when you apply changes.

Workaround: Power BI uses the “select * from exec sp” syntax which doesn’t work. However, if you switch to OpenRowset (you’d need to enable ad hoc distribution queries on the database first), it will work. Other possible workarounds that would probably work is inserting the stored procedure results into a temp table and then select from the table, or wrapping the stored procedure with user-defined table function.

I attach a sample that demonstrates the OpenRowset approach. Download the Stored Procedure Direct Query.zip file (link provided at the end of this post) and rename the from *.zip to *.pbix.

Here is the query text:

= Sql.Database(“elite2”, “AdventureWorks2012″, [Query=”SELECT * FROM #(lf)OPENROWSET(‘SQLNCLI’,’trusted_connection=yes’, ‘exec AdventureWorks2012..uspGetAddress ”” & @City & “”’)”, CreateNavigationProperties=false])

I went one step further and parameterized the stored procedure parameter so that your users can set it conveniently using Edit Queries -> Edit Parameters.

Stored Procedure Direct Query