SQL, M or Dax? – part 2

[ Related posts in this series: SQL, M or DAX: When Does it Matter? SQL, M or Dax? – part 2 SQL or M? – SSAS Partitions Using SQL Server Table-Valued Functions (UDFs) SQL or M? – SSAS Partitions in Power Query/M ]

This is a post about a post about a post.  Thanks to those of you who are entering comments in the original May 12 post titled SQL, M or DAX?  This is a popular topic. And thanks to Adam Saxton for mentioning this post in his Guy in A Cube Weekly Roundup.

This is a HUUUUGE topic and I can tell that I’ve struck a chord with many BI practitioners by bringing it up.  Please post your comments and share your ideas.  I’m particularly interested in hearing your challenging questions and your thoughts about the pros-and-cons of some less-obvious choices about whether to implement transformations & calculations in SQL, M or DAX.

This week, I have had engaging conversations on this topic while working on a Power BI consulting project for a large municipal court system.  As a consultant, I’ve had three weeks of experience with their data and business environment.  The internal staff have spent decades negotiating the intricacies and layers upon layers of business process so of course, I want to learn from their experience but I also want to cautiously pursue opportunities to think outside the box.  That’s why they hired me.

Tell me if this situation resonates with you…  Working with a SQL Server database developer who is really good with T-SQL but fairly new to Power BI & tabular modeling, we’re building a data model and reports sourced from a line-of-business application’s SQL Server database.  They’ve been writing reports using some pretty complicated SQL queries embedded in SSRS paginated reports.  Every time a user wants a new report, a request is sent to the IT group.  A developer picks up the request, writes some gnarly T-SQL query with pre-calculated columns and business rules.  Complex reports might take days or weeks of development time.  I needed to update a dimension table in the data model and needed a calculated column to differentiate case types.  Turns out that it wasn’t a simple addition and his response was “I’ll just send you the SQL for that…you can just paste it”.  The dilemma here is that all the complicated business rules had already been resolved using layers of T-SQL common table expressions (CTEs), nested subqueries and CASE statements.  It was very well-written SQL and it would take considerable effort to re-engineer the logic into a dimensional tabular model to support general-use reporting.  After beginning to nod-off while reading through the layers of SQL script, my initial reaction was to just paste the code and be done with it.  After all, someone had already solved this problem, right?

The trade-off by using the existing T-SQL code is that the calculations and business rules are applied at a fixed level of granularity and within a certain business context.  The query would need to be rewritten to answer different business questions.  If we take the “black box” approach and paste the working and tested SQL script into the Power Query table definition, chances are that we won’t be able to explain the query logic in a few months, after we’ve moved on and forgotten this business problem.  If you are trying to create a general-purpose data model to answer yet-to-be-defined questions, then you need to use design patterns that allow developers and users to navigate the model at different levels of grain across different dimension tables, and in different filtering contexts.  This isn’t always the right answer but in this case, I am recommending that we do as little data merging, joining and manipulation as possible in the underlying source queries.  But, the table mapping between source and data model are not one-to-one.  In some cases, two or three source tables are combined using SQL joins, into a flattened and simplified lookup table – containing only the necessary, friendly-named columns and keys, and no unnecessary clutter like CreatedDateTime, ModifiedDateTime and CreatedByUser columns.  Use custom columns in M/Power Query to transform the row-level calculated values and DAX measures to perform calculations in aggregate and within filter/slicing/grouping context.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to add KPI indicators to a Table in Power BI

Yesterday a friend asked for a little help getting started with Power BI.  He’s a DBA and system administrator and wanted to cut his teeth on Power BI with a really simple dashboard-style scorecard report.  Using a list of database servers with license expiration dates, he thought it would be a simple matter to calculate and show the expiration status for each server using a simple traffic light indicator.  The envisioned server list might look something like this:

image

Makes perfect sense, right?  This is a basic use case and a good application for simple KPIs; with the one minor caveat that POWER BI DOESN’T SUPPORT THIS!

This topic has become a bit of a soapbox topic for me because it’s a capability that, in my opinion, is a very obvious gap in the Power BI feature set.  After unleashing my rant, I’ll demonstrate a solution in this post.

<BEGIN RANT>

The most interesting thing about this missing feature is that for many years it has existed in the products that evolved into the current Power BI product .  Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are defined as scriptable objects in SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) with tremendous flexibility.  KPIs are simple…  the STATE element of a KPI (often considered “Bad”, “OK”, or “Good” status) is translated into a visual indicator, usually an icon (commonly “Red”, “Yellow” or “Green”, respectively).  There are variations on this theme but it’s a very simple concept and a good solution has existed for many years.  In SSAS Tabular, the State logic was dummied-down to a slider control that eliminated some of the flexibility we have in the earlier multidimensional project designer but it still works.  The slider UX expects that the state applies when a value is equal to or greater then the threshold for yellow and green, and less-then the threshold value for red. Queries returned from SSAS include metadata that tells Excel, Power BI visuals or a variety of other client tools: “The KPI state is 1 (meaning ‘good’) so display a square green icon for this item”.  If you have the luxury of building your data model in Analysis Services using the SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) designer for tabular models – or in Power Pivot for Excel, you would define a KPI using this dialog:

See the source image

The actual return value for a KPI designed this way is really just “–1”, “0” or “1” which typically represent “Bad”, “OK” and “Good” states, respectively.  As I said, you have other options like switching the red/green position or using 5 states rather than 3.  The multidimensional KPI designer even gives you more flexibility by allowing you to write a formula to return the VALUE, STATE and TREND element values for a KPI separately.  It would be wonderful to have the same capability in Power BI. It would be marvelous if we could the slider UI like this and then an Advanced button to override the default logic and define more complex rules in DAX!  The SSAS architecture already supports this capability so it just needs to be added to the UI.

If you design your data model using SSAS multidimensional or tabular, or using Power Pivot for Excel (which was the first iteration of Power BI) KPIs are just magically rendered in native Power BI visuals like a Table or Matrix.  But alas, Power BI Desktop does not have this well-established feature that could easily be ported from Power Pivot or the SSAS Tabular model designer.

</ END RANT>

…back to my friend’s simple scorecard report.

Using out-of the box features, the best we could do was this…
Create a calculated column in the table that returns -1 when the expiration date has passed, 0 if it is today and 1 if the expiration date is in the future.  Here’s the DAX script for the column definition:

Expiration Status Val =
IF([EndofLifeDate] < TODAY(), -1
, IF([EndofLifeDate] > TODAY(), 1
, 0
)
)

Next, add some fields and the new column to a table visual and use the Conditional Formatting setting in the table properties to set rules for the Back Color property of the calculated column, like this:

ConditionalFormatting

Here’s the table with the conditionally-formatted column:

image

Why Not Use the KPI Visuals?

The standard KPI visual in Power BI is designed to visualize only one value rather than one for each row in a table.  Like an Excel Pivot Table, if KPIs were defined in a Power Pivot or SSAS cube or model; a Power BI Table will simply visualize them but the Power BI model designer doesn’t yet offer the ability to create KPI objects.

Several community developers have tried to fill the feature gap with custom visuals but every one of them seems to address different and specific use cases, such as time-series trending or comparing multiple measure values.  I have yet to use one of the available KPI visuals that just simply allows you to visualize the KPI status for each row in a table, without having to customize or shape the data in unique and complicated ways.

How to Design Status KPIs With Indicators

Here’s the fun part:  Using the Expiration Status column values (-1, 0 or 1), we can dynamically switch-out the image information in another calculated column.  Power BI has no provision for embedding images into a report in a way that they can be used dynamically.  You can add an image, like a logo, to a report page and you can reference image files using a URL but you cannot embed them into a table or use conditional expressions.

Using this trick, you can conditionally associate images with each row of a table.  This is a technique I learned from Jason Thomas, whose blog link is below.  Using a Base64 encoder, I encoded three state KPI indicator images as text which I then copied and pasted into the following calculated column formula DAX script:

Expired = SWITCH([Expiration Status],
1,
“data:image/jpeg;base64,
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”,
-1,
“data:image/jpeg;base64,
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”,
0,
“data:image/jpeg;base64,
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”
)

The encoded binary strings correspond to these three images, in this order:

image

To reuse this, you should be able to simply copy and paste this code from here into a new calculated column.  You no longer need the image files because that binary content is now stored in the table column.  It really doesn’t matter what labels you use for the status key values as long as they correspond to the keys used in the preceding code.  I’m using the conventional -1, 0 and 1 because that’s the way SSAS KPIs work.

On the Modeling ribbon, set the Data Category for the new column to “Image URL”:

image

That’s it!  Just add any of these columns to a Table visual and WHAM, KPI indicators!

image

*Incidentally, since adopting Jason’s technique, Gerhard Brueckl came up with a method utilizing Power Query to manage and import image files that I will use in the future.  Prior to that, I used  this site Jason recommended in his post.  My thought is that if a separate table only stored three rows (one for each KPI status), the status key value would be used to relate the tables.  It would be interesting to see if using a related table reduces the PBIX file size or if VertiPaq can effectively compress the repeating values of image column.  May be a good topic for a later post.

http://sqljason.com/2018/01/embedding-images-in-power-bi-using-base64.html

https://blog.gbrueckl.at/2018/01/storing-images-powerbi-analysis-services-data-models/

 

CALL TO ACTION:

Please vote up this feature request so we can get the Power BI product team to add it back to the product:
https://ideas.powerbi.com/forums/265200-power-bi-ideas/suggestions/9378456-when-will-the-kpi-red-yellow-green-indicators-be-a

Power BI Global Hackathon Contest Results

The results of last month’s Power BI Global Hackathon are in! The Hackathon was facilitated by our our PUG here in Portland with the goal of welcoming global contenders in subsequent contest. Five teams entered the contest using publically-available data to visualize and tell data stories using our favorite data analysis platform.  Congratulations to Xinyu Zheng and Ron Barrett for winning the challenge with their entry, analyzing Yelp restaurant star ratings.  These were all great entries and you can view the contest results in the Power BI report below.

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Here are the published projects that were entered in the Hackathon:

Xinyu and Ron analyzed ratings from nearly 1200 restaurant Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Las Vegas.  Results compare ratings and reviews by restaurant and food categories, sentiment and key phrases in the review comments

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I loved the creativity of this solution from Jeremy Black and Kirill Perian who analyzed alcohol sales statistics using infographics and bookmarks to switch out visuals on the same page.  The presentation concludes on the last page of the report with an auto-advancing variation of “100 Bottles of Beer on The Wall”.  Nice touch.

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I’m admittedly a bit biased because this was my design, with a lot of help from Brian, Ron and Greg.  We used a series of tables to prompt a user for Power BI solution business requirements and recommend fitting solution architectures and components.  We pushed some practical and technical limits in our project and I’ll write a separate post about it.

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This entry from Ron Ellis Gaut is a nice, clean orchestration of county health data, measuring health and comparing personal well-being and program efficacy.

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The entry from Daniel Claborne emphasizes machine learning predictions performed with R Script, commonly used in data science.  He actually includes the annotated code and explains the technique and the approach using training and prediction data sets.

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The Portland Power BI User Group was one of the first and continues to be one of the most active in the international community.  We meet on the 4th Wednesday evening every month in Beaverton, Oregon. Today there are many active PUGs all over the world.

 

Managing Multiple Power BI Desktop Application Versions

Question:  How many different versions of Power BI Desktop might you have installed at one time?

Answer: Three (or more)

What happens when you have different versions installed, and how can you make sure that you use the right version for a given Power BI report file?

An issue came up this week when I tried to open a Power BI Desktop file (.PBIX) from File Explorer and Power BI Desktop told me I was headed down a dark and difficult path. Well, not exactly, but it displayed the following message:

Unable to open document

The queries were authored with a newer version of Power BI Desktop and might not work with your version.

Please install the latest version to avoid errors when refreshing.

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When I clicked the Close button, rather than leaving me to correct with what seemed to be a complicated and potentially damaging situation, Power BI Desktop starts up and continues to tell me about the perils that lie ahead, in this message:

Report layout differences might exist

This Power BI report file may have some features that aren’t available in Power BI Desktop until the next release.

If you need to see the latest version you worked with on the web (app.powerbi.com), please view the report there. We’re sorry for any inconvenience.

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As an unsuspecting user, I might be confused but at least I can rest assured that the application developers at Microsoft who write these warning messages are thoughtful and apologetic.

What’s going on?

In addition to the reports I author and deploy to the Power BI cloud service, I also create reports for my on-premises Power BI Report Server.  Report Server requires an older version of Power BI Desktop which can be installed from the menu on the report server.  This older version of desktop (October 2017 in my case) is sandboxed by Windows so it doesn’t get upgraded by the latest Power BI Desktop installer when I update it from the PowerBI.com.  In Control Panel, you can see both installations:

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The problem I experienced was a result of installing the older desktop version for PBRS after the newest version.  The file extensions (PBIX and PBIT) are already associated with whatever version of desktop is installed and registered with Windows.  The remedy is quite simple… just reinstall the latest version of Power BI Desktop and perform a Repair if you already have that version installed.

This next part is more informational than problematic but it actually is possible to have additional “versions” or packages of Power BI Desktop installed.  If you install Power BI Desktop from the Windows 10 Microsoft Store, you get a sandboxed installation that runs in a restricted “safe” security context.  This is a good option for users in a restricted corporate network environment who don’t have local admin access to their computer/  In most cases, they can install the application this way.  As you can see, I actually have three separate Power BI Desktop installations.

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These are all 64 bit builds of the desktop applications so I could even install 32 bit builds of Power BI Desktop as well.  I would only do that for compatibility with an old 32 bit database driver or if I were running on an old 32 bit Windows machine, which is not an ideal scenario.  Keep in mind that 32 bit applications can only use a limited amount of RAM (about 3.7 GB minus some system overhead).

Keeping Up with Power BI – A Never Ending Story

This first week of the new year has been a lot of housecleaning for me (literally and figuratively…  my office desk and cabinet will be clean by the end of the day!).  Three years into teaching classes and workshops on being productive with Power BI, it continues to be a product requiring a lot of work to stay current.  New features are introduced in every Power BI Desktop monthly update; not to mention updates to the cloud service and on-prem server.  You would have to be a child of the 80s to get the Never Ending Story reference.  Otherwise, it’s just a really bad flying dog – and pop song, which are both hard to explain, so we won’t.  The point is that it’s an ongoing effort to keep skills, courseware and presentation material up-to-date.

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If you’re like me, sometimes all these updates can be a bit of a distraction (we’re talking about Power BI again – not the dog, movie or song… case in point).  I’m excited by the continual innovations and improvements to Power BI.  However, the foundational rules of good design don’t really change that much.  Effective data curation, correct modeling and good core visualization design are as critical as ever.  The trick is to know which new features may be used to improve foundational design and which ones you can leave as icing on the cake for minor enhancements.  Updating courseware and workshop labs seems to be a never ending task and I’m hard at work revising older material and adding new content to prepare for new events this year.  An important topic I will continue to revisit this year is how Power BI is used along with other Microsoft tools to create different types of solutions.  I’m working on a new presentation to describe all of the incarnations of Power BI, used to deliver everything from self-service desktop reports – all the way up to enterprise-scale solutions for corporate users with governed and secured data – and most everything in-between.

The first workshop of the new year will be a one day preconference before the Redmond SQL Saturday, on Microsoft campus Friday, February 9.  You can sign-up for this event here.  I’m working on a few others in the following months and will update this and other blog posts when they are scheduled.  I hope to see you there.  You are welcome to send me questions or suggestions about specific topics of focus.  Just add a comment to this post, or reach me through Twitter or LinkedIn.

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