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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Spontaneous Interviews at PASS Summit 2017

Conversations with Julie Koesmarno, Olivier Matrat, Aaron Nelson, Seth Bauer and Robert Bruckner captured in video interviews below…

Continuing my video blog series of interviews from PASS Summit, I had the opportunity to catch-up with several Microsoft BI and Data Platform industry leaders amid the crowds and between sessions.  Stay tuned to this station for many more interviews and insider information about the Microsoft Business Intelligence and Data Platform.

I caught up with Julie Koesmarno in the Community Zone, a few days after travelling together on the SQL Train (aka “Oregon SQL Party Train to Seattle”) from Oregon SQL Saturday the weekend before Summit.  She’s been a non-stop community advocate for several years, and continues to speak at events all over.  Julie was an Business Intelligence consultant and user group leader in Australia and Southern California before joining Microsoft as technical evangelist.  You might recognize her from the executive demonstration during the opening keynote at PASS Summit last year.

Olivier Matrat, Principal Program Manager (that’s Microsoft job title code for “in charge of a lot of important stuff”), talks about how they are hard at work integrating several products in the “Power *” suite.  This is the first time I’d heard of all the “Power…” prefixed product names unofficially referred to as “Power Star”, but it makes perfect sense.  Olivier said that we can expect to see tighter integration between tools like Power BI, Flow and Power Apps with more embeddable features for developers and solution integrators.

Aaron Nelson, Data Platform MVP and hard-core PowerShell enthusiast, spoke about some new capabilities he presented in his session about PowerShell for Business Intelligence. The new REST API will let Power BI and report server admins orchestrate server migrations and task automation with PowerShell CmdLets.  He seized the opportunity to promote the PASS PowerShell virtual group that he helps manage, at SQLPS.IO.  I’ve promised Aaron a follow-up post to demonstrate how the REST API works with PowerShell and the new MSBuild integration, so please watch my blog for that in the next few days.

I chatted with Seth Bauer, BI consultant and Data Platform MVP, on the escalator in the Washington State Convention Center between sessions.  Seth has been on the front lines of the Power BI advisors community since the product launched.  He cites Q&A Natural Language and Explain the Difference as examples of the most compelling features.   He participates in PASS Summit for professional networking and to stay current with BI technologies.

Robert Bruckner is a Senior Architect on the Power BI team and long-time developer lead for Reporting Services.  He told me that there are many exciting capabilities on the horizon for Power BI and other integrated reporting technologies that are still under NDA.  He mentioned a recent announcement that the On-premises gateway will soon support single sign-on, delegation, load balancing and high-availability.  It is truly exciting to see such emphasis on enterprise-scale capabilities for these tools.

The Future of Power Query – Interviews with Chris Webb at PASS Summit 2017

In a series of interviews during PASS Summit 2017 in Seattle, the week of October 30 through November 3, I caught up with Chris Webb, who is an international BI community thought-leader and product team advisor for Microsoft.  We chatted about his love affair with Power Query, lessons learned from many years of expert Business Intelligence project work and his thoughts about the future of Power Query and other Microsoft tools.  Chris had just finished an all day preconference presentation the day before our interview and his experience was fresh in-mind.  He has a long history of deep expertise with SQL Server, Analysis Services multidimensional and tabular technologies, MDX and DAX.  His focus lately has been teaching, writing and using Power Query in practice.

He was so interesting and insightful that I honestly couldn’t edit anything out of the final recording, so I split it into three parts.

Chris Webb Interview Part 1 of 3

In the first installment, Chris talks about how he got started with Power Query and why he thought it was worth his investment of time and energy.  He hadn’t planned to bet his career on Power Query.  He said “this tool was cool!  I liked playing with it…”  He carried on playing with Power Query until he fell in love with the product and its awesome ability to transform data in ways that weren’t possible before with the same easy and elegance.  Maybe the long-term success and pervasive integration of Power Query into more products will be bolstered by the enthusiasm of Chris and others in the community who just love to use it.

Chris Webb Interview Part 2 of 3

We began with the question: “Do you ever foresee Power Query being used as an enterprise ETL tool in lieu of something like SSIS?”  Chris shares his thoughts about Power Query as a self-service, desktop data transformation tool and its juxtaposition with other with older, more complicated data tools.  He says it is “a universal query generator”, capable of performing “query folding” (translating and pushing  queries back to the data source engine for each data provider).  We discussed how Microsoft is committed to supporting and enhancing Power Query, not only for desktop analysis but to perform tasks partitioning in Analysis Services tabular, with many other possible scenarios.  His passion for this tool is so apparent in our discussion.

Chris Webb Interview Part 3 of 3

How can you get started with Power Query and where is the best place to go for expert advice?  Chris wrote one of the best books on the topic that, in my opinion, is very relevant today.  I gave him the bait and he wouldn’t take it when I asked: “can you recommend any good books on Power Query?”  In his usual, humble, fashion he tells me how difficult it is to write a good book about a product that changes so much; and goes on to recommend several online learning resources.

We conclude with Chris’ advice about how to get started and where to go for best practices, to develop expertise and advanced knowledge.

You can follow Chris Webb’s frequent posts on his blog, at: blog.crossjoin.co.uk
Thank you, Chris, for your time and willingness to share your thoughts and expertise.

Resources for Power Query Chris mentioned:

Implementing Row-Level Security in Power BI

The best method to implement row-level security in a published Power BI model or SSAS Tabular model consumed from the Power BI service will depend to some degree on your data structure and requirements.  The method I demonstrate here is one of the most flexible approaches and one that I commonly use in my projects. Continue reading

Can’t We Just Get Along? Making SSRS, Power BI and Excel Play Well Together

Please join me and other 2017 PASS Summit speakers for 24 Hours of PASS: Summit Preview on July 19th and 20th.  24HOP is a series of 60 minute on-line sessions presented back-to-back for 24 hours, from the same professionals who will deliver preconference and main conference sessions during the Summit the first week of November this year.  These online sessions are free of charge and normally attended by thousands of individuals to gain insight and knowledge about the topics.  24 Hours of PASS features free educational webinars delivered over 24 hours. Topics covered in this edition include Performance Tuning, SQL Server 2017, Linux, DevOps, Azure, PowerShell, SSRS, Power BI and much more. Browse all sessions. These webinars provide a sneak peek at some of the best practices, expert tips and demos you’ll find at this year’s PASS Summit in Seattle. Continue reading

Reporting Services 2016, Power BI and PASS Summit 2016

What am I most excited about as I prepare for the PASS Summit here in Seattle this week?  A lot of things.  Preparing for my session, which will be on Thursday at 1:30, by far the most popular and interesting topics are about integration and tool choice.  Today’s public announcement on the SSRS product team blog about on-premises Power BI integration with Reporting Services is really big news.  It’s great to see two of the technologies I love working together.  Whether in the cloud or on-premises, Power BI and Reporting Services can be used together.

Thursday’s session is titled “Reporting Services 2016, the Force Awakens”.  The consensus among industry users is that Reporting Services was stalled and left alone for far too long.  Technology and industry trends have moved forward over the past five years or so but Microsoft have invested in other tools and products, aside from Reporting Services.  The SSRS server architecture is capable but the rendering and delivery components needed to be modernized.

The good news is that the modernization effort has been underway for quite some time.  Resources that were directed to other investments have been recommitted, not only to the Reporting Services product, but to integration across the product stack.  It’s really hard to build a reporting platform that addresses every need.  I think Microsoft have a history of creating false expectations by putting experimental and incomplete features  out in the industry that weren’t on the committed roadmap.  I know better than to believe that the pattern won’t ever be repeated but I firmly believe that there is a well-defined reporting and BI roadmap and product teams are making rapid progress against it.  It is once again an exciting time to invest in the Microsoft analytics, reporting and BI tool set.

I’ll publish the entire deck after the 2016 Summit.  Until then, here are some selected slides…

Comparing the progress of new features added to SSRS over the release cycles, the product really slept from 2010 until 2016.

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Microsoft’s reporting & analytic platform has shifted significant as they moved from products to services, and from servers to the cloud.  The dust is settling on this major refocusing effort.  Capabilities that were introduced in Azure, Cortana Analytics and Power BI are now becoming available to “the box”, on-premises or in hybrid cloud scenarios.  We can expect more announcements on this as the roadmap is played-out and gaps are filled-in.

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Reporting Services is a central player in the on-prem delivery of the BI, analytics and reporting tools offered by Microsoft.  These include Excel, Paginated reports created with SSDT/report designer or Report Builder, Mobile Reports and Power BI Desktop.

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…more to come!

check back for updates.