Power BI Workshops – Dates and Locations

The Hands-On Power BI Workshop has been a great success and and a good opportunity to learn this technology first-hand.  The following workshops are scheduled in the next couple of months:

Huntington Beach / Orange County, CA – April 1, 2016

This is a full-day learning event on the Friday before Huntington Beach SQL Saturday #497

Phoenix, AZ – April 15, 2016

This is a full-day learning event on the Friday before Phoenix SQL Saturday #492

San Jose, CA – May 3, 2016

PASS Business Analytics Conference 2 hour micro workshop.  Tuesday, May 3rd 2:30 – 4:45

Publish to the Web, Partner Showcase & Best Power BI Report Contest

It was a big day for Power BI!

The Power BI Partner Showcase is online as of today. Please check-out the two solutions from SolidQ: https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/partner-showcase/

Power BI reports can now be embedded into a pubic-facing website!  Today,
Faisal Mohamood, Group Product Manager on the Power BI team announced that Power BI reports can now be published to the web for all the world to see – woo hoo!    I’ve worked with the feature and it’s quite easy to implement.  Details are here.  To exhibit this new capability, Microsoft is hosting a Best Report competition which I entered with the SolidQ Airline Performance Tracker.

Please vote for your favorite visual report created with Power BI.  Here is my entry into the contest:  http://community.powerbi.com/t5/Best-Report-Contest/SolidQ-Airline-Performance/m-p/17207#M11

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Hey, Cortana; Show me Power BI

The proliferation of Power BI across the Microsoft ecosystem is astounding and Power BI keeps popping up in the most interesting places like live streaming dashboards in Cortana Analytics and just recently on the Windows 10 desktop.  Power BI is so much more than a simple data visualization tool for desktop data and social media streams.  With the Windows 10 Cortana integration, you simply ask Cortana a question and the answer is visualized in the search results window above the Start button.  Any published datasets you choose are added to the list of all the stuff Cortana checks when you ask her questions.  A link below the visual takes you to your Power BI dashboard in the web browser to interact, add fields & filters, change the visual; and pin the results to the dashboard if you like.

I’ve made a quick video to demonstrate how it works.  By the way, you can just type your questions instead of speaking them to Cortana.  Questions are sent to the Power BI Q&A feature for the datasets you chose to integrate from your subscription.

The Windows 10 “Threshold 2” update a couple weeks ago introduces Power BI integration with Cortana on the desktop.  I checked for non-critical updates on my desktop machine like I often do each Sunday an Windows Update tells me that the update is ready to download and install:

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This is a substantial update that took a while – and a few system reboots – to install.  Once the system is updated, you need to make sure the user account you use for your Power BI subscription is integrated with Windows 10 using the Settings > Accounts page in Windows…

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After that, Cortana integration should show up in your Power BI tenant online.  In the settings page, check the “Enable Cortana…” box for each dataset you want to integrate.

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Interacting with Power BI is now a simple matter of asking Cortana  questions that line-up with objects in the published model, just as you would using the Q&A feature from a dashboard in the web browser.  In most cases, you’ll want to navigate from the Windows search results window to the full page view by using the “Show more details in Power BI” link.

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Power BI Hands-on Workshops

Chicago – full-day: March 4, 2016
San Jose, CA – 2 hour session at the PASS BAC, May 3-4, 2016

Will you be in the Chicago area on March 4th?  So will I and you can learn to use Power BI to design real business solutions at my full-day Power BI Hands-On Workshop one day before the Chicago SQL Saturday #484.  I’ve delivered this at other preconference events with sell-out attendance.  Thank you to all who have attended in other locations.  An abbreviated version was delivered at the PASS Global Summit this past November and I’ll be doing a quick two-hour abbreviated session at the PASS Business Analytics Conference this coming Spring in San Jose, CA.

Here’s a copy of the entire event description page below.  You can register here.

This engaging workshop will teach attendees how to use Power BI Desktop to create a complete solution delivering dashboards, self-service and mobile BI.  Attendees will learn to analyze information using impactful and interactive visualizations.  We will create a solution using a variety of data sources that can be used on the desktop by Data Analysts or for group collaboration in the Power BI secure cloud service.

Attendees should have a basic knowledge of database concepts and should know how to use Excel 2013 or newer.

Computer Requirements

Bring your laptop running Windows 7 or newer (4 GB of RAM is required, more is better, 64 bit OS recommended).  Before the session, attendees should download and install the Power BI Desktop and create a free account at PowerBI.com (90% of the exercises can be completed in Power BI Desktop without a PowerBI.com subscription.)  Note that to create a subscription you must use a work email address rather than an address from a free mail provider such as Hotmail, GMail or Yahoo!.  If you have any difficulty getting signed up, follow the directions at this post.

At the conclusion, attendees will know how to use Power Query to combine and transform data from different sources; Power Pivot to model data for reporting and discovery, and write calculations, KPIs and complex metrics. They will learn to use Power BI report visuals to create interactive visualizations and dashboards, and Excel PivotTables, PivotCharts, slicers, conditional formating and advanced features to create collaborative dashboards and reports. Finally, attendees will learn to deliver a collaborative BI solution in Power BI online enabling natural language queries with Power BI Q&A, scheduled data refresh and queries using live, on-premises data.  We will also introduce enterprise capabilities which include connectivity to live, on-premises data sources through DirectQuery and Analysis Services.

BI Solution Components

Begin with a brief and high-level introduction to the components of traditional BI solutions to help attendees appreciate the usual scale and cost.  Discuss the options to scale these items for small and large projects.  Discuss the trade-offs for each and the value of centralized solutions, data quality and master data management.  Discuss the challenges of designing, building and maintaining large-scale BI solutions.

Topics covered:

  • Introducing the Power BI Dashboard designer
  • Universal principles of data behavior
  • Universal data problems & visualization principles
  • Interactive visuals
  • Project types & scale
  • Self-service BI & enterprise scale projects
  • Power BI project stages
  • Managing data transformations with Power Query
  • Introduction to advanced “M” script
  • Data modeling with Power Pivot
  • Introducing DAX Calculations
  • Visualizing & exploring with Power BI report visuals
  • Building live, interactive dashboards
  • Publishing and collaborating with PowerBI.com
  • Integrating Excel pivot tables & reports
  • Introducing management groups & content packs
  • On-premises and large-scale solution options
  • Data Management Gateway & scheduled refresh

Registration includes lunch and beverages

When: Friday, March 4, 2016 from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM (CST) – Add to Calendar

Where: DeVry University Addison Campus – 1221 N. Swift Road Chicago, IL 60160 – View Map

Power BI, Self-service and Governed Data Solutions

Power BI is due to be released to the masses this week and I’m very excited to see this powerful product made available to so many for so little.  We’ve had some of the capabilities of Power BI in other Microsoft products for a few years so why is this this different and what does it really mean for most business users and IT shops?  I think there are enormous possibilities in this new frontier of easy-access, self-service analytics but there are also big challenges ahead to manage systems with a different style of discipline.

As I visit organizations interested in Business Intelligence and data analytics, and talk to people in the industry about self-service tools; I hear some common and often conflicting themes:

“Business knowledge workers want self-service tools to get answers from reliable data”

“CIO/IT leadership: let’s enable the business users to do their own reporting and analysis so our IT staff can do other things”

“Data should be centrally-managed by IT and DBAs so there is one version of the truth and the data can be secured and maintained”

“Self-service BI empowers everyone in the business to be self-sufficient and more productive”

Isn’t self-service BI easy?

On the surface, yes.  It sounds easy:  Import some data, clean it up a bit, join some tables together, write a few simple calculation formulas and throw it into a chart… and viola!  A dashboard.  With some practice and a little training, some parts will be easy but the challenges of data integration, conformity, quality and master data management are ago-old problems that will always be present when data is sourced from different systems and is handled and manipulated by different people.  This is where the democracy of self-service BI and the rigidity of governed solutions can collide; and BI projects of any scale will get complicated… regardless of the tool.

The good news is that we’ve been doing this a long time and have developed disciplines and best practices to manage blended solutions.  With careful management and diligence, ad-hoc solutions can be made to scale and endure the transition.  In the article I wrote last year, titled “Business Intelligence Roles and Team Composition”, I discuss lesson learned about balancing business-owned BI with IT-managed BI and how team members assume roles to balance solution objectives.

Another very important consideration is that the objective for most self-service analysis projects to create “good enough” models and reports for a specific purpose.  When a project graduates to a different form, intended for more users to answer more questions or for leaders to make informed decisions; different rules of data quality and reliability apply.

Back to Power BI

One of the most significant reasons I’m optimistic about Power BI as a serious business tool is that it is comprised of technologies I’ve learned to use in serious business scenarios over the past several years.  Although the new user experience is simple, the product heritage is quite extensive.  Let’s do a quick review of the products and components that have led to the current Power BI service offering from Microsoft…

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The lion’s share of the work on Power Pivot and Power View begin back around 2008 and the first versions of these tools were release in 2010.  This included the Power Pivot add-in for Excel 2010 followed by integration with SharePoint, along with Power View.  Power Query was released in public preview shortly afterward and then all these tools were integrated into the first official Power BI subscription for Office 365.

This is where things got complicated for enterprise customers… Many enterprise-scale organizations don’t upgrade Microsoft Office on an aggressive schedule so business users don’t have access to these wonderful self-service BI tools in the corporate licensed copies of their desktop software.  The transition from 32-bit to 64-bit Office has been a tough nut to crack as well.  Enter the Power BI Designer (soon to be called “Power BI Desktop”)…  With the new designer, there are no Office/Excel version compatibility problems but if Excel users want to continue to use Excel, they still have that option.

Enterprise-Class BI

There are several things to consider when scaling a solution but in brief, Power BI currently offers a few options for managing data centrally or migrating datasets to managed servers.

  • The Data Management Gateway enables data in a published model to be refreshed at regular scheduled intervals with on-premises or cloud-based data sources.
  • The Analysis Services Connector enables reporting & visualization from an on-prem instance of SSAS (currently Tabular only) without copying the data to the cloud.
  • The Power BI REST API gives us the ability programmatically push data into, and refresh, the model at will.

We work with some organizations who, for various reasons, can’t utilize cloud services for some of their reporting scenarios.  Most data professionals I talk to don’t know where this boundary lies for them and it’s an important discussion to have with strategic leaders and decision makers.  Many businesses are adopting cloud services for strategic use and I’m learning to approach this topic using appropriate language to discover where those opportunities are. For example; if I were to ask a business leader if it would be OK to move their precious data to a data center offsite and outside of their IT control, she will probably say “no”.  But, if I were to ask if we could consider using an encrypted cloud service from a trusted service provider that is likely more secure than your online banking site – at a fraction of the cost and in less time, she is likely to say “let’s investigate that option”.  Sometimes, it’s a matter of presentation.  A healthcare company may not be able to allow patient  personal information to be used in a cloud-hosted data model but may have no issues publishing facility data in a securely-managed solution.

The good news is that a lot of Power BI capabilities are available for on-prem solutions with cross-compatibility between Microsoft BI products.  The path to move between cloud-based Power BI and the confines of the corporate firewall isn’t entirely concrete and is a moving target on a few fronts, as the products continue to evolve.  The two points I think about in this regard are that: one, development of these tool is moving forward at a rapid pace, giving us new options all the time.  The second point is that we’ve had a lot of experience testing the water and learning what options are supported and actually work well.