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Top Three Power BI Best Practices for Implementation 2020

30 March 2020 in Uncategorized

Power BI is taking off, and it’s fast becoming the most popular business intelligence platform on the market. It’s easy to engage with and get professional results quickly, making it the perfect tool for organisations looking to beef up their BI prowess and make data driven decisions through-out the organisation.

Power BI Strategy
Did you know that Gartner named Microsoft as the 2020 leader in their Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms? 

Like anything, technology alone doesn’t solve problems – people do, and the road to success is paved by a wide range of users throughout your organisation.

In this post we’re going to look at three best practices for implementation and give you the tips you need to make sure you avoid common pitfalls so you are on the fast track to success with Power BI on your organisation.

1. Setup multiple environments  

When working on a Power BI implementation project, it’s wise to have multiple environments to manage the lifecycle of your BI assets. Below we’ve listed several environments that should be considered depending on the complexity of the project and your organisation’s needs. 

Development (aka Dev)  

Being able to keep on top of the many reports you’re testing, and having the ability to track changes that occur, is essential as you get setup. Without a specific Dev environment, your production environment will quickly become overwhelmed with assets, making it hard to maintain and manage.  

When working in the dev environment, make sure that you have data sources specifically for development. We’ve seen production data used in dev on many occasions which can lead to serious privacy and data sovereignty issues. Your dev data sources shouldn’t contain sensitive data. 

These development environments can be on your local network, in cloud storage (like OneDrive for Business or GitHub), or a Workspace in Power BI Service. 

Tip: The data sources of all published reports to Power BI Service must be  sufficient  for development use only and should avoid including confidential data.

User Acceptance  Testing (aka UAT)  

The people who will be using the reports daily are the ones who should be testing them – they know the business best, and will be able to identify opportunities and gaps that the development team may not be able to identify themselves. By making sure the user is brought into the process early on, it maximizes the value added to the business. 

User acceptance testing is the last phase of testing. The UAT environment should only be created once the solution has been fully tested in Dev and approved by senior Power BI developers.   

As its name reflects, UAT helps with the overall acceptance rate of the solution and drills into the users’ mindsets. Available only to a select group of users, they will have access to published datasets, reports, and dashboards in the UAT environment for testing purposes only.   

Tip: All data sources in Power BI must be switched from Dev to UAT before being published to this environment. 

Production  (aka Prod)  

Prod is the most important environment in every organisation as it’s where the whole project comes together. The solution has been through intensive tests during development, audited by experts, peer reviewed internally several times and accepted by the end users in UAT. The iterative process to get to production means we can provide a better solution that has more trust amongst users. 

This environment includes real world data and it’s very important that each Power BI report has been fully tested before being published to the “Production” environment. We’re now using live, real-world data so all data sources in the model must be switched from UAT to Prod.

It’s important to remember that despite best efforts, things can go wrong when deploying to Prod. Many organisations will have an exact replica of Prod acting as Pre-Prod environment for deployment and testing purposes. This tends to only be cost effective in larger businesses where there are lots of projects in play. For smaller organisations, the alternative is to bring the UAT environment as close as possible to Prod (while taking into account privacy and security requirements).

Tip: Specific Workspaces should be defined for each business unit (if applicable).

Power BI Strategy

2. Certify your data sources 

Reports are only as good as the data that populates them, so we need to take steps to maximise the accuracy of our data. Data sources should be reviewed and certified by data professionals in your organisation and only certified data sources should be used in Power BI to ensure you can trust what you’re seeing.

After the internal review is done, you may come up with various confidence levels for your different data sources. Try to categorise your data sources with some self-explanatory names, for example, Gold, Silver, Bronze. From there you can make the decision to keep or ban certain data sources from being used in your Power BI implementation, in all Power BI projects across your organisation. For example, an organisation may ban all Bronze data sources and only use Gold and Silver in Power BI implementation.

Tip: As self-service BI becomes more common, ensuring the right processes are in place to make sure the data being used can be trusted becomes increasingly important. 

A list of certified data sources should be provided to all parties involved in a Power BI project and like everything, make sure this is documented – which is the perfect segway to our final best practice:

3. Document your setup 

As we have seen – a lot of work goes into implementing Power BI so that it follows best practices and delivers value to your business. But as people change within the organisation and knowledge gets lost, you need to ensure you have the right systems in place to maintain continuity – otherwise you may end up having to go through this process again.

Documentation, like certification of data sources, is another governance process that you need to make sure you’ve considered early in the implementation process. Have a plan around how you will approach it and who will be responsible for maintaining it so you can be confident that there is a central place to turn to with information on how the implementation has been completed.

Competing short term priorities often mean that documentation is push aside as it is perceived as time consuming with a longer-term payoff. However, without it, reports can be difficult to work with, hard to handover and challenging to review – costing you significantly more down the track.

Modern documentation tools make the documentation process easy, saving you days, maybe even weeks, so it’s worth investigating smarter ways to pull it together.

Tip: Ensure that you have a way to rapidly document your reports and keep this up-to-date as your reports change. 

Final words 

We hope these three best practices and tips will help you on your Power BI implementation journey. If you haven’t already, check out our recent governance webinar on Self-Service BI and its Perils which outlines a range of other best practices to consider.

Have questions or tips to share? Tweet @powerbidocumenter on Twitter. 

Supporting essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic

24 March 2020 in Uncategorized

As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, we recognise the extreme pressures health systems are under to flatten the curve and treat those that have contracted this novel coronavirus. Like many of you, we are now working from home. But for so many, that isn’t an option – in particular those providing health services and other essential services that keep our cities and countries running.

Unlike the 1918 Spanish Flu, our ability to respond and contain modern pandemics is driven by data and we want to play our small part in helping where we can. For this reason, we will be providing Power BI Documenter free of charge to all government entities and health bodies that are currently tackling COVID-19 until the end of September.

If you are involved with the provision of these essential services, please talk to us about how Power BI Documenter can help free up your time to focus on the most important things that will help your country in this time of need.

This is available at our complete discretion and is intended for new customers. We will use the New Zealand essential services guidelines as a reference point for the eligibility, although we will consider applications globally.

For businesses currently facing significant financial burdens due to COVID-19 or limitations in new spending we would like help where we can as well so please reach out to discuss and we’ll work with you to find a solution.

Let’s get through this together – our door is always open

New Power BI Documenter Features: Relationships and Dependancies

9 February 2020 in Uncategorized

Last year was a phenomenal year, and what better way to kick off 2020 than with a bunch of new features (including relationships and dependancies) to make your life easier as you document your Power BI reports.

The Power BI community continues to grow, and with it we continue to evolve and challenge ourselves to deliver more for you, the users of Power BI.

Power BI Documenter can decrease the time and effort you put into documentation by up to 90%. In a recent example, we found that a fairly complex Power BI report could be documented in about 4 hours. The same report without Power BI Documenter would easily take 5 full days.

Keep reading to find out about all the new amazing features that have been added to Power BI Documenter since our last update.

New Features

As mentioned earlier we added some new cool features to Power BI Documenter. As well as refining the UI, we heard your voice and introduced two of the most wanted requested capabilities.

Relationships

You asked for it we delivered the feature. Adding “Relationships” to “Model” tab was one of the most requested features in 2019. You can now easily see and download entity relationships from “Relationships” section in “Model” tab.

You can find out the following in the “Relationships” section:

  • Key column “From” table
  • Key column “To” table
  • Is relationship active
  • Cardinality
Power BI Model Relationships in Power BI Documenter
Power BI Model Relationships in Power BI Documenter

Dependencies

The other key feature you asked for was DAX Dependencies. This was a quite challenging and complex feature to implement. But we made it for you. Honestly, this is one of the coolest features we ever implemented in Power BI Documenter – tell your colleagues to check it out!

For some of you who don’t quite know what this feature is all about, it is to identify if an object in your data model is dependent to any other objects. For instance, you have a calculated column that used a measure in its DAX definition. If for any reason you delete that measure you break the dependent calculated column. Now imagine if there is more than just one calculated column dependent to the deleted measure, then deleting that measure is a big mistake.

Here is a sample of how your DAX expressions may depend on other expressions. The following diagram shows how other measures are related to “Internet Sales” measure.

Internet Sales Measure DAX Dependencies in Power BI Documenter
Internet Sales Measure DAX Dependencies

As you can see in the above diagram should you need to make any changes in the “Internet Sales” measure that change potentially affects all dependent measures.

Using the new “Dependencies” feature is quite easy. We added a new specific tab for it. Simply click the “Dependencies” tab and you’ll see the following drop-downs available for you:

  • Dependencies [Diagram]
  • Field Expression Dependencies
  • Table Expression Dependencies
  • Role Expression Dependencies

Dependencies [Diagram]

This section give a graphical view of the dependencies in your model. The default view only shows measure dependencies, but you can select any other objects from the filter to add/remove any other objects. The following objects are available to filter:

  • Measures (default): Add/remove measure from/to diagram
  • Calculated Columns: Add/remove calculated columns from/to diagram
  • Columns: Add/remove columns from/to diagram

We also made some predefined filters available for you to select as below:

  • Measures Only: To show only measures dependencies in the diagram
  • Show All: Show all object dependencies in the diagram. If your model is big this filter can make a really massive and busy diagram which can be hard to read.
  • Clear All: To clear the diagram canvas. You then can selectively add any objects from the filter.
DAX Dependencies in Power BI Documenter
DAX Dependencies in Power BI Documenter

You can also search for an object to add/remove to/from the diagram.

Searching Objects in DAX Dependencies in Power BI Documenter
Searching Objects in DAX Dependencies

Field Expression Dependencies

This section shows all field expression dependencies in your Power BI model. Field expression dependencies include dependencies between measures, calculated columns and columns. The table shows “Referencing Object”, “Referenced Object” and “Expression”. You can also download a copy of “Field Expression Dependencies” in CSV format.

Field Expression Dependencies in Power BI Documenter
Field Expression Dependencies

Table Expression Dependencies

If you have created any calculated table in your model you’ll find out their dependencies in the “Table Expression Dependencies” drop-down. As always, you can easily download a CSV version of the dependencies.

Table Expression Dependencies in Power BI Documenter
Table Expression Dependencies

Role Expression Dependencies

Last by definitely not least in the dependencies section is “Role Expression Dependencies” which analyses DAX expressions used in RLS (Row Level Security) and shows the dependencies in a table. Again you can download the list of dependencies in CSV format.

Role Expression Dependencies in Power BI Documenter
Role Expression Dependencies

A Refined User Interface

When you’re using an app day in, day out a great user experience not only makes your work more enjoyable, but it also boosts productivity and reduces the chance of mistakes.

We regularly ask for product feedback from users, and the insights we gather lead to better product decisions. Below are some of the changes we’ve recently rolled out:

Unified Colour Coding and Abbreviation Use

In December, we unified the colour codes and abbreviations used across Power BI Documenter. The following abbreviations are used and will be used across the tool:

AbbreviationColour CodeFull Phrase
CRedColumn
CCBlueCalculated Column
MGreenMeasure
CTN/ACalculated Table
HN/AHidden Object
VAmberVisual

Icons Used:

Icons and Abbreviations Used in Power BI Documenter
Icons and Abbreviations Used in Power BI Documenter

Rearranged Tabs

We identified that the old arrangement of tabs in Power BI Documenter wasn’t intuitive enough. So we rearranged them so that you can get the same information and insights about your Power BI reports easier.

The new tab arrangement is as below:

Power BI Documenter Tabs
Power BI Documenter Tabs
  • Report: This tab include general insights and information about your report including some statistical information about your report elements as well as fields usage in your report visuals. You can download the fields usage as CSV file.
  • Custom Visuals: Provides detailed information about custom visuals imported to your Power BI report along with their usage status (used/unused)
  • M Scripts: All your Power Query (M Scripts) in one page. You can copy the scripts to clipboard or download a copy of the scripts as TXT file
  • Model: Provides a wide range of information about your Power BI data model including your “Model Diagram”, “Relationships” which is a new feature (more on that in this post later), “Model Details”, “Table Details” and “Calculated Tables”. Using the “Model” tab you can easily see which tables, columns and measure are NOT directly used in any report visuals. We colour coded unused tables in Orange. You can also download “Relationships”, “Model Details”, “Table Details” and “Calculated Tables” in CSV format.
  • Dependencies: This is also a new feature showing all object model dependencies (more on this later in this post). You can download the object model dependencies as CSV.
  • Practices: Provides information about some best practices. An old cool feature available in Power BI Documenter is applying some of those best practices to your Power BI Report and make the improved version of your PBIT available for download.
  • Roles: Provides information about your RLS (Row Level Security) settings. You can download the Roles in CSV format.
  • Info: Provides interesting information about your PBIT file including the version of Power BI Desktop used to build the report, data refresh date, report theme used in your report and much more.

New Profile

As we build out the Data Vizioner platform your profile, and the people you work with are becoming increasingly important. As a first step we’ve given you the ability to update your profile to better reflect you.

You can now modify the following information:

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Phone Number

To change your profile click on the menu on top right of the page and select “Profile Settings”. Then make the changes and click “Save”.

Power BI Documenter Profile Settings
Power BI Documenter Profile Settings

To go back click menu again then click “Files”.

Power BI Documenter Files
Power BI Documenter Files

This is the first step in a wider roll out of account functionality to support multiple users on the same account, and a more collaborative workspace.

We hope you enjoy using Power BI Documenter and the new features that have been rolled out over the past couple of months. 2020 will be an exciting year with lots of updates planned, so stay tuned.