Looking Ahead to 2019 (And Some PowerBI Updates)

From test-driving the latest round of updates from Power BI, it certainly seems as though Christmas has come early for data analysts. This is great for various reasons, not least because many organisations make New Year resolutions to reassess their data needs and work out whether there’s anything they can be doing differently.
For a lot of companies, that’s when they start to seriously look around for alternatives to the often-clunky ways of doing things that many organisations have. It’s no surprise that data spirals out of control for companies that have grown and expanded, whether quickly or over time. It can be easy to get trapped in the “normal” processes because the prospect of changing them seems too time-consuming and overwhelming. That’s an understandable reaction, but if clunky systems become too overloaded, they’ll liable to buckle.

When that happens, you lose control – and data is the one thing you need to maintain control of in your organisation.

So, with companies looking ahead to 2019 and working out how to streamline their data processes, the recent updates from PBI are designed to make that streamlining a little more straightforward.

Here are some of the notable updates and my take on them:

Copy and Paste Capability for Visuals

This has long been a feature requested by users frustrated with building the perfect visual in one report dashboard only to have to replicate all that work to display the same type of data in another. Now, you can copy a visual from one report into another without having to repeat your original development process. For users who frequently update multiple reports (especially those that use the same data but are delivered to different audiences),this feature could be a real time-saver.

There are a couple of things to note:

  • Bespoke formatting set for the original visual will be taken forward when you paste. This includes fonts and explicit colours – anything that you set in the formatting pane.
  • Formatting that hasn’t been explicitly set will adapt to the format of the report you’re pasting into, so the default colours of the new report will be applied if no bespoke colours were applied to the initial visual.
  • If the fields between the two reports are different, you’ll receive an error message when you try to copy and paste. The visual will still fit itself into your report, but you’ll need to replace the broken field links with ones from the new report.
  • Custom visuals can be copied and pasted, although you’ll need to import it into the destination report as well as the source file.
  • This feature is only available to copy and paste visuals between PBI Desktop files – you can’t copy and paste from the PBI Service into a Desktop report.

And Another Thing – Related Questions Feature

If you’re anything like me, you’ll ask one question of your data and be immediately struck by wanting to know something else that’s related to your initial question. It’s likely that your report audience will too, and that’s where the Q&A explorer dialog comes into its own. This latest update essentially allows you to converse with your report and ask it a lot of questions that are related to each other. The explorer will remember the context of your original question and even retain a list of previous questions at the bottom of the dialog.

To use this feature, you simply open the Q&A explorer and ask a question as you normally would. For example, if you run an engineering components business, you might want to show all the BOC products you carry. From there, you could ask a related question to see how many sales there are of those individual products – all you have to do is click the “ask the related question” button and the explorer remembers your original question and asks the next one in relation to that. You can carry on like this asking follow-up questions and even pivot away from the original subject by asking about another company. For instance, you could ask “show Proseal UK Ltd instead” and it would bring up those products in relation to the question you asked about BOC.

It’s a powerful little tool, but it’s all about the phrasing. Try these out for size:

  • Add another field – “Include “brand name””
  • Extend filter – “For “brand name” as well”
  • Add a filter – “what about “year/month/other”?”
  • Replace filters – “Show “brand name” instead” or “What about for “brand name”?”

Matrix Row Headers – Expand and Collapse for Clearer Reports

The ability to work on an individual row and expand/collapse selections gives you greater power over how your reports are viewed and which information you want your audience to see in greater depth. Something I find is that data can overwhelm a reader. If you have a matrix with numerous rows to expand, it can be a little like looking at a stack of presents and not knowing which one to open. Some may have your name on, but it’s not always clear which ones.

So, instead of expanding or collapsing all the rows in a matrix, you can select individual rows and expand those. When you save your report, it’ll be saved as viewed, meaning that readers will have to open up the report to expand and collapse further.

For me, this represents a great way of delivering the information that you need to deliver to specific audiences. Take a cosmetics company as an example – the valuable information in the matrix for the marketing team might be the sales at different outlets as they know how their efforts are paying off and where to focus next. Conversely, directors may just want the top line figures for sales and be more interested in information elsewhere in the report. In this way, you can tailor your report to your audience and make sure the important information is signalled when they open up a report.

Conclusion

As we close out the year, I’m sure I’m not the only one looking ahead and wondering what innovations will touch my industry next year. Whatever those innovations are for any business, though, data will drive changes and, so, that data needs to be accurate and represented clearly. PowerBI remains the best way I know of delivering that, and I’m looking forward to their continued updates in 2019 and beyond.

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