Power BI – Addressing Top Requests and More

The July update for Power BI desktop users came hot on the heels of their announcements at the Microsoft Business Application Summit. Incidentally, anyone with some time to spare and an interest in how Power BI can revolutionise the way your business does data should pop over to their official YouTube page and look at some of the videos which came out of that event, including some excellent case studies.

Don’t do that right now though – we’ve got some excellent updates to report on first.

New Transform: Split Column by Positions

This might not sound like the most exciting update in the world but, like many Power BI updates, it’s quietly revolutionary. It extends the split column function already found within the Power Query Editor to include a ‘split by position’ option. So, what does this mean?

Essentially, the Power Query Editor allows you to shape and transform the data within the query to better present it. By splitting columns by position, you create a set of new columns (or rows) that show text columns split by a given text value. To put this in real-world context, you could show details of product sales by using the full product number and splitting it down into the identifier and then the product number itself. This gives you more control over how you present the data in your reports.

InfoCard: A Fresh Marketplace Visual

Described in Power BI’s update as a ‘really fancy card’, the InfoCard visual gives you far more control over the custom formatting of a card. For example, you can increase font size, play with custom borders with conditional formatting support, and offer conditional formatting for various other elements of the card.

From a report creator’s perspective, these are functions that, once you’ve started to include them in your reports, you’ll quickly find yourself utilising it every time you set up a new report. I can see this marketplace visual popping up in reports in every sector as creators make the most of the conditional formatting options.

Sunburst: A MAQ Software Visual

This is another new marketplace visual that has great potential. I’d describe it as a ‘hierarchical donut chart’, but that probably doesn’t do it justice.

Sunburst is a visual that works with multiple rings, and the report reader can drill down into the data by clicking on the element of data they’re interested in. That element becomes a ring of its own, allowing the reader to see what’s feeding into that element of the hierarchy. Then you can simply go back to the centre and view the whole dataset again. Once you’ve got the hang of using the visual itself, there are plenty of customisable features to delve into that will make it fit with the rest of your report. I like this one – it’s easy to use and offers something slightly different as well as being attractively designed.

Icon Sets for Table and Matrix

Finally, we get to the huge Icon Sets announcement which Power BI aficionados have been clamouring for. Prior to launch, it was the top requested item on the PBI ideas forum, so that gives you an idea of how useful report creators think this feature will be.

It’s a form of conditional formatting based on functions within Excel that allow you to visually represent your targets in reports. For instance, setting rules to show a star beside KPIs that are on track and a red circle those that are behind schedule demonstrates within the table exactly how your KPIs are progressing at a glance.

This is one of those features that will continue to be developed by Power BI, especially as they receive feedback on how it’s working. Personally, I think it has the potential to be very useful, although there’s no doubt that some reports will end up looking a little gimmicky as creators play around with the feature. Like all Power BI data features, Icon Sets are only going to be useful when they react to what the report and data requires rather than the eagerness of a report creator to toy with new features.

Conclusion

As ever, it’s great to see Power BI listening by introducing one of the most sought-after features that was already present in MS Excel. It’ll be interesting to see how that feature evolves over time but, for me, the most exciting elements of these updates as a report creator and trainer were the new visuals available in the marketplace. The more options I have to help my clients display their data efficiently and in line with their branding, the better!

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