Reporting Service 2016 Unplugged

This month’s SQL Server Pro Magazine article:

In SQL Server 2016, my favorite report tools get some love with a few cool new features including, a little polish added to a few existing features, and a complete Report Portal overhaul.

Reporting Services reached a certain maturity as a rock-solid reporting platform somewhere just after 2008 – or at least it got past puberty.  Most report developers would agree, the versions that followed SQL Server 2008 R2 were more like a midlife crisis for the product, because the feature set stalled for about five years.  The latest version is not a complete product rebirth by any means, but it is a good indication Reporting Services is not headed for retirement any time soon; it now plays an important role in the larger Microsoft reporting ecosystem.

Rather than rehashing information posted about new and upcoming reporting features available elsewhere, I’ll share my experience thus far with the latest community technical preview (CTP 3.2) and some insights from the product developers.  As with any preliminary software build, your experience may differ.

Design Tools…

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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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Power BI Workshops, Spring 2016

These Power BI Workshop sessions are coming up pretty soon and if you’re in the area of these events, please consider attending.  Learn core skills for data wrangling with Power Query and M, data modeling with Power Pivot and SSAS Tabular, calculations with DAX and data presentation and analysis with advanced Power BI visuals.

Chicago – March 4th
SQL Saturday preconference – Full day

Huntington Beach – April 1
SQL Saturday preconference – Full day

Phoenix – Apr 15
SQL Saturday preconference (registration link TBA)

San Jose – May 3-4
PASS Business Analytics Conference – 2-hour micro workshop

With all the changes and new features added recently to Power BI, expect to see updates to the sessions that are not yet detailed in the abstract.

Session description:

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 modelling 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

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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