Thin Reports, Real-world Challenges

Power BI Thin Reports, Real-world Challenges

I previously explained in a blog post what thin reports are and why we should care about them. I also explained Report Level Measures in another blog post. In this post, I try to raise some real-world challenges we face when developing thin reports. I also provide a solution to those challenges.

Report Level Measure Related Challenges

Creating and using Report Level Measures is relatively easy, but there are some challenges that we face from time to time, such as:

  • Distinguishing Report Level Measures from Dataset Level Measures
  • Report Level Measure dependencies

Determining Report Level Measures from Dataset Level Measures

One of the challenges that Power BI Developers face is creating many report level measures. Unfortunately, Power BI Desktop currently uses the same iconography for both types of measures, making it hard to distinguish the actual measures created within the dataset from the report level measures. It gets even more challenging if we need to write technical documentation for an existing thin report. We have to open the PBIX file of the thin report in the Power BI Desktop and click every single measure. If the expression bar appears, the selected measure is a report level measure; otherwise, it is a dataset level measure.

So unless we use third-party tools, which I explain in this post, we must go through the manual process.

Report Level Measure dependencies

Another pain point related to the previous challenge is finding the dependencies between the report level measures. It is crucial to be aware of the interdependencies when doing impact analysis. We need to understand how a change in a report level measure impacts other report level measures. Again, Power BI Desktop does not currently have any options supporting that, so we have to click every measure and read through the DAX expressions to identify the dependencies or use the third-party tools to save development time.

Dataset and Thin Reports Dependency Challenges

The other challenges are even more difficult to overcome relate to interdependencies between datasets and thin reports. Power BI Service provides a lineage view that shows the dependencies between a dataset and its connected thin reports. But the challenges can get more complex to overcome manually. The following are some real-world examples of more complex situations:

  • What if we need to analyse the impact of changes in a dataset measure on all report level measures of the connected thin reports?
  • How do we analyse the impact of changes on a dataset measure on all connected thin reports, including the visuals, filters, etc…?
  • What if we need to tune the performance and we want to find a list of all unused tables or unused fields?

As you can see, the situation can get pretty complex, so manual operations are virtually impossible.

But there is a third party tool we can use which provides heaps of capabilities with a couple of clicks.

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Thin Reports, Report Level Measures vs Data Model Measures

Thin Reports, Report Level Measures vs Data Model Measures

The previous post explained what Thin reports are, why we should care and how we can create them. This post focuses on a more specific topic, Report Level Measures. We discuss what report-level measures are, when and why we need them and how we create them.

If you are not sure what Thin Report means, I suggest you check out my previous blog post before reading this one.

What are report level measures?

Report level measures are the measures created by the report writers within a Thin Report. Hence, the report level measures are available within the hosting Thin Report only which means the report level measures are not written back to the underlying dataset and hence they are not available to any other reports.

Why and when do we need report level measures?

It is a common situation in real-world scenarios when the business requires a report urgently, but the nuts and bolts of the report are not being created on the underlying dataset yet. For instance, the business requires to present a report to the board showing year-to-date sales analysis but the year-to-date sales measure hasn’t been created in the dataset yet. The business analyst approaches the Power BI developers to add the measure, but they are under the pump to deliver some other functionalities which adding a new measure is not even in their project delivery plan. It is perhaps too late if we wait for the developers to plan for creating the required measure, go through the release process, and make it available for us in the dataset. Here is when the report level measures come to the rescue. We can simply create the missing measure in the Thin Report itself, where we can later share it with the developers to implement it as a dataset measure.

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Power BI 101, What Should I Learn?

This is the second part of my new series of Power BI posts named Power BI 101. In the previous post, I briefly discussed what Power BI is. In this post, I look into one of the most confusing parts for those who want to start learning Power BI. Many people jump straight online and look for Power BI training courses which there are plenty out there. But which one is the right training course for you? Let’s find out.

What do you want to gain from learning Power BI?

Regardless of attending paid training courses or being a self-learner, the above question is one of the most important questions you might ask yourself before going to the next steps. The answer to this question dictates the sort of training you must look for. Your answer to the preceding question can be one or none of the following:

  • I am a graduate/student looking at the job market
  • I am a business analyst and I want to know how Power BI can help you with my daily job
  • I am a database developer and I want to learn more about business intelligence and data and analytics space
  • I am a non-Microsoft Business Intelligence developer and I want to start learning more about Microsoft offerings
  • I am a system admin and I have to manage our Power BI tenant
  • I am a data scientist and I want to know how I can use Power BI
  • I am just ciourious to see what Power BI can do for me

As mentioned, your answer might not be any of the above, but, thinking about your reason(s) for learning Power BI can help you to find the best way to learn and use Power BI more efficiently. You can spend time and money taking some online courses and get even more confused. You don’t want that do you?

So, whatever reason(s) you have in mind to learn Power BI, most probably you fall into one of the following user categories:

Think about your goal(s) and what you want to achieve by learning Power BI then try to identify your user category. For instance, if you are a student thinking of joining an IT company as a data and analytics developer, then your user category is most probably a Power BI Developer or a Contributor.

To help you find out your user category let’s see what the above user categories mean.

Power BI Developers

The Power BI Developers are the beating hearts of any Power BI development project. Regardless of the project you will be involved with, you definitely require to have a certain level of knowledge of the following:

  • Data preparation/ETL processes
  • Data warehousing
  • Data modelling/Star schema
  • Data visualisation

To be a successful Power BI developer you must learn the following languages in Power BI:

  • Power Query
  • DAX

Depending on the types of projects you will be involved in, you may require to learn the following languages as well:

  • Microsoft Visual Basic (for Paginated Reports)
  • Python
  • R
  • T-SQL
  • PL/SQL

As a Power BI developer, you will write a lot of Power Query and DAX expressions. Most probably you require to learn T-SQL as well. The following resources can be pretty helpful:

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Power BI 101, What is Power BI

Many people talk about Power BI, its benefits and common challenges, and many more want to learn Power BI, which is excellent indeed. But there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings amongst the people who think they know Power BI. In my opinion, it is a significant risk in using tools without knowing them, and using the technology is no different. The situation is even worse when people who must know the technology well don’t know it, but they think they do. These people are potential risks to the businesses that want to adopt Power BI as their primary analytical solution across the organisation. As a part of my day-to-day job, I communicate with many people interacting with Power BI. Amongst many knowledgeable users are some of those who confuse things pretty frequently, which indicates a lack of understanding of the basic concepts.
So I decided to write a series of Power BI 101 to explain the basics of the technology that we all love in simple language. Regardless of your usage of Power BI, I endeavour to help you know what to expect from Power BI. This is the first part of this series.

What is Power BI?

I do not frequently get the “What is Power BI” question from my customers, my website’s comments, or my students within the training courses. It is indeed a question that I often ask people. I usually ask the question to indicate people’s level of understanding on different occasions, such as when a friend wants to know more about Power BI, or in a job interview from a candidate who applied for a Power BI related role, or my students attending a training course. Depending on the context that I ask the question, the responses are often pretty different.

It is the general rule of thumb to know what a “thing” is before using it. The “What is X?” (and X is the name of a “thing”) is a broad question, so the answer is also broad. Therefore we usually need more digging to get a better understanding of the “thing”. 

In our case, the “thing” is Power BI, so the question is “What is Power BI?”. And the answer is:

“Power BI is the Business Analytics platform part of a larger SaaS platform called Power Platform offering from Microsoft.”

Now, let’s dig a bit more with two more questions:

  • What is a Data Platform?
  • What is Saas?

Let’s quickly answer those questions.

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