Dynamically Passing Parameters to a SQL Stored Procedure in Excel 365 Using Power Query

In September 2014, I wrote a blog post on dynamically passing parameters from PowerPivot to a SQL Server stored procedure using VBA. Back then, VBA was a real lifesaver. It perhaps still is for many of us. But frankly, I even forgot how to write VBA. Maybe it is time to look at it again. I also wrote a quick tip in August 2020 about doing a similar thing in Power BI using Query Parameters. Check it out if you’re keen to know how it works in Power BI.

Eight years later, one of my weblog readers asked how to do the same thing in later versions of Excel; he is specifically asking for Excel 2019. I thought it would be good to cover this topic after 8 years and see how it works now. So, here it is, a new blog post.

The Problem

From time to time, Excel users require to get the data from a SQL Server stored procedure. The stored procedures usually accept some input parameters and return the results. But how can we dynamically pass values to the stored procedures from cells in Excel to SQL Server?

Prerequisites

For this blog post, I use SQL Server 2019 and Microsoft’s famous sample database, AdventureWorks2019. You can find Microsoft’s other sample databases here. I also use Excel 365, it should work the same way in Excel 2019, though.

The Solution

I discuss two approaches to overcome the challenge. Both approaches use Power Query slightly differently. In both approaches, we parameterise the SQL Statement of the SQL Server connector, passing the values to the parameters from an Excel table. One approach requires ignoring the Privacy Levels in Power Query, while the other does not. Both approaches work, but, depending on your preferences, you may prefer one over the other.

As mentioned, I use the AdventureWorks2019 sample database that contains a couple of stored procedures. I use the dbo.uspGetBillOfMaterials stored procedure accepting two parameters, @StartProductID and @CheckDate.

Approach 1: Parameterising the SQL connector’s SQL Statements, Ignoring Privacy Levels

Follow these steps to pass the parameters’ values from an Excel sheet to the stored procedure and get the results in Excel:

  1. In Excel, navigate to the Data tab
  2. Click the Get Data dropdown
  3. Hover over the From Database option and click the From SQL Server Database
  4. Enter the Server
  5. Enter the Database
  6. Expand the Advanced options
  7. Type EXEC [dbo].[uspGetBillOfMaterials] @StartProductID = 727, @CheckDate = N'2013-01-01' in the SQL statement textbox
  8. Click OK
Using SQL Statement in Power Query for Excel
Using SQL Statement in Power Query for Excel
  1. Click the dropdown on the Load button
  2. Click Load to
Load to Options to Load the Results of Power Query query into an Excel Sheet or PowerPivot Model

From here, we have some options to load the results either into an Excel sheet or the PowerPivot data model. We want to load the data into the PowerPivot data model in this example.

  1. Select Only Create Connection
  2. Check the Add this data to the Data Model option
  3. Click OK
Loading the Power Query Data into PowerPivot in Excel
Loading the Power Query Data into PowerPivot in Excel
Continue reading “Dynamically Passing Parameters to a SQL Stored Procedure in Excel 365 Using Power Query”

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.

Continue reading “Thin Reports, Real-world Challenges”

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.

Continue reading “Thin Reports, Report Level Measures vs Data Model Measures”

Business Intelligence Components and How They Relate to Power BI

Business Intelligence Components and How They Relate to Power BI

When I decided to write this blog post, I thought it would be a good idea to learn a bit about the history of Business Intelligence. I searched on the internet, and I found this page on Wikipedia. The term Business Intelligence as we know it today was coined by an IBM computer science researcher, Hans Peter Luhn, in 1958, who wrote a paper in the IBM Systems journal titled A Business Intelligence System as a specific process in data science. In the Objectives and principles section of his paper, Luhn defines the business as “a collection of activities carried on for whatever purpose, be it science, technology, commerce, industry, law, government, defense, et cetera.” and an intelligence system as “the communication facility serving the conduct of a business (in the broad sense)”. Then he refers to Webster’s dictionary’s definition of the word Intelligence as the ability to apprehend the interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action towards a desired goal”.

It is fascinating to see how a fantastic idea in the past sets a concrete future that can help us have a better life. Isn’t it precisely what we do in our daily BI processes as Luhn described of a Business Intelligence System for the first time? How cool is that?

When we talk about the term BI today, we refer to a specific and scientific set of processes of transforming the raw data into valuable and understandable information for various business sectors (such as sales, inventory, law, etc…). These processes will help businesses to make data-driven decisions based on the existing hidden facts in the data.

Like everything else, the BI processes improved a lot during its life. I will try to make some sensible links between today’s BI Components and Power BI in this post.

Generic Components of Business Intelligence Solutions

Generally speaking, a BI solution contains various components and tools that may vary in different solutions depending on the business requirements, data culture and the organisation’s maturity in analytics. But the processes are very similar to the following:

  • We usually have multiple source systems with different technologies containing the raw data, such as SQL Server, Excel, JSON, Parquet files etc…
  • We integrate the raw data into a central repository to reduce the risk of making any interruptions to the source systems by constantly connecting to them. We usually load the data from the data sources into the central repository.
  • We transform the data to optimise it for reporting and analytical purposes, and we load it into another storage. We aim to keep the historical data in this storage.
  • We pre-aggregate the data into certain levels based on the business requirements and load the data into another storage. We usually do not keep the whole historical data in this storage; instead, we only keep the data required to be analysed or reported.
  • We create reports and dashboards to turn the data into useful information

With the above processes in mind, a BI solution consists of the following components:

  • Data Sources
  • Staging
  • Data Warehouse/Data Mart(s)
  • Extract, Transform and Load (ETL)
  • Semantic Layer
  • Data Visualisation

Data Sources

One of the main goals of running a BI project is to enable organisations to make data-driven decisions. An organisation might have multiple departments using various tools to collect the relevant data every day, such as sales, inventory, marketing, finance, health and safety etc.

The data generated by the business tools are stored somewhere using different technologies. A sales system might store the data in an Oracle database, while the finance system stores the data in a SQL Server database in the cloud. The finance team also generate some data stored in Excel files.

The data generated by different systems are the source for a BI solution.

Staging

We usually have multiple data sources contributing to the data analysis in real-world scenarios. To be able to analyse all the data sources, we require a mechanism to load the data into a central repository. The main reason for that is the business tools required to constantly store data in the underlying storage. Therefore, frequent connections to the source systems can put our production systems at risk of being unresponsive or performing poorly. The central repository where we store the data from various data sources is called Staging. We usually store the data in the staging with no or minor changes compared to the data in the data sources. Therefore, the quality of the data stored in the staging is usually low and requires cleansing in the subsequent phases of the data journey. In many BI solutions, we use Staging as a temporary environment, so we delete the Staging data regularly after it is successfully transferred to the next stage, the data warehouse or data marts.

If we want to indicate the data quality with colours, it is fair to say the data quality in staging is Bronze.

Data Warehouse/Data Mart(s)

As mentioned before, the data in the staging is not in its best shape and format. Multiple data sources disparately generate the data. So, analysing the data and creating reports on top of the data in staging would be challenging, time-consuming and expensive. So we require to find out the links between the data sources, cleanse, reshape and transform the data and make it more optimised for data analysis and reporting activities. We store the current and historical data in a data warehouse. So it is pretty normal to have hundreds of millions or even billions of rows of data over a long period. Depending on the overall architecture, the data warehouse might contain encapsulated business-specific data in a data mart or a collection of data marts. In data warehousing, we use different modelling approaches such as Star Schema. As mentioned earlier, one of the primary purposes of having a data warehouse is to keep the history of the data. This is a massive benefit of having a data warehouse, but this strength comes with a cost. As the volume of the data in the data warehouse grows, it makes it more expensive to analyse the data. The data quality in the data warehouse or data marts is Silver.

Extract, Transfrom and Load (ETL)

In the previous sections, we mentioned that we integrate the data from the data sources in the staging area, then we cleanse, reshape and transform the data and load it into a data warehouse. To do so, we follow a process called Extract, Transform and Load or, in short, ETL. As you can imagine, the ETL processes are usually pretty complex and expensive, but they are an essential part of every BI solution.

Continue reading “Business Intelligence Components and How They Relate to Power BI”