Power BI Ecosystem Report Authoring Tools Demystified

Power BI Reporting Tools Confusion

There are a lot of discussions these days around Power BI tools to create reports and for sure many of you may have already downloaded and worked with some of them if not all of them. You may also already thought that some of the tools’ names are confusingly similar. I recently had an interesting conversation with fellow who has a lot of SSRS report writing background. I was talking about Paginated reports and said, I downloaded the latest version of Power BI Report Builder… that he immediately said, wait a second…

  • John: Power BI Report Builder? Oh I see, that’s the one that you can create paginated reports with then you can deploy those reports into an SSRS instance.
  • me: NOPE! That’s not the case I’m afraid.
  • John: Oh I know, I meant Power BI Report Server, you can deploy the reports to an instance of Power BI Report Server. I knew it!
  • me: NO! That’s not what I’m talking about…
  • John: What the…?

I bet some of you had similar conversation with a friend or a customer. OK, in this post I explain a little bit about report authoring tools available to you and your organisation to get the most out of your Power BI ecosystem.

Here is a list of all reporting tools currently available to you:

  • Power BI Service: It is a SaaS (Software as a Service) offering from Microsoft in the cloud. The users in an organisation, based on their access rights, may be able to create and publish data, reports, dashboards in Power BI Service. The users can also schedule data refreshes on the published data as well as securely sharing and distributing the contents. While creating or editing reports is possible in Power BI Service, it is strongly recommended to avoid this method for several reasons. The most obvious one is that the changes you make in a report may be soon get overwritten by someone else that republishes the same report from Power BI Desktop. Check this blog post from SQLChick to see why you should avoid creating or editing reports directly from Power BI Service. The reports are downloadable in PBIX format. Use Power BI Service here.
  • Power BI Desktop: It is a desktop report authoring tool that can be used to connect to, or loading data from, varies types of data sources, preparing, transforming and cleansing that data and at last visualising the data. Power BI Desktop is the predominant report authoring tool with a lot more functionalities and flexibility than Power BI Service. For instance, setting up Role Level Security (RLS) is NOT available in Power BI Service. The format of the report file is PBIX. Download Power BI Desktop from here.
  • Power BI Report Builder (Paginated): Paginated reports aka “pixel perfect reports”, as the name resembles, are formatted in a way to fit perfectly on a page. That report page might later be printed. You have exact control over the page formatting to display your data in tables or charts. The reports are not as interactive as Power BI Desktop reports are. Paginated reports are based on RDL technology which is standard report format in SQL Server Reporting Services. The tool for developing paginated report in Power BI ecosystem is Power BI Report Builder. The reports file type is RDL. You can currently publish Paginated reports only to a Workspace that is backed with a premium capacity. Download Power BI Report Builder from here.
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How to Define A Measure Table in Power BI Desktop

In this post I show you a simple trick to make your Power BI model more organised and more readable. I call it creating a “Measure Table”. Let me explain. The story is that I was working on a model with lots of tables. The database schema was NOT a proper star schema so there were a bunch of measures spread into lots of different tables. On top of that we’ve created lots of calculated measures with different home tables which made it really hard to find a particular measure or calculated measure. I thought, well, when it is that hard to find the calculated measures at development time how hard it could be for a customer to find, understand and use the measures we created. The visibility of the calculated measures could be an issue when we have lots of measures in lots of different tables. You will soon feel the issue in customer training sessions when you need to navigate between lots of different tables to find a calculated measure.

Consider you create a Power BI model with direct connect to a SSAS Multidimensional instance. You will immediately notice that all measure groups have a special calculation icon (Measure Group Icon in Power BI) rather than a normal table icon (Table icon in Power BI) which makes the measure groups more recognisable for the end users. For instance, you can easily find any calculated measure related to “Internet Sales” under the “Internet Sales” measure group.

Measure Groups in SSAS Multidimensional Dirct Connect

I know, we can search and find the measures very easily, but, our model would be more organised and more user friendly if we can put all measures in one or more tables which contain just related calculated measures and nothing else. For instance, we can create a measure table for time intelligence calculations and name it “Sales Time Intelligence Measures” and put all  calculated measures like “Sales YTD”, “Sales LYTD”, “Sales Period Over Period” on it. It will make your model nice and clean, easy to use and easy to learn for your customers. It will also help you to train your customers more easily.

In this article I’ll connect to a SQL Server instance and will use the famous Adventure Works database. I also show you how to get the job done in both “Import” and “DirectQuery” modes as there are some limitations applied to the DirectQuery mode which makes it harder to do what we want.

Lets start.

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