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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Quick Tips: Adding Leading Zero to Integer Values (Padding) with DAX and Power Query

Quick Tips: Adding Leading Zero to Integer Values (Padding) with DAX and Power Query

There are some cases that we want to add a leading zero to a digit, such as showing 01 instead of 1, 02 instead of 2 and so on. We have two options to do this in Power BI, doing it in Power Query or doing it with DAX.

Adding a Leading Zero in Power Query

The first method is doing it in Power Query using the Text.PadStart() function.

Here is how the syntax of the function:

Text.PadStart(text as nullable text, count as number, optional character as nullable text)

And here is how the function works:

Text.PadStart(input string, the length of the string, an optional character to be added to the beginning of the string util we reach to the string length)

For example, Text.PadStart("12345", 10 , "a") returns aaaaa12345 and Text.PadStart("1", 2 , "0") returns 01.

Let’s create a list of integer values between 1 to 20 with the following expression:

Creating a List of Integer Values Between 1 to 20 In Power Query
Creating a List of Integer Values Between 1 to 20 In Power Query

Now we convert the list to a table by clicking the To Table button from the Transform tab:

Converting a List to a Table in Power Query
Converting a List to a Table in Power Query

Now we add a new column by clicking the Custom Column from the Add Column tab from the ribbon bar:

Adding a New Column to a Table in Power Query
Adding a New Custom Column to a Table in Power Query

Now we use the following expression in the Custom Column window to pad the numbers with a leading zero:

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Quick Tips: Enabling Modern Visual Styles on Old Reports in Power BI Desktop

Quick Tips: Enabling Modern Visual Styles on Old Reports in Power BI Desktop

Do you have an old report created in 2016? If you do, then you know that the visuals’ style was pretty different back then. If you don’t like to see all visuals in their old style where the headings overlap the other visuals and you don’t know how to switch the visuals to their modern style, then continue reading. The following screenshot is from a very old report I built for a Power BI demo in Feb 2016! Time flies mate!

Old Style Visuals in Power BI Desktop
Old Style Visuals in Power BI Desktop

If you are an old Power BI developer, you can clearly remember those days when we had many side-by-side slicers on the report canvas and sometimes it was hard to click a slicer because hovering over the visuals activates the visual frames and it is easy to mistakenly click a different visual.

The other issue with the old visual style is that the Visual Header options of the Visualisations pane from the Format tab are not available for traditional visuals.

Visual header options are not available for old style visual
Visual header options are not available for old-style visual

I see some developers don’t like the old visual style. It is interesting that when we work on an old report, even if we open the report in the latest version of Power BI Desktop, the visuals’ style remains the same and it doesn’t change if we add new visuals to a new page. Some developers go through a lot of pain to get the visuals to work in the modern style. I even know some developers copied all queries from the old file’s Power Query and pasted them to a new Power BI file. Then they used Tabular Editor to copy the tabular objects from the old report to the new one. And some even started to build everything from scratch. If you are one of those developers, be aware that there is a simple setting that can help to quickly switch all the old visuals to their new modern style.

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The Story of my Book, “Expert Data Modeling with Power BI”

Expert Data Modeling with Power BI
Expert Data Modeling with Power BI

In 2020, the world celebrated the new year with many uncertainties. Well, life is full of uncertainties, but, this one was very different. The world was facing a new pandemic that never experienced before. The first COVID19 case in New Zealand was confirmed in February 2020. In March 2020 the entire country went to lockdown for the first time. The world was experiencing a massive threat changing everyone’s lives. I was no different. Every day was starting with bad news. A relative passed away; a friend got the virus; the customers put the projects on hold etc. Nothing was looking normal anymore. You can’t even go to get a proper haircut, because everyone is in lockdown. This is me trying to smile after getting a homemade haircut. I bet many of you have done the same thing.

Soheil's Homemade Haircut
Soheil’s Homemade Haircut

One day, I checked my email and saw a message from Packt Publishing. They wanted to see if I am interested in writing a book about Power BI. That was a piece of good news after a long time. I always wanted to write a book about Power BI. Indeed, I attempted for the first time in 2016, but I couldn’t manage to get my ducks in a row to grasp the publishers’ attention.

I was not unfamiliar with writing books; indeed, I wrote my first book back in 2006 about Multimedia Applications in Persian. One of my passions in life is listening to music. And CDs were the most accessible music source with high-quality sound. I recall I saved money for some months, and I bought a Discman to listen to the music on the go. But CDs are rather bulky, and you could not have many of them in your pocket. So the next project was to save even more money to buy an MP3 player. But, converting Audio CDs to MP3 without compromising a lot on the sound quality was a real challenge for many people. And, that was my motive to write my first book in Persian to share my little knowledge with everyone. 

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