The life of a Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement (CRM/D365CE) professional is one of continual learning across many different technology areas within the core “stack” of the Business Applications platform. Microsoft has clarified this in no uncertain terms recently via the launch of the Power Platform offering, making it clear that cross-skilling across the various services associated with the Common Data Service is no longer an optional requirement, should you wish to build out a comprehensive business solution. I would not be surprised in the slightest if we find ourselves in a situation where the standard SSRS, Chart and Dashboarding options available within CRM/D365CE become deprecated soon, and Power BI becomes the preferred option for any reporting requirements involving the application. With this in mind, knowledge of Power BI becomes a critical requirement when developing and managing these applications, even more so when you consider how it is undoubtedly a core part of Microsoft’s product lineup; epitomised most clearly by the release of the Microsoft Certified Solutions Architect certification in BI Reporting earlier this year.
I have been doing a lot of hands-on and strategic work with Power BI this past year, a product for which I have a lot of affection and which has numerous business uses. As a consequence, I am in the process of going through the motions to attain the BI Reporting MCSA, having recently passed Exam 70-779: Analyzing and Visualizing Data with Microsoft Excel. As part of this week’s post, I wanted to share some general, non-NDA breaching advice for those who are contemplating going for the exam. I hope you find it useful 🙂
Power BI Experience is Relevant
For an exam focused purely on the Excel sides of things, there are a lot of areas tested that have a significant amount of crossover with Power BI, such as:
- Connecting to data sources via Power Query in Excel, an experience which is an almost carbon copy of working with Power Query within Power BI.
- Although working with the Excel Data Model, for me at least, represented a significant learning curve when revising, it does have a lot of cross-functionality with Power BI, specifically when it comes to how DAX fits into the whole equation.
- Power BI is even a tested component for this exam. You should, therefore, expect to know how to upload Excel workbooks/Data Models into Power BI and be thoroughly familiar with the Power BI Publisher for Excel.
Any previous knowledge around working with Power BI is going to give you a jet boost when it comes to tackling this exam, but do not take this for granted. There are some significant differences between both sets of products (epitomised by the fact that Excel and Power BI, in theory, address two distinctly different business requirements), and this is something that you will need to understand and potentially identify during the exam. But specific, detailed knowledge of some of the inner workings of Power BI is not going to be a disadvantage to you.
Learn *a lot* of DAX
DAX, or Data Analysis Expressions, are so important for this exam, and also for 70-778 as well. While it will not necessarily be required for you to memorise every single DAX expression available to pass the exam (although you are welcome to try!), you should be in a position to recognise the structure of the more common DAX functions available. You ideal DAX study areas before the exam may include, but is not limited to:
- All aggregation/statistical functions - SUM, COUNT, MIN, MAX etc.
- Logical functions
- Date/Time functions
- Table object functions - CALENDAR, CALCULATE, FILTER, RELATED etc.
A focus, in particular, should be driven towards the syntax of these functions, to the extent that you can memorise example usage scenarios involving them.
Get the exam book
As with all exams, Microsoft has released an accompanying book that is a handy revision guide and reference point for self-study. On balance, I feel this is one of the better exam reference books that I have come across, but beware of the occasional errata and, given the frequency of changes these days thanks to the regular Office 365 release cycle, be sure to supplement your learning with any proper online cross-checking.
Setup a dedicated lab environment
This task can be accomplished alongside working through the exercises in the exam book referenced above but, as with any exam, hands-on experience using the product is the best way of getting a passing grade. Download a copy of SQL Server Developer edition, restore one of the sample databases made available by Microsoft, get a copy of Excel 2016 and - hey presto! - you now have a working lab environment & dataset that you can interact with to your heart’s content.
Pivot yourself toward greater Excel knowledge
Almost a quarter of the exam tests candidates on the broad range of PivotTable/PivotChart visualisations made available within Excel. With this in mind, some very detailed, specific knowledge is required in each of the following areas to stand a good chance of a passing grade:
- PivotTables: How they are structured, how to modify the displaying of Totals/Subtotals, changing their layout configuration, filtering (Slicers, Timelines etc.), auto-refresh options, aggregations/summarising data and the difference between Implicit and Explicit Measures.
- PivotCharts: What chart types are available in previous and newer versions of Excel (and which aren’t), understanding the ideal usage scenario for each chart type, understanding the different variants available for each chart types, understanding the structure of a chart (Legend, Axis etc.), chart filtering and formatting options available for each chart.
Check out the relevant edX course
As a revision tool, I found the following edX course of great assistance and free of charge to work through:
The course syllable mirrors itself firmly to the skills measured for the exam and represents a useful visual tool for self-study or as a means of quickly filling any knowledge gaps.
Conclusions or Wot I Think
It is always essential, within the IT space, to keep one eye over the garden fence to see what is happening in related technology areas. This simple action of “keeping up with the Joneses” is to ensure no surprises down the road and to ensure that you can keep your skills relevant for the here and now. In case you didn’t realise already, Power BI is very much one of those things that traditional reporting analysts and CRM/D365CE professionals should be contemplating working with, now or in the immediate future. As well as being a dream to work with, it affords you the best opportunity to implement a reporting solution that will both excite and innovate end users. For me, it has allowed me to develop client relationships further once putting the solution in place, as users increasingly ask us to bring in other data sources into the solution. Whereas typically, this may have resulted in a protracted and costly development cycle to implement, Power BI takes all the hassle out of this and lets us instead focus on creating the most engaging range of visualisations possible for the data in question. I would strongly urge any CRM/D365CE professional to start learning about Power BI when they can and, as the next logical step, look to go for the BI Reporting MCSA.