Welcome to post number nine in my series designed to provide a revision tool for Microsoft Exam 70-778, and for those looking to increase their expertise in Power BI. The topics we have covered so far in the series have all involved Power BI Desktop primarily, and we now move away from this as we evaluate how to Manage Custom Reporting Solutions with Power BI. This focus area for the exam measures the following skill areas:

Configure and access Microsoft Power BI Embedded; enable developers to create and edit reports through custom applications; enable developers to embed reports in applications; use the Power BI API to push data into a Power BI dataset; enable developers to create custom visual.

Despite being, at first glance, a very technically focused area, it is not necessarily a requirement for the exam to know how to work with these features in-depth. However, what this post will try to do is fully explain what Power BI Embedded is (and how it can be tailored accordingly), the capabilities and benefits of the Power BI API and, finally, what options you have available to build custom visualizations, that are then available for use across any Power BI Report.

Power BI Embedded

A potential limitation of using Power BI as your Business Intelligence solution is that you must access your reporting solution through one of the two interfaces, depending on how you have licensed the product:

For strictly organisational only access, this is all fine and dandy; but if you desire to grant external users access to your reports, it would be necessary to open up a door into a critical component of your IT infrastructure, often in tandem with any other systems your solution may contain. For example, if you have developed a support portal for your customers to submit cases with and wish to provide them with a range of Power BI visualizations, you would need to grant and deploy access to two, separate application instances – your support portal and Power BI Online/Report Server. This can lead to a jarring end-user experience and severely limit your capabilities in providing a unified, bespoke and branded solution.

Power BI Embedded seeks to address this scenario by providing application developers the means to embed Power BI reports and visualizations directly within their existing applications. The experience this offers is seamless, to the extent that end-users will not even need to know that you are using Power BI at all. Consequently, this potentially allows you to look exceptionally gifted when you begin to deploy engaging and highly interactive visualizations into your application quickly. As an Azure-based service with a pricing mechanism to suit, you only need to suitably estimate your potential compute capacities, deploy your capacity and any corresponding reports and then build out the appropriate link to your Power BI content within your application.

To get started with using Power BI Embedded, you need to make sure you have the following at your disposal:

To get a feel for the capabilities on offer as part of this offering, you can go to the Power BI Embedded Playground, made available courtesy of Microsoft. This tool allows you to test how the various Power BI Embedded components render themselves, tweak around with their appearance and generate working code samples that are usable within your application. The screenshot below shows an example of how a single Report visual would look when embedding it into a bespoke application:

As the screenshot indicates, there is no loss in core functionality when consuming Power BI in this manner. You can hover over individual areas to gain insights into your data; you can drill-down through the data; data is sortable in the conventional manner; and, finally, you can view the underlying data in the visualization or even export it out into an Excel/CSV document. Also, you have extensive options available that can be used to modify how a visual, report etc. is rendered on your application page, allowing you to ensure that all rendering completes most optimally for your application.

All in all, Power BI Embedded represents a significant boon for application developers, enabling them to very quickly leverage the extensive reporting capabilities Power BIĀ  provides, all of which is cloud-based, highly scalable and minutely tailorable. It is important to highlight that all of this goodness comes with a potentially high cost, namely, that of requiring a sufficiently proficient application developer (preferably .NET focused) to join all of the various bits together. But, if you are already in the position where you have developed an extensive range of Power BI reports for consumption by your customer base, Power BI Embedded is the natural progression point in turning your solution into a real piece of intellectual property.

The Power BI API

If you are finding your feet with Power BI Embedded and need to look at carrying out more complex actions against Power BI content that is pulling through from a workspace, then the API is an area that you will need to gain familiarity in working with too. Microsoft exposes a whole range of functionality as part of the Power BI API, that can assist in a wide variety of tasks – such as automation, deployment and allowing any bespoke application to further leverage benefits out of their Power BI embedded solution. Some examples of the types of things you can do with the API include:

The API requires that you authenticate against the Power BI service, using a corresponding Application Registration on Azure Active Directory, which defines the list of privileges that can be carried out. This component can be straightforwardly created using the wizard provided by Microsoft, and a full tutorial is also available on how to generate an access token from your newly created Application Registration. The key thing as part of all of this is to ensure that your Application Registration is scoped for only the permissions you require (these can be changed in future if needed) and not to grant all permissions needlessly.

Because the API is a REST endpoint, there are a variety of programming languages or tools that you can use from an interaction standpoint. PowerShell is an especially good candidate for this and, in the snippet below, you can see how this can be used to modify the User Name and Password for a SQL Server data source deployed onto Power BI Online:

#Make the request to patch the Data Source with the updated credentials

$sqluser = "MyUserName"
$sqlPass = "P@ssw0rd!"

$patchURI = "https://api.powerbi.com/v1.0/myorg/gateways/cfafbeb1-8037-4d0c-896e-a46fb27ff229/datasources/1e8176ec-b01c-4a34-afad-e001ce1a28dd/"
$person = @{
    credentialType='Basic'
    basicCredentials=@{
        username=$sqluser
        password=$sqlpass
        }
}
$personJSON = $person | ConvertTo-Json
$request3 = Invoke-RestMethod -Uri $patchURI -Headers $authHeader -Method PATCH -Verbose -Body $personJSON

This example deliberately excludes some of the previous steps needed to authenticate with Power BI and is, therefore, provided for strictly illustrative purposes only.

Creating Custom Visuals

Developers have access to primarily two options when it comes to building out bespoke visualizations, which are then includable in a Power BI Online, Embedded and Report Server report:

Last week’s post discussed this topic in more detail from an exam standpoint which, in a nutshell, only requires you to have a general awareness of the options available here; no need to start extensively learning a new programming language, unless you really want to šŸ™‚

Key Takeaways

  • Power BI Embedded is an Azure hosted offering that allows you add Power BI Report content into bespoke applications. This deployment option can be incredibly useful if you wish to make available your Power BI solution to users outside of your organisation or if you have an existing, bespoke application system that can benefit from utilising Power BI content. An Azure subscription is required to begin working with Power BI Embedded and you are billed based on node size, not individual user licenses. All Power BI content requires publishing to the online service before its contents become available for Power BI Embedded to access. Report developers will, therefore, need granting a Power BI Professional license to carry out these activities.
  • The Power BI API grants access to developers to perform automation or administrative actions programmatically against the Power BI Online service. Utilising a REST API, developers can determine the optimal programming language of choice to interact with the API, allowing them to streamline the deployment of Reports or Dashboards to the Power BI service or leverage additional functionality when utilising Power BI Embedded. The API can also cater to specific data load requirements, although more complex needs in this area would require addressing via alternate means (SSIS, Azure Data Factory etc.)
  • Developers can add their own bespoke visualizations to a Power BI Report by either developing them using Node.js or using the R language. The first of these options facilitate a more streamlined deployment mechanism and allows developers to add their visualizations to AppSource, whereas the second option may be more useful for complex visualization types with an analytical or statistical function.

Compared to the other exam topics, a general awareness of these concepts is more than likely sufficient from a learning perspective and is (arguably) useful knowledge in any event, as it allows you to understand how developers can further extend a Power BI solution to suit a particular business need. In next weeks post, we will move into the final subject area for the exam, as the focus shifts towards how to work with Power BI outside of the Desktop application and the various tools available to integrate on-premise data sources into Power BI Online.

Happy New Year! As 2019 dawns upon us, Microsoft Business Application professionals start in the right place, as the concept of the Power Platform starts to take hold. Through this, it is pleasing to observe more consistency across these range of products, with regular releases, increased integration and better learning tools, provided directly from Microsoft. I’ve mentioned this previously on the blog, but it is worth emphasising again the increased importance Power BI has from a Dynamics CRM/365 Customer Engagement standpoint. With this in mind, having a New Years resolution to learn more about it and to earn a technical qualification in the subject will hold you in good stead in future. If you are reading this now, then hopefully you already have this resolution. šŸ™‚

Today’s post will continue my series focused on providing a revision tool for Microsoft Exam 70-778. This week, we move into the broad subject area Create and format interactive visualizations, which revolves around the following skill areas:

Select a visualization type; configure page layout and formatting; configure interactions between visual; configure duplicate pages; handle categories that have no data; configure default summarization and data category of columns; position, align, and sort visuals; enable and integrate R visuals; format measures; Use bookmarks and themes for reports

Let’s start by providing an overview of just what a visualization is, before deep-diving into the specific topic areas listed above. The examples provided in this post refer to the latest Power BI Desktop sample reportĀ 2018SU12 Blog Demo – December.pbix, which can be downloaded from GitHub using this link.

Visualization Overview

The majority of topics covered in this series have all concerned the foundations of a successful Power BI report – the data sources, the data quality enhancement work and the required DAX wizardry to create custom columns, Measures or table objects to supplement any requisite Power Query manipulation. With the necessary foundations, walls and various utilities built for your Power BI “house”, the final and most important topic concerns the decoration – creating impactful and meaningful visualizations that help to display your data most appropriately. The great thing about using Power BI as your Business Intelligence tool is the vast array of default and custom visualizations that are available when developing a report. The Visualizations pane on the Report tab lists all of the possible visuals available for your report, described further in the list that follows (in order, left to right, top to bottom):

  • Stacked bar chart
  • Stacked column chart
  • Clustered bar chart
  • Clustered column chart
  • 100% stacked bar chart
  • 100% stacked column chart
  • Line chart
  • Area chart
  • Stacked area chart
  • Line and stacked column chart
  • Ribbon chart
  • Waterfall chart
  • Scatter chart
  • Pie chart
  • Donut chart
  • Treemap
  • Map
  • Filled map
  • Funnel
  • Gauge
  • Card
  • Multi-row card
  • KPI
  • Slicer
  • Table
  • Matrix
  • R script visual
  • ArcGIS Maps for Power BI

Power BI also supports custom visuals, provided by ISV’s or Node.js developers, that allow you to include additional visualizations in your report. You can work with these by clicking on the ellipsis icon on the Visualizations pane:

There are two web links relating to custom visuals that are worth considering further:

  • The Business Apps marketplace, accessible also via the Import from marketplace button, lets you either add new custom visuals directly into Power BI or download versions that you can then import using the Import from file button. There are a lot of great visuals available here, that can help to supplement your existing reports and take some of the aggravation out when implementing more complex requirements (e.g. displaying Gannt chart visuals).
  • The Developing a Power BI custom visual Microsoft Docs Tutorial walks you through the required steps to build out a custom visual using Node.js.

Just dragging and dropping a visual onto a report and adding a few field values may not be enough to meet a specific business requirement. For this reason, you should consider the following when working with visualizations:

  • Does the visual require sorting in ascending, descending or by a particular column order? If so, then clicking on the ellipses button at the top right of the visualization will expose several sortation options, which may differ based on the underlying dataset:
  • Are there blank categories within your data? If so, you may encounter a similar issue as indicated in the screenshot below, with a (Blank) category value:
  • Resolutions to this problem can vary – for example, you could go back into your query and add a default value for all blank columns values – but a quick way to potentially fix this is to click on the down arrow next to the field and select the Show items with no data option:
  • Does the default summarization need to be overridden for the Values field? We’ve seen previously in this series how it is possible to specify the default summarization for each column in your dataset. On occasions where this needs changing, you can again use the right arrow next to the field to carry this out:

Finally, you also have some additional options available by selecting the Format tab with a visual selected:

The options above the Arrange heading should be self-explanatory, but it is worth focusing on the Edit interactions button. An expected experience with Power BI is, as you begin to filter visualizations, others on the report update accordingly by applying the same filter. This behaviour can be changed using the Edit interactions button, allowing you to specify whether other visuals on the report:

  • Apply a cross-filter
  • Apply a cross-highlight
  • Do nothing

The default action for most visualizations is to apply a cross-filter. The sequence below demonstrates how this can be disabled using the Edit interactions button:

A handy feature to have at your disposal, further details regarding the Edit interactions button can be found on the Change how visuals interact in a Power BI report Microsoft Docs article.

Deciding Which Visualization To Use

Both for a real-life and exam scenario, you should be prepared to identify when a visualization will be appropriate to use, based on a stated list of requirements. As a general rule of thumb, if:

  • You need to compare data between different categories, then use a Bar/Column or Ribbon Chart.
  • The requirement is to compare data values across a date range, then use a Line or Area Chart.
  • You are working with a dataset that contains multiple fields with wide value ranges, then use a Combo Chart.
  • There is a need to show significant variances across a set of data or to highlight significant amounts in comparison to others, then use a Waterfall Chart.
  • You are working with two metrics that have a relationship between them and you need to visualise diverse value types, then use a Scatter Chart.
  • Data needs to be grouped by a distinct category and shown as part of a whole value, then use a Pie or Doughnut Chart.
  • The requirement it to distinctively show proportions of an overall part and, by association, the most significant/smallest contributors, then use a Treemap visualization.
  • Your data is geographically based, and there is a desire to provide drill-down capability, then use a Map, Filled Map or ArcGIS Maps for Power BI visualization.
  • You are working with data based on distinct stages (e.g. Lead data from Dynamics CRM/365 Customer Engagement, grouped by Business Process stage), then use a Funnel visualization.
  • The data needs to be consumed via a single value or viewed as represented in the underlying data, then use a Card, Multi-Row, Table or Matrix visualization.
  • There is a need to provide users with the capability to filter data “on the fly”, then use a Slicer visualization.
  • An R script requires incorporation into your report, use an R visualization (discussed in further detail later on in this post).
  • You need to report data concerning Key Performance Indicator (KPI) monitoring, then a KPI or Gauge visualization should be chosen. These are both discussed in greater detail in my previous post on this subject.

Report Page Options

Visualizations form an essential part of the look and feel of a report, but further options are also available from a report design perspective. With a report page selected and with the Format paintbrush icon chosen (which is accessible in the same way as described in section Visualization Format Settings in my post concerning KPIs), you have access to additional options relating to the currently selected page:

The options available here include:

  • Page Information: Here, you can change the name of the page, as well as enable/disable the Tooltip and Q&A features for this page.
  • Page Size: The options here let you adjust the size of the page to one of several options:
    • 16:9 (1280 x 720)
    • 4:3 (960 x 720)
    • Cortana (296 x 592)
    • Letter (816 x 1056)
    • Custom
  • Page Background: From here, you can change the background colour of the page and adjust its transparency. It is also possible to add a background image here too.
  • Page Wallpaper: Potentially confusing when compared against the Page Background options, the options in this section let you adjust the colour outside of the main page area. The best way of understanding how this looks is to take a look at the following garish example, which shows a page that has had both background and wallpaper colours specified:

Never develop a report that looks like this, by the way. šŸ™‚

When it comes to working with multiple pages, you also have the following options available, accessible through right-clicking a page:

Formatting Measures

Measures, as with other column types (derived either from a query or a DAX formula), can be formatted in numerous different ways. The steps involved here do not differ significantly from the options discussed in the Formatting Columns section of my previous post concerning data model optimisation; select the Measure in question from the Fields pane, navigate to the Modeling tab and the appropriate options will be made available to you.

R Visuals

R provides developers with the means of building highly sophisticated and bespoke visualizations, that will typically be consumed for statistical analysis. These can be added to Power BI Desktop and linked to any data source in your report. There are two necessary components required to start working with R visuals in this manner:

  • You must install R on your local machine. There are many versions available, with R Open 3.5.1 from Microsoft being the logical choice for beginners.
  • Within the Options area of Power BI Desktop, you must verify that the correct Detected R home directories dropdown is selected. If you have installed R Open 3.5.1 on your machine, then this should be filled for you automatically, as follows:

(You may also be prompted to Enable script visuals, as indicated by the dialog box below; ensure that the Enable option is selected)

Beyond the basics of getting started with R in Power BI, which is all that is required from an exam perspective, this is a topic too complex to cover in this blog post.

Bookmarks

The ability to pre-configure a report page, from a filtering standpoint, can be incredibly useful for those who consume a Power BI report. Bookmarks seek to address this need, by allowing developers to build a guided “story” in their report. All that is required is for a report page to be filtered accordingly and then for a BookmarkĀ to be added – couldn’t be simpler! For example, the 2018SU12 Blog Demo – December.pbix sample report contains several Bookmarks, accessed by opening the Bookmarks Pane on the View tab:

With the Selection pane also enabled, you can then easily navigate between all Bookmarks by clicking the View button above and using the arrow icons on the bottom of the page:

Through the Bookmarks pane, it is also possible to re-order Bookmarks and to group them by a category, such as a page. Simple to setup, but powerful when utilised, they are a feature which I think gets overlooked and should be considered if you are building out a report for beginner Power BI users.

Themes

A feature that has typically been available with every Microsoft Business Intelligence (BI) application is extensive design capabilities, atypically to suit any bespoke branding requirements that an organisation may have. Power BI is no different in this regard, because, as well as being able to specify the colour of visualizations individually, developers also can define a top-level Theme that will automatically apply to all report visualizations. The Switch Themes button provides users with the ability to modify their Report theme at any time, located on the Home tab:

As shown in the image above, you can:

  • Change the Theme from Default to one of the other include Theme definitions within Power BI, such as Electric or High Contrast.
  • Add a custom Theme to your report using the Import theme button.
  • Browse the Power BI Community Theme gallery to download a custom Theme developed by someone else.
  • Get additional help on theming through the How to create a theme button, which links to the Use Report Themes in Power BI Desktop support article.

The ability to import and develop bespoke Themes is a topic that requires further discussion. All Themes are defined as JSON files, which outline the different hex colour values that Power BI allocates for each visualization type. There is a hell of a lot of options available here, depending on how masochistic you are feeling stringent your branding requirements need to be. For the exam and most real-life scenarios, a straightforward JSON file (provided courtesy of Microsoft) may resemble the below:

{
    "name": "St Patricks Day",
    "dataColors": ["#568410", "#3A6108", "#70A322", "#915203", "#D79A12", "#bb7711", "#114400", "#aacc66"],
    "background":"#FFFFFF",
    "foreground": "#3A6108",
    "tableAccent": "#568410"
}

Once saved as a file with the name St Patricks Day.json and imported into the sample 2018SU12 Blog Demo – December.pbix report, we get this rather…distinctive look:

The options available with Themes are always worth keeping in the back of your mind and, chances are, they can provide the means towards ensuring consistently branded Power BI reports.

Key Takeaways

  • Power BI delivers, out of the box, a range of different visualizations that cater towards most (if not all) reporting requirements. Should you find yourself in need of additional visualizations, then Microsoft AppSource is your go-to destination for finding visualizations developed by others. If you have experience working with either Node.js or R, then these can be used to build bespoke visualizationsĀ also.
  • When first developing a report, you should be able to match a requirement for a specific visualization type, to ensure that you are delivering a solution that is both meaningful and useful. From an exam perspective, this becomes a more critical consideration, and you should be prepared to suggest the most optimal visualization to use when given a specific scenario.
  • After adding visualization’s to your report, you have additional options available to customise them further. For example, you can specify a preferred sorting order for your data, override any summarizations used and move/align your visual on the report page.
  • By default, visualizations in Power BI are designed to change automatically, based on how users interact with the report. All of these options are controllable via the Edit interactions button, allowing you to specify your preferred cross-filtering and cross-highlighting conditions.
  • There is a range of report page customisation options available to developers. It is possible to resize a page to any possible height/width, allowing you to optimise your report for specific devices.Ā Also, you can modify the colour of a page (or its wallpaper) or add an image instead. Pages can also be renamed, reordered or duplicated.
  • Measures can be formatted in the same way as calculated columns, meaning you can specify a data type or, for numerics, modify the number of decimal places.
  • Bookmarks allow developers to set up “checkpoints” within a report, based on how a report page has been filtered. These can then be used to automatically navigate the user through a report, applying these filtering steps automatically. This feature can help transform your report into an interactive story.
  • Visualizations will automatically inherit their various colour properties from the currently selected report theme. Although these can be modified granularly, the fastest and most consistent way of making these changes en masse is to change the Theme. Power BI includes some Themes out of the box, but you also have the option of building your own using a custom JSON file; this can then be imported into different reports, providing a portable means of enforcing a particular branding requirement.

Visualizations are a HUGE topic for the exam, with a lot of detail that requires careful consideration. I hope this post has provided the right balance between highlighting the most critical areas, without going into minute detail. I would, therefore, urge you to go away and carry out studying yourself to gain a greater appreciation of this subject area. Next weeks post will be somewhat lighter reading, as we take a look at how application developers can integrate Power BI within their existing apps.