Power BI external Tools – ALM Toolkit

How do you do schema changes to your model without refreshing the entire model?

This is especially applicable for large models using incremental refresh where refreshing the entire data set takes a long time to process.

The ALM toolkit really helps with this process

The examples I am going to use aren’t incremental refresh but it will hopefully give some idea on how to use the ALM toolkit

And a big proviso here. You can only do this with Premium workspaces

Source

Open your model in Power BI desktop. From here go to External tools and open the ALM Toolkit (Ensure you have the latest version of the AML toolkit downloaded)

The source has already been populated against the open model. We now need to set the target

Target

Go to the service. Workspace Settings.

At this point the workspace needs to be in Premium

You need to copy the workspace Connection which is only available in Premium. Once copied, add into Workspace

We can see that the pbix file and the data set in service are identical. ‘Same Definition

Lets make some changes

Adding a new measure

add a new measure in your desktp pbix dataset.

Total Product Standard Cost = SUM(FactResellerSales[ProductStandardCost])

And back to ALM toolkit.

Before continuing, go into Options

Make sure that the Processing Option is default and that we are only going to process affected tables

For table updates, retain partitions should be checked, This is very specific to Power BI Incremental loading. Incremental loading works with partitions and we don’t want ALM toolkit to go to the database and affect any of the partitions ‘For example you could have a partition for every year’

Click  Compare

And then Select Actions

Hide Skip objects will get rid of everything that hasn’t changed.

Now we can see the one new measure

We want to add the new measure without completely refreshing the data set

Then go to Update

Are you sure? message is returned

Quick note on XMLA Endpoints

At this point you need to have Read Write enabled on the XMLA endpoint

“XMLA endpoints enable open-platform connectivity to Power BI datasets. With these capabilities, customers can leverage a single one-version-of-the-truth semantic model across a range of data-visualization tools”

https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/power-bi-open-platform-connectivity-with-xmla-endpoints-public-preview/

To do this you need to be the Power BI Admin or global Admin. In Admin Portal > Capacity settings > Workloads > XMLA Endpoint = read Write

If the next step doesn’t work you may need to speak to your Admin about the above. this is because we are using an external tool to update the schema.

When I tried this, I didn’t notice errors but the changes started to add up as I went along the process.

Back to the Update

Click OK to are you sure? and the measure is quickly updated. the database wasn’t read or updated. All that happened was a quick schema update.

Why would you want to run an upload, full or Incremental for new measures? this is the perfect way of introducing those new measures as quickly as possible.

Adding a calculated Column

Adding calculated columns aren’t advised because they don’t get compressed in the tabular database, Its always worth doing this in Power Query Editor or ideally in your source reporting database.

Back in the desktop file

A simple calculated column is created.

In ALM toolkit go back to Options

Again, the following options should be set

Then go to Compare. Select Actions and Hide Skipped Objects

And here is the new calculated Column.

Next click Validate Selection

If we were working with Incremental refresh and partitions you would see all your partitions here along with the above information.

If you have these partitions when you update you will see a process message, but don’t worry, it hasn’t done any data processing at the source, its simply added the new column and processed only within the model.

You can go into Power BI Service and do a quick Edit on a report,

drag the new column in to see that there is data for that column, but nothing else has been processed.

Adding new tables or new columns at source or in Power Query Editor

In this case we actually need the data to process.

  • The measure just needed the DAX to be added to the model.
  • The calculated column simply used the data already within the data model without doing a process.

For this new logic we do need to process the data.

Back in the ALM toolkit you need to untick, for table updates retain partitions because we now need to pull the data in for all the partitions and process all that data.

Process only affected tables is an important option here, We don’t want to process anything but the new table or column.

Once you have the settings set above you can go on to validate and update. And importantly this time the new data will be processed into the model, rather than just a schema change.

And every partition will be processed on an incremental load because of the change to the settings.

This is an excellent way of dealing with updates on large models but its important to note

  • Only available for Premium
  • Ensure Admin Settings – Read Write enabled on the XMLA endpoint

Microsoft Business Applications Summit 2020 and what is means for Power BI users

The Microsoft Business Applications Summit was held online this year on the 6th of May and as a UK user, that meant an entertaining evening of Power BI and Business applications learning and updates .

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/businessapplicationssummit

The evening was incredibly well thought out with 30 minute sessions on each of the Power Platform areas.

  • Power BI
  • Power Apps
  • Power Automate
  • Power Virtual Agents

Our attendance was mostly based on the Power BI sessions that night. We wanted to focus on what to get excited about with Power BI and when to get excited about it. However there were also some great overviews of how to use all the applications together which helped us to understand the Power platform as a whole.

Power BI Is split into key area to drive data culture in your organisation

And each of these areas contain some fantastic new updates.

Each area is going to be looked at in a lot more detail in blog posts to follow but in the first instance, lets take a look at all the exciting updates.

Amazing Data Experiences

There are now over 2 million Power BI desktop users. 97% of all Future 500 businesses use Power BI. It is the Leader on the Gartner 2020 Magic Quadrant https://www.informatica.com/gb/magic-quadrant-MDM.html, and on the Forrester Wave https://info.microsoft.com/ww-landing-Forrester-Wave-Enterprise-BI-platforms-website.html?LCID=EN-US

All this comes from providing amazing data experiences to customers.

AI Infused Experiences

The very first AI visual for Power BI was the Key Influencer. Next came the Decomposition Tree and then the Q&A visual. All these visuals have proved big hits with report consumers who get the ability to understand all the factors that drive a metric, and can ask more and more questions against data in their own way.

Lets have a look at some of the Updates, and even more exciting is the new visual coming for Smart Narratives

Key Influencers Update

Key influencers are fantastic and we have been using them the moment they were added into Power BI as preview.

We have used it across lots of projects, For example, Social Media influencers. What influences a negative tweet. Customer Churn is another great use case for the Key influencer

April 2020

Key Influencers now supports continuous analysis for numeric targets

  • May 2020

Binning Support, Formatting options and Mobile Support

  • June 2020

More Visual Updates go into preview and will now be usable for Live Connect

  • July 2020

Counts will go into preview

  • August 2020

All the key Influences improvements should be moving to GA (General Availability)

Power BI Decomposition Trees Update

The Key influencer allows you to analyse a category within your data and discover influences and segments. The Decomposition tree allows a report consumer to analyse a business metric however they want.

  • May 2020

You will be able to conditionally format your visual very soon. Using the above visual, you might have the most engaged businesses in Nottingham, but conditional formatting could show the most percentages of meeting cancellations. We can do conditional formatting on another metric

You will also be able drill through from the decomposition tree visual to more detailed data.

There is a reason why people love this visual and we cannot wait to start implementing these updates into our reports.

  • June 2020

The Decomposition Tree will now be out of Preview and in General Availability

Q&A Visual

We can now include Q&A in the reports as well as just from the dashboards and there are some great new updates for this

  • April 2020

Add Terms within Q&A allow for better synonym matching and Suggest questions will allow you to tailor some ready made questions for your user

  • May 2020

New Q&A Visual Updates (TBA)

  • September 2020

Direct Query will be coming for Q&A Visuals.

New AI Visual – Smart Narratives

  • Available Later this year

We got a sneak peak of the New Smart Narratives visual and it looks so good.

Report authors will be able to add dynamic interactive narratives to reports and visuals. These narratives update when you slice and dice the data.

It automatically does trend analysis

The visual calculates the growth automatically with no user imput required

You can also add dynamic values as part of the narrative and even use Q&A to create the value

This is one development we are really looking forward to.

Power BI End User Personalisation

  • June 2020

Another development that is going to change things for report consumers in a really good way is personalisation


You may love a stacked area chart but Julie in HR May hate them. Consumers can now click on a visual, go to personalise and change the visual to suit their needs better. This visual is saved specifically for that user (As a modified view with a personal bookmark) and its easy to go back to the original visual.

This is currently in Preview so if you want to take advantage of it, make sure you go to Options and Settings > Options > Preview Features

PowerPoint for Data – Onboarding and Lessons Learned

Microsoft acknowledge that PowerPoint has really good on boarding features. Lots of people happily use Powerpoint. They should have the same experience with power BI

All the following updates come from lessons learned with PowerPoint:

  • April 2020

Lassoo Select of visuals and Datapoints. this is great. finally you can lasso (Drag a rectangle around) a number of visuals together in desktop. You can even do this with data points

  • May 2020

Drop Shadows. How to make a great report look even Nicer. Add Shadows to them. Another feature I cant wait to use

Power BI Templates Experience

  • September 2020

Report authors will get lots of help to create report pages with pre-made templates like PowerPoint layouts. Obviously Templates can already be created for Power BI but this will make everything much more intuitive and easy to use.

I’m a big fan of Story boarding in PowerPoint. I wonder if we will see this come into play in power BI?

Modern Enterprise BI

Power BI is no more a business led self service tool. Its can now be used right across your large scale business enterprise. We can now use Power BI as an enterprise scale analytics solution bringing together all our insights to drive actions and improve performance.

There are lots of key points to consider within this Microsoft strategy area. For example:

  • Admin and Governance
  • Lifecycle Management
  • Lineage and impact Analysis

The modern enterprise BI has the most impact when customers are using Power BI Premium capacity nodes. lets have a look at some of these areas in a little more detail, and specifically understand what Power BI License you need to have to make use of these new capabilities.

Power BI Lineage and Impact Analysis

  • April -2020

Lineage and Impact Analysis went into Public Preview in October 2019. We are very much looking forward to looking at this in more detail very soon.

the real excitement is, the ability to incorporate more services within Azure into the Lineage which will make it much more essential when looking at how your data is structured

Within the Power BI service, Change the view to Lineage View

You get little logos to show if your dataflows or data sets are promoted or certified.

Impact analysis is available from your data set. clicking Impact Analysis will allow you to assess the impact of a data set change. How will your changes impact downstream reports and dashboards?

You can also see your visitors and views and even notify people about upcoming changes.

It appears to be available for Pro as well as Premium but as yet, we aren’t aware of any differences between the two.

This will be explored in much more detail in a post coming soon.

Enterprise Semantic Models

Another big game changer for Power BI Users

Again, we are moving away from creating your data set within a power BI pbix file which is only available for the user. Just like Analysis Services Tabular Model, we can now create the model with Power BI, available for everyone to use, From business users, analysts, to Power Users.

The enterprise semantic model comes with some great updates:

Shared and certified Datasets

  • April 2020

When you certified a dataset in Power BI, You are stating that this data set is a single version of the truth. when we connect to a certified dataset the model may contain a large amount of data, and your specific reporting requirements may require you to only select a few tables from the central model.

XMLA Endpoint

  • May 2020

Power BI Premium Only

XMLA Endpoint allows 3rd parties to connect just like you can with Analysis Services models. This is yet another game changer as it allows organisations to create the one version of the truth using power BI.

Previously, this could have been done using Analysis Service, either in the cloud or on premise. Your own centralised Tabular model. this data model could be connected into from various data visualisation tools, and data management tools, e.g SQL Service Management Studio, DAX Studio, ALM tookit etc.

Now with XMLA endpoints open platform connectivity, the datasets you create in Power BI will be useable from a variety of other data visualisation tools, if your users don’t want to use Power BI.

This is excellent for IT Led self service. Your centralised Power BI Team can create the dataflows and models and business users can take those models and run with them. obviously Power BI is fantastic but you don’t lose out on users who absolutely want to stick with the visualisation tool that they know.

This is all about delivering a single one version of the truth semantic data model

Power BI Extensibility

  • Available later this year

This will enable external tool extensibility to unlock additional semantic modelling capabilities.

will all be able to get access to the Power BI Tabular model (data set) in the same way as they would an Analysis Services Tabular model.

This is due out later this year and as yet, its unsure if this is just for Premium or if it will be available to pro users too.

Translations (Available with Power BI Extensibility)

Translations allows you to create multi cultural datasets. These meta data translations are an offering of the analysis services semantic model, and previously locked away in the Analysis Services engine.

The extensibility model for Power BI will soon allow us to finally use Power BI translations within power BI Desktop

Clicking Tabular Editor allows you to connect to your Power BI dataset and use Analysis Services Features. Translations being one of the major draws to Analysis Services Tabular.

This should be available later this year, and will be looked at in much more detail within future posts

Deploy to Workspace Incremental Metadata only deployment

This is a Premium Only service. Imagine that you have implemented your translations and want to publish your new data set.

There are no data changes so you don’t want publish to involve the data. When you publish you will get impact analysis

However, you actually want to do an Incremental meta data only deployment. So instead of simply publish, go to the Settings within the Workspace in Power BI Service.

Go to your Premium tab

And copy the Workspace connection link. this Workspace connection can be used just like an Analysis Services Workspace. You can use this workspace name with the ALM toolkit (Under Extensibility) to look at comparisons and pick and choose what you want to update.

The Power BI Tabular model has been processed in the same way as you would an Analysis model. Thanks to these new External tools we can do so much more with the power BI Datasets.

Composite Report Models

  • September 2020

We have looked at the enterprise Semantic Model from the BI Developer. Now its time to look at what we can do for the data analysis.

Previously, there has been lots of talk about composite modelling

“Allows a report to have multiple data connections, including DirectQuery connections or import”

Composite models allow the developer to created an aggregated data set which allows you to reduce table sizes by having imported data at granular level (So you get the full suite of DAX to work with) and then you can drill down to granular data in direct query mode.

Composite report models are basically composite reports as opposed to composite models. I got a little confused between the two as they are both called composites but they are quite different.

As a data analyst you get data from a Certified data set. this is essentially a Live Query because you are connecting to a Power BI tabular model


these screen grabs are from the Conference. We will be researching this with our own data sets in due course

The analyst will now be able to combine data from multiple data sets and create relationships between them. Composite modelling can be mashed up with local data by the analyst. This will bring so much more power to the analyst.

It will be really interesting to see how this works over the next few months. Again its uncertain if this will be available for Pro users but we will be looking at this in much more detail soon.

Full Application Lifecycle Management

  • Public Preview May 2020

Power BI currently consists of the App Workspace (for collaboration) and Apps for consumers. this gives you your development, test and production environments.

Deployment Pipelines is the next level of lifecycle management. If you use DevOps you have seen and probably used Pipelines for other business requirements. For Premium capacity Workspaces, Pipelines can now be created to deploy to Develop, test and production Environments

This is a fantastic new development for modern enterprise BI. Each Workspace can be compared within Service and allows you to be more agile and responsive to users needs. We are really excited about this one.

Drive a Data Culture with pervasive BI throughout your Organisation

Automatic Performance optimisation with Azure Synapse Analytics

Relates to the Data Stack. Microsoft are working on deep integration with Azure Synape Analytics.

We will be looking at this in more detail later but there are big changes coming:

  • Materialised views to improve performance within the Synapse layer.
  • Useage based Optimisation against Synapse.

Common Data Service

This sits with the Action key point for driving data culture. this is another area that the Microsoft team were very excited about. As yet we are being cautious and want to do some more research around this topic.

You will now be able to direct query the Common Data Service. the CDS ties in with Power Apps and seems to be used very much within that domain. Its worth noting again at this point that Power BI Does not exist alone. It is part of the Power platform.

Internal data is stored in CDS. External data is brought in via connectors. there are 350+ connectors that can be used for External data. However data within the CDS is Smart, Secure, and Scalable.

We will be looking at CDS in much more detail in relation to Power BI

This is just a first high level look at some of the offerings from the Business Applications summit. There are so many great sessions to look at for more in depth details. It looks like an incredibly exciting time to be involved with Microsoft business Apps.

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