Tag Archives: BI

Understanding Business Intelligence

Though Business Intelligence is technology driven, it is more about Business requirements and less about technology.  BI Champion/ Sponsor in the organization defines the vision and mission.

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The leader must have the ability to precisely define the Business intelligence requirements of the organization; the format of the reports; the relationship between the different data elements and version of the data to be used. The leaders need to specify how much history needs to be included; how often the data needs to be provided to the different stakeholders of the process.

BI is then driven by the business objective which may not necessarily always be to reduce the cost or increase the top line/ bottom line for an organization, but to use the data analysis in bringing efficiencies in the process or enhance the service experience for the customer.

The impetus for the BI initiative is the availability of data and technology for data analysis.  Ideally the organization should have at least two or three years of data in electronic format for meaningful analysis. The larger the volume of core data available in the systems, the more meaningful will be the output that can be expected from Business Intelligence.

However it must be recognized that data may not always be structured and data coming from multiple sources may not be in the same format. Data will have to be interpreted on the basis of logical assumptions and data gaps will have to be identified upfront so that changes can be made to business processes at the point of data capture.

The Management must be made aware that resource and time commitment for BI is much higher than resource commitment for IT projects and there must be a high level of management commitment to making the BI project a success.

  1. Business leaders and IT analysts will have to allocate substantial amount of time to mapping business requirements to IT system capabilities both during the design and implementation phase of the project.  The leaders and IT developers will have to constantly interact for a proper representation of the Business questions in terms of analytical outputs.

2.      IT professionals involved in the process will have to explain to the Business leadership the nature and meaning of the data that is available in the systems. They will have to clarify how exceptions are to be handled by the leadership and also the limitations of the systems. The implication is that IT resources will also have to make a time commitment for BI.

  1. Subject matter experts also have a significant role to play in Business Intelligence projects.  As ultimate users of the system, they are in the best position to test the outputs and validate the significance of the Queries and the outputs derived from such queries.  They have the experience and the ability to flag exceptions and help fix them.  This implies that subject matter experts too need to contribute a significant amount of time for the success of the project.  They may even need to join the project team on a full time basis during the testing phase.

The Project plan must reflect the level of business personnel who will be involved and the organization must be willing to release these people to join the project team as and when a request for their services is made.

It also follows that the project team and all those involved in BI must be open to learning and acquiring the skills that are essential for the effective functioning of the BI system that is being put in place.

Having said all this, it is necessary to point out that Business Intelligence cannot be a time bound project. Nor can the teams be disbanded with the first successful run of a data query or queries.

Query design, testing, redesign and use of new toolsets are inevitable. In short, BI is an evolving system that cannot be pinned down and bounded by traditional project management definitions.

The BI requirements change as business requirements evolve and change. No single requirement definition can be characterized as a permanent, unchanging requirement.  The Business leaders, IT analysts and Subject matter experts will have to be constantly engaged in designing and developing queries; testing the outputs on field formations; obtaining feedback on the usefulness or otherwise of the outputs and exceptions that need to be handled.  It is an iterative process.

It requires the institution of an agile system development and process management approach. Highly skilled personnel must constantly and continuously work together to deliver on the objectives of BI with little requirements being defined upfront with more requirements being designed and refined on the go.

Scope of work will have to be “time-boxed” to each cycle of the project and goals and objectives of each time box will have to be specified separately.  Cycles which cannot be completed within the time specified will have to be deferred and included as part of the future development cycles. As a result, traditional project management methodologies will fail.

Since change is the only constant in BI, definition of a change management strategy is an imperative. The strategy must be built around the recognition that Business requirements change, changing BI requirements/queries; resulting in a change in the type of toolsets used and the skillsets that are required by BI stakeholders.

It should be remembered that People are resistant to change. Consumers of BI reports are no exceptions. They need to be educated about the benefits of the exercise and the producers of the data must be aligned to ensure data quality is never compromised by placing appropriate controls in the systems.

Training needs must be studied, documented; trainings organized whenever there is a change in any one or more components that operationalize the Business Intelligence unit.

The organization must also recognize that reporting requirements and formats will change with every change in the BI requirement. All reporting formats cannot be axed at once and all reporting formats cannot change overnight. The change must be planned and initiated based on schedules that have been agreed upon by the different stakeholders.

Existing reports and tools should be retired gradually and transition periods must be orchestrated carefully and thoughtfully. Trainings must be organized to transition all stakeholders to the new formats.  Organization of workshops and change management seminars must be part and parcel of the Business Intelligence unit’s functioning.

Finally, it must be reiterated that BI is not a project. It is a program.  The solution must dovetail into the existing environment and reinforce the business processes that are in use.  Any data extraction exercise for BI must be done without disturbing the workflow in the organization or impacting the reliability of the information that is being gathered during business operations.

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How To : Peel back the layers of data and information and reveal meaningful BI with SharePoint

Business Intelligence (BI) often takes on the mantel of exotic, rare, and almost unattainable technology. But at its core, business intelligence is simply a method of reporting on what happened.

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Granted it is a type of reporting that reaches beyond an ordinary peek into the rearview mirror of past business events; business intelligence helps to spot future trends, make informed go/no-go decisions, or identify potential threats. BI technology is strongest when it rests on a large supply of valid, diverse and current data, and can leverage the proper tools to help users understand and visualize queries about that data.

This blog post is about how SharePoint 2013 can help users solve practical business information problems, even though they don’t have the time or the budget to custom build an enterprise-scale BI system. The underlying premise of this blog is – show how SharePoint 2013 can provide a reasonable cost-benefit ratio and justify investing in BI technology.


Before we jump into SharePoint 2013 and its capabilities, let’s take a high-level look at Business Intelligence.

What Problems Can BI Solve?


If the only tool you have in your toolbox is a hammer, then every problem might look like a nail. The fact is, most businesses are able to solve most problems without spending a dime on more technology. In other words, the ‘hammer’ most businesses have been using works just fine, because most of their problems look like nails. The challenge they face only comes into focus when their competition is able to solve the same type of problems, but they do it faster, cheaper, and with less effort. Obviously, this can be a doomsday scenario for the company falling behind, technologically speaking.

That said; Business Intelligence is a great tool…but what problems will it solve? Perhaps a better question would be…how do I figure out if BI can help my company? You are not alone in asking these questions. Just because we have the tools to do something amazing like BI, doesn’t mean you need it or can afford it. But it certainly would be beneficial for you to find out if and how a Business Intelligence capability would help your business.

The starting-line to find out if BI makes sense for your organization runs right through your own conference room. You need to sit down with your senior executives and managers and talk to them about the information they rely on to run their part of the business. What information do they need, when do they need it, what do they do with it, what information are they missing, and so on? Initiate this type of conversation and you will, undoubtedly, open up a window of opportunity to discuss the merits of Business Intelligence.

SharePoint 2013 and Business Intelligence

Assuming that you see value in establishing BI capabilities in your organization, a very good first step would be to evaluate Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013. Because Microsoft products are generally used throughout both the back-office and front-office of most businesses, SharePoint 2013 is a very powerful tool to integrate the data with the technical systems required to build BI capabilities.

The main theme for BI is aggregation of data from multiple sources and then making that data available when, where, and how it is needed. BI must also be in complete alignment with all corporate goals while it supports the needs of individual managers who are responsible for achieving those goals. SharePoint 2013 is designed to access information and put it in the hands of employees when and where they need it. Because of SharePoint 2013’s capabilities to enable collaboration and teamwork, its very nature aligns the goals of the business with the goals of the employees.

Data Warehousing Measures and Dimensions

Perhaps the most fundamental requirement of BI is the need for information or data. Often this data is distributed throughout multiple databases and must be aggregated in some form.

In data warehousing, which is the term used to describe the functions necessary to aggregate, store and access data for the purpose of Business Intelligence and analytics, the data is often loaded into Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) cubes. The data stored in a cube can be sorted and filtered based on measures and dimensions. This technique lets users query the cube based on practical business categories which enable calculations to be made such as sum, count, average, min/max, etc. This is called a measure.

The other characteristic used in a cube is called a dimension. Dimensions are a collection of information or references about a measureable event. Each dimension can be measured.
For example, let’s say you wanted to run a report that gives you an up-to-the-minute total on sales volume and the number of units sold for each region of your company. In this example, the regions would be the dimensions and the sales volume and number of units are the measures.

SharePoint is designed to access cubes and work with the data stored in the cube, based on the available measures and dimensions.

Key Performance Indicators Business Intelligence enables visualization of raw data in the form of charts, graphs, pictures, etc. Typically Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Score Cards, and Dashboards use the raw data and turn it into something that can be easily consumed by a viewer. For example, a project status KPI is commonly displayed as green, yellow or red lights to indicate that the project is on target/no issues, there are minor issues, or the project is in trouble. This BI technique is an easy way to visualize the data and cut through all the non-essential information and get to the point. This also allows the viewer to quickly gauge if the corporate goals are being met or are in jeopardy.

SharePoint 2013 Business Intelligence Solutions

SharePoint 2013 has several products that may be used as part of a BI system. The following is a list of commonly used MS components, all or just some of them can be used to create a practical and powerful BI system:

  • BI Data Services – MS SQL Server Data Services and Integration services (both used to extract, transform and load data from disparate sources)
  • BI Engine MS SQL Server Analysis Services (supports OLAP cubes by letting you design, create, and manage multidimensional structures that contain data aggregated from other data sources, such as relational databases.)
  • PowerShell (a Microsoft task automation framework, consists of a command-line shell and associated scripting language built on .NET technology)
  • PowerPivot for SharePoint (Analysis Servicess server running in SharePoint mode and provides server hosting of PowerPivot data)
  • Microsoft Excel (commonly used spreadsheet with Pivot Tables and Pivot Charts and can be used with SharePoint)
  • Microsoft Performance Point Designer (is integrated with SharePoint to create dashboards, score cards, and analytics.

Setting Up SharePoint 2013


When SharePoint 2013 is installed and configured, Central Administration (CA) is provisioned. Central Administration is where you control all the settings and features of SharePoint Product sites for Web applications, like Excel or Performance Point. CA is a convenient tool that helps in linking the applications and tools required by SharePoint to set up a BI system. You will also use Microsoft’s PowerShell to set up the infrastructure for SharePoint sites so they can run in a multi-tenant environment on a single physical server or virtual server.

Excel Services or Performance Point

You can use either or both of these tools to create dashboards. Either one will help you establish trusted locations (e.g. http:// links), data providers, libraries, and databases.
Excel is often the easiest and most familiar tool to display and analyze BI data. Since Excel has been around a long time and so many people are experienced when it comes to using Excel, it is a good choice as the front-end tool to put on your BI environment.

With Excel you can add measures and dimensions from a source data cube (created by Analysis Services) and then use the Pivot Chart capabilities in Excel to select the fields you want to display, such as sales amount, product categories, sales by geography, etc. You can also create Pivot Tables is you want to display a spreadsheet with multiple columns and rows, also using the fields from the cube.

SharePoint’s Practical Solution


Microsoft and SharePoint have all the tools you need to create a very robust and practical BI solution. It is probable that you currently own licenses to many of the components, if not all, that are required to build a solution. If you are interested in Business Intelligence and you would consider a Microsoft-based solution, you might find that you can be up and running in a matter of days with a minimal investment.

Features from SharePoint 2010 Integration with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0

ImageOne of the core concepts of Business Connectivity Services (BCS) for SharePoint 2010 are the external content types. They are reusable metadata descriptions of connectivity information and behaviours (stereotyped operations) applied to external data. SharePoint offers developers several ways to create external content types and integrate them into the platform.

 

The SharePoint Designer 2010, for instance, allows you to create and manage external content types that are stored in supported external systems. Such an external system could be SQL Server, WCF Data Service, or a .NET Assembly Connector.

This article shows you how to create an external content type for SharePoint named Customer based on given SAP customer data. The definition of the content type will be provided as a .NET assembly, and the data are displayed in an external list in SharePoint.

The SAP customer data are retrieved from the function module SD_RFC_CUSTOMER_GET. In general, function modules in a SAP R/3 system are comparable with public and static C# class methods, and can be accessed from outside of SAP via RFC (Remote Function Call). Fortunately, we do not need to program RFC calls manually. We will use the very handy ERPConnect library from Theobald Software. The library includes a LINQ to SAP provider and designer that makes our lives easier.

.NET Assembly Connector for SAP

The first step in providing a custom connector for SAP is to create a SharePoint project with the SharePoint 2010 Developer Tools for Visual Studio 2010. Those tools are part of Visual Studio 2010. We will use the Business Data Connectivity Model project template to create our project:

After defining the Visual Studio solution name and clicking the OK button, the project wizard will ask what kind of SharePoint 2010 solution you want to create. The solution must be deployed as a farm solution, not as a sandboxed solution. Visual Studio is now creating a new SharePoint project with a default BDC model (BdcModel1). You can also create an empty SharePoint project and add a Business Data Connectivity Model project item manually afterwards. This will also generate a new node to the Visual Studio Solution Explorer called BdcModel1. The node contains a couple of project files: The BDC model file (file extension bdcm), and the Entity1.cs and EntityService.cs class files.

Next, we add a LINQ to SAP file to handle the SAP data access logic by selecting the LINQ to ERP item from the Add New Item dialog in Visual Studio. This will add a file called LINQtoERP1.erp to our project. The LINQ to SAP provider is internally called LINQ to ERP. Double click LINQtoERP1.erp to open the designer. Now, drag the Function object from the designer toolbox onto the design surface. This will open the SAP connection dialog since no connection data has been defined so far:

Enter the SAP connection data and your credentials. Click the Test Connection button to test the connectivity. If you could successfully connect to your SAP system, click the OK button to open the function module search dialog. Now search for SD_RFC_CUSTOMER_GET, then select the found item, and click OK to open the RFC Function Module /BAPI dialog:

SP2010SAPToBCS/BCS12.png

The dialog provides you the option to define the method name and parameters you want to use in your SAP context class. The context class is automatically generated by the LINQ to SAP designer including all SAP objects defined. Those objects are either C# (or VB.NET) class methods and/or additional object classes used by the methods.

For our project, we need to select the export parameters KUNNR and NAME1 by clicking the checkboxes in the Pass column. These two parameters become our input parameters in the generated context class method named SD_RFC_CUSTOMER_GET. We also need to return the customer list for the given input selection. Therefore, we select the table parameter CUSTOMER_T on the Tables tab and change the structure name to Customer. Then, click the OK button on the dialog, and the new objects get added to the designer surface.

IMPORTANT: The flag “Create Objects Outside Of Context Class” must be set to TRUE in the property editor of the LINQ designer, otherwise LINQ to SAP generates the Customer class as nested class of the SAP context class. This feature and flag is only available in LINQ to SAP for Visual Studio 2010.

The LINQ designer has also automatically generated a class called Customer within the LINQtoERP1.Designer.cs file. This class will become our BDC model entity or external content type. But first, we need to adjust and rename our BDC model that was created by default from Visual Studio. Currently, the BDC model looks like this:

Rename the BdcModel1 node and file into CustomerModel. Since we already have an entity class (Customer), delete the file Entity1.cs and rename the EntityService.cs file to CustomerService.cs. Next, open the CustomerModel file and rename the designer object Entity1. Then, change the entity identifier name from Identifier1 to KUNNR. You can also use the BDC Explorer for renaming. The final adjustment result should look as follows:

SP2010SAPToBCS/BCS4.png

The last step we need to do in our Visual Studio project is to change the code in the CustomerService class. The BDC model methods ReadItem and ReadList must be implemented using the automatically generated LINQ to SAP code. First of all, take a look at the code:

SP2010SAPToBCS/BCS6.png

As you can see, we basically have just a few lines of code. All of the SAP data access logic is encapsulated within the SAP context class (see the LINQtoERP1.Designer.cs file). The CustomerService class just implements a static constructor to set the ERPConnect license key and to initialize the static variable _sc with the SAP credentials as well as the two BDC model methods.

The ReadItem method, BCS stereotyped operation SpecificFinder, is called by BCS to fetch a specific item defined by the identifier KUNNR. In this case, we just call the SD_RFC_CUSTOMER_GET context method with the passed identifier (variable id) and return the first customer object we get from SAP.

The ReadList method, BCS stereotyped operation Finder, is called by BCS to return all entities. In this case, we just return all customer objects the SD_RFC_CUSTOMER_GET context method returns. The returned result is already of type IEnumerable<Customer>.

The final step is to deploy the SharePoint solution. Right-click on the project node in Visual Studio Solution Explorer and select Deploy. This will install and deploy the SharePoint solution on the server. You can also debug your code by just setting a breakpoint in the CustomerService class and executing the project with F5.

That’s all we have to do!

Now, start the SharePoint Central Administration panel and follow the link “Manage Service Applications”, or navigate directly to the URL http://<SERVERNAME>/_admin/ServiceApplications.aspx. Click on Business Data Connectivity Service to show all the available external content types:

On this page, we find our deployed BDC model including the Customer entity. You can click on the name to retrieve more details about the entity. Right now, there is just one issue open. We need to set permissions!

Mark the checkbox for our entity and click on Set Object Permissions in the Ribbon menu bar. Now, define the permissions for the users you want to allow to access the entity, and click the OK button. In the screen shown above, the user administrator has all the permissions possible.

In the next and final step, we will create an external list based on our entity. To do this, we open SharePoint Designer 2010 and connect us with the SharePoint website.

Click on External Content Types in the Site Objects panel to display all the content types (see above). Double click on the Customer entity to open the details. The SharePoint Designer is reading all the information available by BCS.

In order to create an external list for our entity, click on Create Lists & Form on the Ribbon menu bar (see screenshot below) and enter CustomerList as the name for the external list.

OK, now we are done!

Open the list, and you should get the following result:

The external list shows all the defined fields for our entity, even though our Customer class, automatically generated by the LINQ to SAP, has more than those four fields. This means you can only display a subset of the information for your entity.

Another option is to just select those fields required within the LINQ to SAP designer. With the LINQ designer, you can access not just the SAP function modules. You can integrate other SAP objects, like tables, BW cubes, SAP Query, or IDOCs. A demo version of the ERPConnect library can be downloaded from the Theobald Software homepage.

If you click the associated link of one of the customer numbers in the column KUNNR (see screenshot above), SharePoint will open the details view:

SP2010SAPToBCS/BCS10.png

 

 

Microsoft BI and the new PowerQuery for Excel – How we empower users

Introduction to Microsoft Power Query for Excel

Microsoft Power Query for Excel enhances self-service business intelligence (BI) for Excel with an intuitive and consistent experience for discovering, combining, and refining data across a wide variety of sources including relational, structured and semi-structured, OData, Web, Hadoop, Azure Marketplace, and more. Power Query also provides you with the ability to search for public data from sources such as Wikipedia.

With Power Query 2.10, you can share and manage queries as well as search data within your organization. Users in the enterprise can find and use these shared queries (if it is shared with them) to use the underlying data in the queries for their data analysis and reporting. For more information about how to share queries, see Share Queries.

With Power Query, you can

  • Find and connect data across a wide variety of sources.
  • Merge and shape data sources to match your data analysis requirements or prepare it for further analysis and modeling by tools such as Power Pivot and Power View.
  • Create custom views over data.
  • Use the JSON parser to create data visualizations over Big Data and Azure HDInsight.
  • Perform data cleansing operations.
  • Import data from multiple log files.
  • Perform Online Search for data from a large collection of public data sources including Wikipedia tables, a subset of Microsoft Azure Marketplace, and a subset of Data.gov.
  • Create a query from your Facebook likes that render an Excel chart.
  • Pull data into Power Pivot from new data sources, such as XML, Facebook, and File Folders as refreshable connections.
  • With Power Query 2.10, you can share and manage queries as well as search data within your organization.

New updates for Power Query

The Power Query team has been busy adding a number of exciting new features to Power Query. You can download the update from this page.

New features for Power Query include the following, please read the rest of this blog post for specific details for each.

  • New Data Sources
    • Updated “Preview” functionality of the SAP BusinessObjects BI Universe connectivity
    • Access tables and named ranges in a workbook
  • Improvements to Query Load Settings
    • Customizable Defaults for Load Settings in the Options dialog
    • Automatic suggestion to load a query to the Data Model when it goes beyond the worksheet limit
    • Preserve data in the Data Model when you modify the Load to Worksheet setting of a query that is loaded to the Data Model
  • Improvements to Query Refresh behaviors in Excel
    • Preserve Custom Columns, Conditional Formatting and other customizations of worksheet tables
    • Preserve results from a previous query refresh when a new refresh attempt fails
  • New Transformations available in the Query Editor
    • Remove bottom rows
    • Fill up
    • New statistic operations in the Insert tab
  • Other Usability Improvements
    • Ability to reorder queries in the Workbook Queries pane
    • More discoverable way to cancel a preview refresh in the Query Editor
    • Keyboard support for navigation and rename in the Steps pane
    • Ability to view and copy errors in the Filter Column dropdown menu
    • Remove items directly from the Selection Well in the Navigator
    • Send a Frown for Service errors

Connect to SAP BusinessObjects BI Universe (Preview)

This connectivity has been a separate Preview feature for the last month or so. In this release, we are incorporating the SAP BusinessObjects BI Universe connector Preview capabilities as part of the main Power Query download for ease of access. With Microsoft Power Query for Excel, you can easily connect to an SAP BusinessObjects BI Universe to explore and analyze data across your enterprise.

Access tables and named ranges in an Excel workbook

With From Excel Workbook, you can now connect to tables and named ranges in your external workbook sheets. This simplifies the process of selecting useful data from an external workbook, which used to be limited to sheets and users had to “manually” scrape the data (using Query transform operations).

 

Customizable Defaults for Load Settings in the Options dialog

You can override the Power Query default Load Settings in the Options dialog. This will set the default Load Settings behavior for new queries in areas where Load Settings are not exposed directly to the user, such as in Online Search results and the Navigator task pane in single-table import mode. In addition, this will set the default state for Load Settings where these settings are available including the Query Editor, and Navigator in multi-table import mode.

           

Preserve Custom Columns, Conditional Formatting and other customizations of worksheet tables

With this Power Query Update, Custom Columns, conditional formatting in Excel, and other customizations of worksheet tables are preserved after you refresh a query. Power Query will preserve worksheet customizations such as Data Bars, Color Scales, Icon Sets or other value-based rules across refresh operations and after query edits.

Preserve results from a previous query refresh when a new refresh attempt fails

After a refresh fails, Power Query will now preserve the previous query results. This allows you to work with slightly older data in the worksheet or Data Model and lets you refresh the query results after fixing the cause of errors.

Automatic suggestion to load a query to the Data Model when it goes beyond the worksheet limits

When you are working with large volumes of data in your workbook, you could reach the limits of Excel’s worksheet size. When this occurs, Power Query will automatically recommend to load your query results to the Data Model. The Data Model can store very large data sets.

Preserve data in the Data Model when modifying the Load to Worksheet setting of a query that is loaded to the Data Model

With Power Query, data and annotations on the Data Model are preserved when modifying the Load to Worksheet setting of a query. Previously, Power Query would reset the query results in both the worksheet and the Data Model when modifying either one of the two load settings.      

Remove Bottom Rows

A very common scenario, especially when importing data from the Web and other semi-structured sources, is having to remove the last few rows of data because the contents do not belong to the data set. For instance, it’s common to remove links to previous/next pages or comments. Previously, this was possible only by using a composition of custom formulas in Power Query. This transformation is now much easier by adding a library function called Table.RemoveLastN(), and a button for this transformation in the Home tab of the Query Editor ribbon.

 

Fill Up

Power Query already supports the ability to fill down values in a column to neighboring empty cells. Starting with this update, you can now fill values up within a column as well. This new transformation is available as a new library function called Table.FillUp(), and a button on the Home tab of the Query Editor ribbon.

New Statistics operations in the Insert tab

The Insert tab provides various ways to insert new columns in queries, based on custom formulas or by deriving values based on other columns. You can now apply Statistics operations based on values from different columns, row by row, in their table.

 

Ability to reorder queries in the Workbook Queries pane

With the latest Power Query update, you can move queries up or down in the Workbook Queries pane. You can right-click on a query and select Move Up or Move Down to reorder queries.

More discoverable way of cancelling refresh of a preview in the Query Editor

The Cancel option is now much more discoverable inside the Query Editor dialog. In addition to the Refresh dropdown menu in the ribbon, this option can now be found in the status bar at the bottom right corner of the Query Editor, next to the download status information.

  

Keyboard support for navigation and rename in the Steps pane

You can now use the Up/Down Arrow keys to navigate between steps in your query. Also, press the F2 key to rename the current step.

Ability to view and copy errors in the Filter Column dropdown menu

You can easily view and copy error details inside the Filter Column menu. This is very useful to troubleshoot errors while retrieving filter values.

Remove items directly from the Selection Well in the Navigator

You can remove items directly from the Selection Well instead of having to find the original item in the Navigator tree to deselect it.

 

Send a Frown for Service errors

We try as hard as possible to improve the quality of Power Query and all of its features. Even then, there are cases in which errors can happen. You can now send a frown directly from experiences where a service error happened, for instance, an error retrieving a Search result preview or downloading a query from the Data Catalog. This will give us enough information about the service request that failed and the client state to troubleshoot the issue.

That’s all for this update! We hope that you enjoy these new Power Query features. Please don’t hesitate to contact us via the Power Query Forum or send us a smile/frown with any questions or feedback that you may have.

You can also follow these links to access more resources about Power Query and Power BI:

How To : Use SharePoint Dashboards & MSRS Reports for your Agile Development Life Cycle

The Problem We Solve

Agile BI is not a term many would associate with MSRS Reports and SharePoint Dashboards. While many organizations first turn to the Microsoft BI stack because of its familiarity, stitching together Microsoft’s patchwork of SharePoint, SQL Server, SSAS, MSRS, and Office creates administrative headaches and requires considerable time spent integrating and writing custom code.

This Showcase outlines the ease of accomplishing three of the most fundamental BI tasks with LogiXML technology as compared to MSRS and SharePoint:

  • Building a dashboard with multiple data sources
  • Creating interactive reports that reduce the load on IT by providing users self-service
  • Integrating disparate data sources

Read below to learn how an agile BI methodology can make your life much easier when it comes to dashboards and reports. Don’t feel like reading?

Building a Dashboard with LogiXML vs. MSRS + SharePoint

Microsoft’s only solution for dashboards is to either write your own code from scratch, manipulate SharePoint to serve a purpose for which it wasn’t initially designed, or look to third party apps. Below are some of the limitations to Microsoft’s approach to dashboards:

  • Limited Pre-Built Elements: Microsoft components come with only limited libraries of pre-built elements. In addition to actual development work, you will need to come up with an idea of how everything will work together. This necessitates becoming familiar with best practices in dashboards and reporting.
  • Sophisticated Development Expertise Required: While Microsoft components provide basic capabilities, anything more sophisticated is development resource-intensive and requires you to take on design, execution, and delivery. Any complex report visualizations and logic, such as interactive filters, must be written in code by the developer.
  • Limited Charts and Visualizations: Microsoft has a smaller sub-set of charts and visualization tools. If you want access to the complete library of .NET-capable charts, you’ll still need to OEM another charting solution at additional expense.
  • Lack of Integrated Workflow: Microsoft does not include workflow features sets out of the box in their BI offering.

LogiXML technology is centered on Logi Studio: an elemental, agile BI design environment which lets you simply choose from hundreds of powerful and configurable pre-built elements. Logi’s pre-built elements equip developers with tools to speed development, as well as the processes and logic required to build and manage BI projects. Below is a screen shot of the Logi Studio while building new dashboards.

agile-bi.jpg

Start a free LogiXML trial now.

Logi developers can easily create static or user-customizable dashboards using the Dashboard element. A dashboard is a collection of panels containing Logi reports, which in turn contain table, charts, images, etc. At runtime, the user can customize the dashboard by rearranging these panels on the browser page, by showing or hiding them, and even by changing their contents using adjustable reporting criteria. The data displayed within the panels can be configured, as in any Logi report, to link to other reports, providing drill-down functionality.

 

logi2.jpg

The dashboard displayed above has tabs and user customization enabled. The Dashboard element provides customization features, such as drag-and-drop panel positioning, support for built-in parameters the user can access to adjust the panel’s data contents, and a panel selection list that determines which panels will be displayed. AJAX techniques are utilized for web server interactions, allowing selective updates of portions of the dashboard. Dashboard customizations can be saved on an individual-user basis to create a highly personalized view of the data.

The Dashboard Wizard

The ‘Create a Dashboard’ wizard assists developers in creating dashboards by populating the report definition with the necessary dashboard-related elements. You can easily point to any data source by selecting from a variety of DataLayer types, including SQL, StoredProcedures, Web Services, Files, and more. A simple to use drag and drop SQL Query builder is also integrated, to offer a guided approach to constructing queries when connecting to your database.

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Using the Dashboard Element

The Dashboard element is used to create the top level structure for all of your interactive panels within the final output. Under your dashboards, you can optionally add any number of Dashboard Panels, Panel Parameters for dynamic filtering, and even automatic refresh features with AJAX-based refresh timers.

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Changing Appearance Using Themes and Style Sheets

The appearance of a dashboard can be changed easily by assigning a theme to your report. In addition, or as an alternative, you can change dashboard appearance using style. The Dashboard element has its own Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) file containing predefined classes that affect the display colors, font sizes, button labels, and spacing seen when the dashboard is displayed. You can override these classes by adding classes with the same name to your own style sheet file.

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Ad Hoc Reporting Creation with LogiXML: Analysis Grid

The Analysis Grid is a managed reporting feature giving end users virtual ad hoc capability. It is an easy to use tool that allows business users to analyze and manipulate data and outputs in multiple and powerful ways.

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Create an Analysis Grid by using the “Create Analysis Grid” wizard, or by simply adding the AnalysisGrid element into your definition file. Like the dashboard, data for the Analysis Grid can be accessed from any of the data options, including SQL databases, web sources, or files. You also have the option to launch the interactive query builder wizard for easy, drag-drop, SQL query creation.

The Analysis Grid is composed of three main parts: the data grid itself, i.e. a table of data to be analyzed; various action buttons at the top, allowing the user to perform actions such as create new columns with custom calculations, sort columns, add charts, and perform aggregations; and the ability to export the grid to Excel, CSV, or PDF format.

The Analysis Grid makes it easy to perform what-if analyses through features like filtering. The Grid also makes data-presentation impactful through visualization features including data driven color formatting, inline gauges, and custom formula creation.

Ad Hoc Reporting Creation with Microsoft

While simple ad hoc capabilities, such as enabling the selection of parameters like date ranges, can be accomplished quickly and easily with Microsoft, more sophisticated ad hoc analysis is challenging due to the following shortcomings.

Platform Integration Problems

Microsoft BI strategy is not unified and is strongly tied to SQL Server. To obtain analysis capabilities, you must build cubes through to the Analysis Service, which is a separate product with its own different security architecture. Next, you will need to build reports that talk to SQL server, also using separate products.

Dashboards require a SharePoint portal which is, again, a separate product with separate requirements and licensing. If you don’t use this, you must completely code your dashboards from scratch. Unfortunately, Microsoft Reporting Services doesn’t play well with Analysis Services or SharePoint since these were built on different technologies.

SharePoint itself offers an out of the box portal and dashboard solution but unfortunately with a number of significant shortcomings. SharePoint was designed as a document management and collaboration tool as opposed to an interactive BI dashboard solution. Therefore, in order to have a dashboard solution optimized for BI, reporting, and interactivity you are faced with two options:

  • Build it yourself using .NET and a combination of third party components
  • Buy a separate third party product

Many IT professionals find these to be rather unappealing options, since they require evaluating a new product or components, and/or a lot of work to build and make sure it integrates with the rest of the Microsoft stack.

Additionally, while SQL Server and other products support different types of security architectures, Analysis Services only has support for using integrated Windows NT security models to access cubes and therefore creates integration challenges.

Moreover, for client/ad hoc tools, you need Report Writer, a desktop product, or Excel – another desktop application. In addition to requiring separate licenses, these products don’t even talk to one another in the same ways, as they were built by different companies and subsequently acquired by Microsoft.

Each product requires a separate and often disconnected development environment with different design and administration features. Therefore to manage Microsoft BI, you must have all of these development environments available and know how to use them all.

Integration of Various Data Sources: LogiXML vs. Microsoft

LogiXML is data neutral, allowing you to easily connect to all of your organization’s data spread across multiple applications and databases. You can connect with any data source or data model and even combine data sources such as current data accessed through a web service with past data in spreadsheets.

Integration of Various Data Sources with Microsoft

Working with Microsoft components for BI means you will be faced with the challenge of limited support for non-Microsoft based databases and outside data sources. The Microsoft BI stack is centered on SQL Server databases and therefore the data source is optimized to work with SQL Server. Unfortunately, if you need outside content it can be very difficult to integrate.

Finally, Microsoft BI tools are designed with the total Microsoft experience in mind and are therefore optimized for Internet Explorer. While other browsers and devices might be useable, the experience isn’t optimized and may potentially lack in features or visualize differently.

 

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