Most Overlooked Features in Power BI

By:   |   Updated: 2023-12-13   |   Comments   |   Related: > Power BI


Problem

I am new to Power BI and trying to get the most out of my reports. Can you share some of the most useful, yet overlooked Power BI features?

Solution

Power BI, known for its unique features and easy-to-use interface, is much like a software kit with hidden treasures. Discovering these overlooked, but useful features, can significantly increase productivity. This tip uncovers some of Power BI's often missed aspects, explaining their possible advantages and the causes of them being unnoticed by both novice and pro users.

Query Parameters in Power BI

Query Parameter allows users to define variable values that can be used in Power Query formulas. These variable values can affect how data is imported, processed, or filtered in Power BI.

  • If we want to work with dynamic data source connections, using parameters to define server names or databases makes switching between development, staging, and production environments easy.
  • For variable filtering, defining parameters for dates, product names, or other values guarantees filtering dynamically for data before it even loads into Power BI.
  • If we are looking for configurable transformations like adjusting transformation logic, we can opt for parameter values, giving flexibility in how data is cleaned or reshaped.

Many casual users start their Power BI journey by connecting to simple, static data sources like an Excel file or a single database. There is no immediate need for dynamic behavior in these scenarios, so the idea of parameters might not even come up.

Also, implementing parameters requires a certain level of understanding of Power Query M formulas and the concept of parameterization itself. Let's agree that it can be an added layer of complexity that some users might not feel ready to tackle, especially if they are looking for quick results.

Professionals with experience in database management or SQL might be more familiar with query parameterization, as it's a common practice in SQL scripting to make scripts more dynamic and secure. However, for users without this background, the benefit of dynamic code might not be immediately apparent.

Without a doubt, parameters shine in scenarios where reports are frequently updated, reused, or repurposed or where data source configurations change often. However, the casual user creating one-off reports might not see an immediate need for such flexibility.

The option to create parameters in Power BI is present within the Power Query Editor, which offers numerous options and transformations. A beginner user might miss it amidst the wealth of other features.

While Query Parameters offer a powerful feature to make Power BI reports and data import processes more dynamic and with fewer configurations, their utility might not be immediately clear to those unfamiliar with data management and reporting.

Drill Through

Drill through is one of the interesting features. In Power BI, to create a hierarchical structure among report pages from a higher-level summary view, we can select a data point and "drill through" to a more detailed view to get additional insights about that particular data point.

Let's take the example of a dashboard showing total sales by country. Clicking on the "USA" bar in a bar chart might bring us to a detailed page showing sales by individual states within the USA. In this case, the feature will provide a structure to move from a broad overview to granular details, enhancing the depth of data exploration. In our scenario, the detail page can be dynamically filtered based on the data point clicked, which allows us for contextual analysis without creating numerous individual reports.

As report designers, we guarantee to guide users through a predetermined analysis path, ensuring that they draw insights logically. Also, instead of trying to fit all information on a single page, we can layer the reports, ensuring that final consumers won't be overwhelmed by too much information.

Many users, especially beginners, might be accustomed to tools or platforms where reports are traditionally flat, presenting all information on one page or dashboard. They may not feel familiar with or see the need for multi-layered reporting.

Also, setting up drill through may require more configuration than a basic report. Users must design both the high-level report and the detailed report pages and then set up the drill through action. This can be perceived as extra work that might deter some.

Some users, especially those new to BI, may prioritize making their dashboard visually stunning over its navigational or analytical depth.

Data Profiling

Let's go back to the dashboard example showing total sales by country. If we want to know more about data distribution, the data profiling tools will provide new and intuitive ways to clean, transform, and understand data in Power Query Editor. They include:

  • Column quality: to check the quality of the data.
  • Column distribution: to check the frequency and distribution of the values in each column.
  • Column profile: column statistics chart.

Beginner users might not be familiar with the term "data profiling" or its importance in analyzing and preparing data. Without a data management or engineering background, this step might be skipped since they assume that if the data comes from a trusted or established system, it should already be clean and accurate.

The Power Query Editor in Power BI offers many features and transformations. However, it might be considered unnecessary for beginner users since they may think it is only needed for large or complex datasets. This will lead them to bypass this step if they are dealing with simpler datasets or rushing toward visualization without properly understanding the underlying data.

Quick Insights

Quick Insights introduces the AI part in Power BI. If we go back to our dataset, we can generate a collection of visualizations and insights without manually setting up each visualization since the feature scans the dataset to discover and present trends or anomalies that might not be immediately obvious.

Since Quick Insights presents time series/category outliers, correlation, major factors, and more, it is more performant for large datasets since manual exploration would be time-consuming.

Users often approach Power BI with a particular analysis or set of questions in mind. Since they are more interested in building specific reports, Quick Insights might be seen as unnecessary. Also, we cannot escape the dilemma of whether people trust artificial intelligence.

Even for some professionals with technical backgrounds working in the data fields, having more control over the narrative and what's highlighted in their reports might be preferred since they think that relying on automated insights might feel like giving up some of that control.

Custom Themes

With Power BI Desktop report themes, we can apply design changes to the entire report. When applying a report theme, all report visuals use the colors and formatting of the selected theme as default settings.

Instead of relying on the default themes, users can define a JSON file in advance with specifications that align with their brand or graphical charter. On the other hand, if developers work independently, maintaining consistent graphic content across all reports can be challenging. Each developer can apply the theme differently, which can lead to inconsistencies. For more complex themes, users may need external tools or keep modifying the JSON file, which can be considered as an extra layer of complexity.

As Microsoft works to improve Power BI, this feature may need to be updated to ensure compatibility or to take advantage of new capabilities. Currently, it does not support dynamic theming, where themes could change based on user interaction or data values, for example. This limits the ability to make reports fully interactive in terms of visual appearance.

Export to PDF/PPT in Power BI

Power BI offers the capability to export reports to both PDF and PPT to make presentations and documentation, or when sharing data insights with individuals who might be outside the Power BI ecosystem, a more valuable experience. A few years ago, when this feature was in the ideation phase, it sparked a debate. Some were against it, believing that the Power BI report was sufficient, among other reasons. On the other hand, supporters argued that this functionality simplified the sharing process.

Power BI's interactivity is considered a strength; users valuing this may view static exports as regressive and face privacy issues, especially if reports contain confidential details. The platform also has integrated sharing capabilities for interactive reports and dashboards; those with Power BI-accessible audiences might prefer this method. The quality reservations could also play a part; there might be concerns that transitioning to static formats could reduce visual precision.

Summary

Power BI is a testament to the rapid evolution of data visualization and analysis tools, boosting many functionalities from fundamental data transformations to AI-driven insights. However, users need to understand and leverage all the features at their disposal to extract the maximum value from their data. Whether you're a casual user or a seasoned data analyst, revisiting these features might unveil new perspectives and efficiencies in your reporting journey.

Next Steps

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Amira Bedhiafi Amira Bedhiafi utilizes Azure Analysis Services to harness the power of scalable, cloud-based OLAP cubes for advanced data analysis and multidimensional modeling.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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Article Last Updated: 2023-12-13

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