What’s New with Power BI

March 11, 2020

Power BI has been around for roughly four years now in its current incarnation and during this time the collaboration space, and SharePoint specifically, has begun to see business intelligence (BI) tooling shift from being native to being a separate, but better invested in, space. There have been several big announcements in the Power BI space in recent months that are making things better and better for people looking to bring BI into their collaboration world in Microsoft 365.

These four announcements from the Power BI Product Team have significantly changed the game for people in the collaboration space, especially those coming from legacy SharePoint platforms, and make the intersection between collaboration & data driven decision making a more approachable opportunity. What follows is an analysis of these announcements and how they can be leveraged to support a collaborative organization using Microsoft 365.

Updated Ribbon Experience for Power BI Desktop 

The #1 BI tool in the world is Microsoft Excel. My kids have learned Excel in grade school, not just because their father is a giant geek and a Microsoft fanboy but because that is where people start learning to use spreadsheets these days. Excel has been around for over 30 years and people are VERY comfortable with it.

One of the complaints that people have had over the first few years is that the Power BI that has existed has been the Power BI Desktop, the main authoring tool for Power BI Reports, which was drastically different and the learning curve was steep. Once overcome people were thrilled with the tools, but it felt like an odd transition to have to go through.

The new ribbon experience (displayed above) in Power BI Desktop brings in the Office 365 ribbon, specifically pulling elements from Excel, to give users a more consistent experience as they are moving to a more dynamic BI tool. Excel is still the BI tool of choice for many people; however, this is making the cross over much easier to navigate as people look to grow their data driven decision making.

The decision to change and leverage the Office 365 ribbon also brings not only visual changes like a much-needed themes gallery, a new Insert Tab, and Contextual Tabs for more focused elements but it also opens the door to leveraging other elements of Office 365 such as integration with Office/Microsoft Search thesaurus for Natural Language improvements for the Q&A feature.

All of this begins to bridge the gap for users who are just entering the Power BI space and getting to know the tooling. A knowledge of Excel is now more of a help to learning Power BI than it was before making implementation & adoption easier as a result.  


New Power BI tab for Microsoft Teams

Just announced in February 2020, the new Power BI tab for Microsoft Teams is a long overdue update that will make it easier to share data & help people collaborate around Power BI reports using the fastest growing collaboration tool in the Microsoft stack.

The update brings with it several key enablers for Microsoft Teams users to make working with Power BI easier. When adding a Power BI tab in Microsoft Teams now a user is presented with the option of looking through their Workspaces, Apps, or simply using a Search Box to find the Workspace they are looking for and then they can select the report they want to visualize in the Team. The new experience also defaults the tab name after the report rather than simply naming it Power BI. While still in the selection pane there is a dialog that refers to permissions that takes the user directly to the report so that they can ensure the permissions are set correctly for the audience they are looking to share it with.

Once the tab has been added the users have options in the upper right hand corner of the tab that allow them to have a conversation around the report, take the report into a full screen mode inside of the Teams experience, refresh the tab (not the underlying report data), or jump directly out to the Power BI web experience where they can take many more actions on the report.

This new Microsoft Teams experience for Power BI is making life easier for people to share their reports and make data driven decisions, however it is important to remember that this new experience does not change the licensing requirements for viewing a Power BI report. A Power BI Pro license is required to publish and view reports in the Power BI Service and is required to publish reports into dedicated capacity in Power BI Premium where users can view those reports without a Power BI Pro license.

The Publish to web default is changing and it affects who can create public embed codes

The number one most dangerous feature of Power BI has always been the ability to Publish to Web. This feature has been widely misunderstood, misused, and on occasion gotten people who have used it improperly in very deep trouble. The Publish to Web feature allows users to create an embed code that allows the user to embed their report in any web page without permission restrictions on it, giving anonymous access to the data within. When used correctly this feature is great because sharing data that is meant to be public with the public is a useful thing. When used incorrectly this feature is disastrous because once an embed code is created it can be found even if it is never used on a page publicly. This feature was on by default & many companies never turned it off because they were able to get around licensing requirements by using it, however the cost of doing that with corporate data far outweighs the savings on licensing.

Thankfully the Power BI Product Team has provided a new set of options for Admins to be able to set Publish to Web to on or off for an Entire Organization or to allow only specific security groups to be able to create embed codes for Publish to Web.

This is made more palatable to users because of another update that was made to the Power BI Service in January 2019 when they introduced the Secure Embed option. This allows users to create an embed code that can be put on any page but will require the viewer to authenticate before they are able to view the report.

The SharePoint Online modern webpart has been around for years now and allows a similar experience in SPO, however the authentication is streamlined and the webpart will not display if the viewer does not have a Power BI Pro license or the report is not published to a Premium Workspace.

Decomposition tree visual

The Decomposition tree visual is the last of the features that SharePoint people have been waiting to be replaced before we could really look at a move from on-premises to SharePoint Online. In June 2019 the other major hurdle was overcome, Paginated Reports in Power BI, and now we have an AI driven visual to replace the Decomposition Tree visual we had for years in PerformancePoint, a feature that was deprecated in SharePoint 2019.

This visual gives users the ability to slice into their data in a dynamic way without having to build major back-end logic. This WYSIWYG visual is more intuitive and far more useful than its PerformancePoint predecessor. Additionally, this visual is a part of the AI features stack that the Power BI Product Team is continuing to invest heavily in.

Summary

Hopefully these highlights give you a perspective on the advancements that Microsoft has been making to ensure a simpler and more approachable entry into Power BI and data driven decision making. The future is bright at the intersection of collaboration & data. There are many more exciting updates coming throughout 2020 as the Power BI Product Team laid out in their Power Platform 2020 release wave 1 plan. Keep up with all the latest news by following the BIFocal.show podcast & joining us for our workshop “Everything You Wanted to Know About Power BI, But Were Afraid to Ask” at European Collaboration Summit in Wiesbaden in June.

Collaboration means two-way communication!

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