New To PowerBI: Daily Dashboard Email Updates Via Subscription

I’ve written a lot about PowerBI, both on this blog and in my previous role at St Andrew’s College and one of the things I love most about the product is the current speed of development. Significant new features are added monthly, often in response to user requests (hint, if you want to see a new feature submit it here) and today I saw announced a great new feature.

Daily Dashboard Email Subscriptions is a new feature allowing your PowerBI users to subscribe to a company or individual dashboard and receive daily email snapshots of this critical data.

PowerBI

An example email of a dashboard overview emailed daily to the recipient

For users that are used to Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) this feature could not come soon enough. It is super easy for your end users to sign up themselves for these daily emails, they simply go to the dashboard of their choice (or make a custom dashboard by pinning the visuals they want to track) and hit subscribe:

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Note: if your data does not change regularly, then will not be bombarded with daily emails that were identical to the previous day. The updates come via email only as regularly as your data refreshes but no more than once a day. Therefore, if you have non-critical data that only refreshes once a week, you will only receive an email once a week.

It looks like the PowerBI team isn’t stopping there when it comes to email subscriptions, with new features coming soon that include:

In an education context I can see this being super helpful for Executive and Enrollment Teams where they need to track time sensitive data e.g. how many beds remain in the boarding house? What is the gender split in Year 10? How many students have passed their internal assessment before the end of the year? Lots of possibilities exist for daily emails of key dashboards.

PowerBI Premium Is Here

powerbiLast month I blogged about the announcement of PowerBI Premium and the changes that were coming. This has sparked a renewed interest from schools and tertiary institutes as they understand the implications of these changes and how they can leverage them to their advantage.

Overnight, the PowerBI team published a couple of interesting blogs that are worth checking out:

If you’re not particularly familiar with PowerBI Premium then read the whitepaper here, but in essence it:

….enables the distribution of reports broadly across an enterprise and externally, without requiring recipients to be individually licensed. And since Power BI Premium consists of capacity in the Power BI service exclusively dedicated to an organization, the offering provides the flexibility to customize performance based on the needs of a team, department, or the organization itself.

Embedded PowerBI Reports:

An area that has probably generated the most questions to me is the ability to embed PowerBI reports into a web or mobile app. I’ve linked to guides showing how this can be done in earlier blog posts, but it is only with PowerBI Premium that fixed costs around this service have become available. It’s worth reading the PDF called “Embedded Analytics Capacity Planning PowerBI” in it’s entirety but a few things stand out to me:

  1. You need to continue to license users with PowerBI Pro if they are administrating, developing or publishing content within PowerBI for consumption by others. This is no change from the earlier announcement last month but is worth keeping in mind.
  2. Even when testing in development you need to have a PowerBI Premium SKU “Power BI Premium enables full testing of the solution with embed tokens that allow multi-user access to the embedded Power BI reports and dashboards.”
  3. PowerBI Premium has new embedded SKU for running it as a PaaS with varying levels of capacity, based on the anticipated number of pages rendered per hour
    1. A page render is counted any time Power BI visuals are loaded on a page. A page refresh counts as a page render, as does any other page interactivity, like slice and dice, filtering, etc. 

The report gives an example for how to calculate what sort of capacity a developer might need to think about when it comes to using Embedded PowerBI:

[A developer] knows that the SaaS App with embedded Power BI handles 100 users in the peak hour. It is assumed that these users will trigger a total of 250 page renders for that hour because each user will load a report and interact with it 2.5 times during the peak hour …. [the developer] should choose Power BI Premium EM1.

PowerBI Embedded Costs

Initial costing (in USD$) for commercial users. The first three rows are embedded SKU (PaaS only). Educational pricing will be lower than the above.

I’ve had a number of conversations with both educational software developers and larger schools that are interested in delivering embedded PowerBI reports in both web apps (parent portals or intranets in a typical school environment) and mobile apps, so the new EM1 SKU above does start to deliver a more affordable option.

PowerBI – Major Licensing Changes

powerbi-getting-startedPowerBI is a fantastic visualisation and reporting tool that I’ve written about extensively on this blog already, as well as having created numerous screencasts and blogs in an educational context from my time at St Andrew’s College.

Last week, Microsoft announced some major changes to the licensing of PowerBI which will come into effect on June 1st 2017 with some potential ramifications for schools that are currently exploring the functionality in the free version. If you’re unfamiliar with the product in general, then PowerBI.com is the best place to start for an overview, and the key changes from the announcement on 3rd of May can be found on this blog post from PowerBI.com.

My take on these changes is as follows:

  • PowerBI Free = still available, you can download the free PowerBI Desktop app here, and you can still publish reports/dashboards to PowerBI.com in the cloud but you can no longer share these with other users in the free version (this will require a Pro license – see below). Perhaps a better way of looking at this would be “PowerBI Personal” – i.e. for your own data explorations and visualizations in situations where you have no intention to share or collaborate with others. The update is there is some increased functionality around frequency of data refresh rates using the Data Gateway, along with increased volumes of data.
  • PowerBI Pro = Very similar to what was previously being delivered with this paid for license (academic pricing is generally available in most countries) but it appears this is increasingly becoming the “default” license if you’re wanting to share or collaborate on reports, or have your data automatically refreshing using the Personal Data Gateways from a wider range of data sources. The best link to understand what constitutes content requiring a PowerBI Pro license can be found here and I would encourage you to check this out. From my quick scan, the features which have moved out of the “free” and into the “Pro” license appear to be:
    • Data from a dataset that connects to on-premises data using the Power BI Gateway – Personal or the On-premises Data Gateway, and for which a scheduled refresh is set.
    • A dashboard or report that’s installed from an app or an organizational content pack.
    • Export to CSV/Excel
    • Peer to Peer dashboard sharing
  • PowerBI Premium = The newest feature, all details can be seen here, this is intended for large scale deployment of dashboards and reports across your organisation, including the ability to share content with users who are not necessarily licensed in the traditional way as an individual user. It has a higher financial entry point, with a fixed monthly cost and I don’t see much application at a K-12 level (outside of a school investing in sharing PowerBI reporting with parents too). However this could be a game changer at HighEd / Tertiary institutions that are wanting to enable their entire staff and students to make better data-driven decision making.
    • Importantly, it appears that the embedding of dashboards into web apps and web pages is now a feature reserved for Premium usage, so this will have consequences for third party developers / ISVs wanting to use PowerBI as the reporting engine in their software.
PowerBI Dashboard.png

Example K-12 Education dashboard made in PowerBI

It is going to take a bit for for me to fully understand how these changes will ultimately affect schools. For those that have invested in PowerBI Pro licenses for staff/students, not much will change I suspect and it will be business as usual. For those schools that have been experimenting with PowerBI and the free licenses I think the major implications are likely to be:

  • No ability to share content that has been refreshed automatically using the Personal Data Gateway, or has come from any sort of database / web source.
  • Restricted to sharing content that has been manually populated into PowerBI.com from limited data sources such as either PowerBI Desktop, Excel or CSV.

Given most schools want to move towards a “set and forget” approach when it comes to data configuration, it would appear that using PowerBI Pro licenses is the way forward for most schools.

For an external view of these changes have a read of this interesting summary from Matt Allington in Australia where he highlights five different user scenarios and identifies how the changes benefit them. He picks up on the value add for large organisations and the ability to deploy easily across users, splitting users between content creators (who will still need a PowerBI Pro license) and consumers (who will be covered by organisational PowerBI Premium consumption licenses).

 

Consolidating Data Reporting With SQL2016 & PowerBI

UOT

This afternoon I read a really interesting case study from the University of Tennessee on how they transformed their business reporting and compliance through consolidating their data onto SQL2016 & PowerBI.

Read the full case study here.

It’s worth reading the entire article (about 5mins) as the University has five campuses and two institutes which previously had individual reporting and analytics tools. To resolve this, a three pointed focus was created around:

  1. Consolidated repository
  2. Report verification process
  3. Data access and stewardship process

As the University was already using Office365, the decision to use PowerBI and SQL2016 as the backbone of their new BI solution made a lot of sense. Some impressive gains were made from this digital transformation project:

  • Data verification time decreased from 45minutes to 10 seconds (a 99% reduction)
  • This allowed the organisation to do multiple validations a day, rather than waiting until the close of business to perform a single audit.
  • The University is a USD$1.2 billion dollar enterprise and yet despite their size they are able to support their BI with a team of just six staff.
UoT by Degree

Click the above to view some sample reports of real data. Note that you can scroll through five different reports using the arrows at the bottom of the report (visible once you’ve clicked above).

For larger HigherEd / Tertiary institutions the above is likely a compelling story in data transformation and reporting.

 

Embed A PowerBI Dashboard In Your Application

I read the following blog post this afternoon that demonstrated how to embed a PowerBI Dashboard directly into a web application. It’s worth watching the 14min video if you’re a developer as there are a lot of tools and sample code that you can explore straight away to test this out:

I see this as particularly useful for schools that allow students to log into their Learning Management System (LMS) or for parents who may have a portal into the school’s Student Management System (SMS). To be able to build dashboard reporting of a student’s learning and display it visually and interactively is a great step forward compared to much of the reporting that students and parents currently receive.

Yes, currently it is quite technical to achieve this, however some schools have internal resources that could build a web app and incorporate this type of reporting, whilst others would be looking for their IT partners to build this in.

In the past, I’ve worked to embed open source reporting graphs into LMS such as Moodle (you can see an example here), however using PowerBI embedded dashboards would definitely take this kind of reporting to the next level!

Quick Insights Into Big Data With PowerBI & Machine Learning

UPDATE: I see on LinkedIn that Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics Magic Quadrant 2017 has been released recently showing Microsoft continues to be the leader in terms of vision and ability to execute. I do encourage you to read the full report here but the one specific take away is here:

Microsoft is recognized for the constant and fast development of Microsoft Power BI. This is the 10th consecutive year that Microsoft has been positioned as a leader.

powerbiFollowing on from my last post that referenced how the Cortana Intelligence Suite was powering Sticky Notes into the 21st Century through the use of machine learning, I’ve just seen a relatively new feature in PowerBI that is doing the same thing. It’s called Quick Insights and you can read all about it on the following link:

Quick Insights With PowerBI

The basic overview is that after you’ve published your data set from PowerBI Desktop to PowerBi in the Azure cloud, you can either start to manually build some reports for your data and analyse it with questions you may have OR you can use Quick Insights. As per the website:

The Quick Insights feature is built on a growing set of advanced analytical algorithms developed in conjunction with Microsoft Research that we’ll continue to use to allow more people to find insights in their data in new and intuitive ways.

To see this in action, watch the following video showing some examples:

The reality is I think the ability of advanced analytical algorithms to find trends or outliers “hidden” in data will probably exceed the abilities of amateur “data scientists” who are doing their best to pick these out. I recall a post on LinkedIn from Dr Joe Sweeney where he talked about the real value in big data being in the algorithms and the companies that can develop those the fastest/best will be in a strong position.

It will be interesting to see how smart these Quick Insights end up being when end users, particularly schools who typically don’t have full time data scientists working for them, start to use them to interrogate their data.

Talking of examining data, this is a good example from Microsoft’s Ray Fleming showing how the natural language Q&A feature can drill down deep into your data and auto-magically format it for you:

This example is not using machine learning, but instead leveraging well named fields in the data’s table structures to quickly locate and visualise data.

How To Keep Your Data FRESH With PowerBI Personal Gateway

powerbi-getting-startedOne of the biggest challenges to using any data analytics tool is keeping the data fresh and up to date with the minimum of effort. When you’re getting serious, you usually opt for the ETL process and data warehousing of some sort, but for the smaller users who do not have access to high level technical skills, what are the best options to use?

Enter: PowerBI Data Gateway

This product has undergone a few name changes over the last year or so (Personal Gateway, Enterprise Gateway etc) but now it is nice and simple and consolidated into one tool which you can use on your own laptop/desktop or install on your server to keep your data synchronised with PowerBi:

With the on-premises gateways, you can keep your data fresh by connecting to your on-premises data sources without the need to move the data. Query large datasets and benefit from your existing investments. The gateways provide the flexibility you need to meet individual needs, and the needs of your organization.

Why is this a game changer for schools? Well many schools will be storing their data in simple Excel or CSV documents, perhaps even an Access database and will be making regular changes and updates to these files. In other products, users would need to re-import the modified file back into the data tool analysis tool to refresh the data set and visualise the changes.

Here is a tutorial showing you how you can set this up in 5 minutes:

A couple of things to note:

  1. You need to have installed the PowerBI Data Gateway first and that it has permissions to go through any firewall restrictions you may have in place.
  2. Take care where you store your original data source file (the Excel spreadsheet in this case). Once you have published the report to PowerBI.com from PowerBI Desktop, I’ve not found a way of changing the path to the source file for the scheduled refresh through the Data Gateway.
  3. The default time for the data refresh is midnight so you may want to add another time/times for this refresh to take place (PowerBI free can only be refreshed daily, PowerBI Pro is hourly – see here for more info). This can be easily done as below for 9am:

 

 

This is an awesome way to keep things simple for schools and assists them in avoiding the dreaded manual reloading of data.