Despite the ongoing uncertainty, Microsoft has once again demonstrated its commitment to quality with this month’s Power BI update cycle.

With businesses looking to make up for the last few months, many have turned to services like Power BI to identify business-enhancing trends that will give them the edge over their competitors.

With this in mind, Microsoft are actively looking for new ways to improve the service, implementing features in direct response to customer feedback, so users have the tools needed to drive the business forward.

July’s update cycle is no different, with a range of exciting updates covering key areas, including reporting, analytics, visualisations, modelling, data preparation and template apps.

These include enhancements to the Q&A system and the release of Azure Maps, which will allow users to display data in an engaging and interesting way.

Enhancements to Q&A

As previously mentioned, one of the most significant Power BI updates this month are the improvements that have been made to the existing Q&A feature.

One such improvement is the addition of field synonyms, where users can manage the synonyms for tables and fields, whilst choosing to include or exclude specific fields if needed. This new section shows a list of all tables in your data model, allowing you to manage terms and suggested terms with ease.

Other key changes to the Q&A setup include visual renames as suggested synonyms and an orange underline for ambiguous terms. Blue and red underlines are currently used to identify terms Q&A does and doesn’t understand, so the new orange dotted line will alert users if a question is unclear.

An example of an ambiguous term would be when there are two dates in a table, called the ‘purchasing date’ and ‘delivery date’. When asking Q&A a question related to last year, it might not be clear which of the dates you’re referring to.

Improvements have also been made to the Q&A pop-out, so that it aligns with the Q&A visual experience once users have added a Q&A button to their report.

Support for Excel financial functions

In recent months, Microsoft has received a lot of feedback from financial professionals who have been calling for DAX to support Excel’s built-in financial functions.

In July’s update cycle, 49 financial functions have now been added to DAX, including most of Excel’s popular financial functions, in addition to XNPV and XIRR that were previously added.

The functions have the same name and signature as their Excel counterparts, offering a familiar experience to users who have traditionally used Excel to complete such tasks.

For those of you who have had little experience using the functions, they make it easier to build financial reports and perform complex calculations in Power BI.

This update is another great example of how Microsoft takes customer feedback on board, delivering experience-enhancing updates for businesses across a range of sectors.

Azure Maps visual (preview)

Regular readers of our Power BI update blogs will know that we like to focus on some of the latest visualisations that have been added to the platform to see how they will improve the user experience.

This month, a public preview version of the Azure Maps visual has been released, which includes a range of visualisation layers and built-in Power BI features such as tooltips, colour themes, filter and slicer support.

One of these visualisation layers is called the bubble layer, offering users a great way to represent location data as scaled circles on the map. Customers can use a linear scaling method or dynamically set the fill colour of the circles so they can be seen clearly.

Another option is the 3D bar chart layer, which is especially useful for taking data to the next dimension by allowing the visualisation of location data as 3D bars or cylinders on top of the map. Like bubble, the bar chart layer can easily visualise two metrics at once using colour and relative height.

Reference and custom tile layer make up the two remaining visualisation layers, allowing users to bring in other files containing custom location data and superimpose images on top of Azure Maps to create engaging reports.

External tools

Following the announcement of read/write XMLA endpoints in Power BI Premium, Analysis Services tools and processes now work with datasets in Power BI.

Having built up a large ecosystem of developers, partners, BI tools and solutions over many decades, Power BI are now further enabling external tools to work with Power BI datasets from within the Power BI Desktop authoring experience.

External tool support in Power BI Desktop will allow BI professionals to enjoy a range of additional semantic modelling features, DAX query/expression optimisation and authoring and application lifecycle management (ALM) capabilities.

An extensibility model has also been introduced for Power BI Desktop, allowing customers to build their own tools to extend the core functionality of the service for their own needs.

The new External Tools ribbon contains a range of buttons and features that can be installed on the desktop. These specialist tools include the Tabular Editor, DAX Studio and ALM toolkit, all of which can be installed via Microsoft’s official Power BI blog.

Data-driven insights…

The benefits of Power BI have been well documented, but as businesses look to recover following a difficult few months, it’s never been so important to transform your information into insights.

Many businesses understand that collecting data is key to their long-term success, but they often don’t know what to do with the masses of information they have stored, and it becomes neglected.

Services like Power BI will help you see the wood from the trees, allowing you to better understand the data collected, so that you can identify trends that will help your business grow.

Now isn’t the time to stand still, so if you’d like advice with finding the right solution for your business, then contact our in-house team of experts for more info.