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Sunday
Jan052014

Initial Pricing for Power BI Has Been Announced

It seems we are a step closer to the Power BI preview becoming ready for release to GA (general availability).  Pricing has been announced here:  http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/powerBI/pricing.aspx.

I had to look at the following pricing chart for a minute to understand it – usually these kind of charts list the features you have by edition or something to that effect.  However, in this case, the features you have end up being the same (more on that below).  The differences shown below are only related to what prerequisites you already have in order to determine pricing.

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Pricing for the E3/E4 plans is shown in the next screen shot.  The importance of E3/E4 is that they come with Office 2013 Professional Plus and SPO Plan 2 – both of which are important prerequisites for Power BI features and functionality.

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Let’s say you are an E3 subscriber at $20/month.  Add the $20/month special offer price for Power BI and it’s a total of $40/month per user.  That’s much better pricing than the $52 shown in the far right hand column of the pricing chart.  Hmmm…sounds like a price break to entice more customers to the Enterprise Office 365 plans.

If you do subscribe to the E3 (or E4) plan prior to adding Power BI, you get a *lot* of features which are listed here:  http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/business/compare-all-office-365-for-business-plans-FX104051403.aspx.  With this pricing model, Microsoft is offering significantly more benefits and value if you purchase Power BI on top of the E3 plan versus standalone Power BI.  Purchasing as an E3 (or E4) add-on is the best deal for those companies who will utilize a good chunk of the extra features.  There's not a price distinction for the producers of information (i.e., the data modelers and report writers who will publish workbooks to Power BI) versus the consumers (i.e., those who may just view content on the web or mobile app) which may be a hurdle in large organizations.  My understanding is that Microsoft has been trying to simplify pricing, so it will be interesting to see if the amount of flexibility for features or users will evolve at some point.  

Keep in mind that if you only have the Office 2013 Professional Plus software, you can still use the Excel components:  Power Pivot, Power Query, Power View, and Power Map.  But…self-service BI becomes far more powerful when you integrate the Excel workbook with Power BI.  What you gain by adding Power BI is the ability to share and collaborate using the BI Sites in Office 365, the ability to schedule data refreshes, and usage of the Mobile BI app.  You can also search for other datasets published to Power BI in order to reuse existing logic (features that minimize duplication of work and reduce the potential for error get a big thumbs-up from me!).  You also get new functionality released “cloud-first” such as the Q&A natural language query ability.

Finding More Information

Office – Power BI Pricing

Chris Webb’s Blog – Power BI Pricing Announced

Office – Power BI for Office 365

ZDNet - Microsoft Pins a Price Tag on its Power BI Business Intelligence Tools

 

Thursday
Dec192013

Getting New Power Pivot Features & Other Office 2013 Updates

New Power Pivot Features Released

Have you heard that Power Pivot just got a new Synonyms feature?  Synonyms associate column (attribute) names in a data model with alternate terms so that the Q&A Natural Language Query functionality in Power BI will be able to return results when users search for data using various terminology. Metadata like this will continue to to be more and more important in terms of making the user experience better, but metadata actually isn't what I want to write about today…today I want to focus on how to get new features like the Synonyms in Power Pivot as quickly as possible.

Starting with Excel 2013, Power Pivot is integrated into Excel’s data model. That makes Power Pivot currently dissimilar to Power Query which requires updates to be downloaded and installed. Power Pivot updates will come along with other Office 2013 updates that are released.

Just how do you get Office 2013 updates anyway?

How you get updates depends on how you installed Office 2013. There are two ways to install Office 2013:

  • The Click-to-Run type of installation, or
  • The traditional MSI Windows-based installer

I was inspired to investigate further because, when I checked for the new Synonyms feature in my version of Power Pivot, I didn’t have it yet.  This is because I currently have an MSI-based installation rather than Click-to-Run.

Most installations these days are Click-to-Run by default.  The MSI download media is typically only available to Microsoft customers who have a volume license agreement for Office 2013 or MSDN subscribers.

What is Click-To-Run?

Click-to-Run is a mechanism to install and update Office 2013 software products. It has been around a very long time, but has evolved to be much more sophisticated these days.

Like a traditional software installation, Click-to-Run still installs the Office programs on your local machine and uses local machine resources. However, the installation process is done via streaming which is broken up into small chunks to take it easy on bandwidth.  Even if you use Office 365 or Office on Demand sometimes, if you download the software package it does install and run from your machine.

By default, if you installed Office 2013 using the Click-to-Run method, the machine will receive automatic updates for Office 2013 (such as the update to Power Pivot mentioned at the very beginning of this blog entry). It handles installing the updates in the background during a time when the user isn't actively using components which need to be updated.  Although, depending on the kind of update, it’s possible the user will see a notification or a request for the app to be closed so it can proceed.

Interestingly, Click-to-Run is considered to be virtualized which means that all the Office 2013 program files are isolated.  This isolation allows programs to co-exist (such as Office 2010 and Office 2013 side by side).  The virtualization also allows it to continue to receive updates independently of Windows updates.  The streaming and virtualization behavior of Click-to-Run is based on Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) technologies.

The biggest benefit of Click-to-Run is that the updates are pushed automatically which means you don't need to install updates, service packs, or patches.  Users will probably love this – system administrators, well, maybe not all of them will love it. Click-to-Run also touts the benefit of being able to start using the software before it's finished installing.  It can do this because it sets up the most commonly used features first and continues to finish in the background.  These commonly used features are known as the “First Run Experience.” 

How to Check What Office Version You Have and if It's Click-To-Run or Not

To check the version that is installed:

  1. Launch Excel ( or any other Office app) and create a new workbook
  2. Choose File > Account

This is what it looks like if you do *not* have Click-to-Run:

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If you do have Click-to-Run, you will also see this option on the Account page:

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If automatic updates are enabled in the Update Options, then you should be getting the latest Office 2013 updates as they are released.

What if You Don't Have the Updates You Want?

If you’re in a corporate environment, chances are you won’t have much control over this as IT policies will dictate how Office is installed and updated.  System administrators are likely to handle installations using the Office Deployment Tool (ODT). 

If you do have the Click-to-Run version of Office 2013, make sure that updates are turned on (File > Account > Office Updates section).

If you have the MSI version of Office 2013, you have two choices:  One is to wait until the updates come through via the Windows update process (if it doesn’t conflict with your IT corporate policies, you can allow Windows updates to install automatically under Control Panel > Windows Update > Change Settings).  I don't currently know what the time difference is between Click-to-Run feature releases and the Windows Update releases - I'd love to hear more details in the comments if you know.  The other choice is to uninstall Office 2013 and reinstall it using a Click-to-Run version.  From what I’ve read, I believe you are able to keep your same product key.

Before you choose to reinstall Office 2013 with the Click-to-Run method, beware of the following limitations:

  • Not all add-ins and apps will behave the same way
  • Some functionality isn't available (such as SharePoint BCS or Edit in Datasheet functionality)

The full list of known issues can be found here:  http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel-help/click-to-run-known-issues-HA101850565.aspx.  On the positive side, search functionality in Outlook is more full-featured with the Click-to-Run.

There are multiple choices for where to download the Click-to-Run software from depending on how it was purchased.  You probably want to start with “My Office” found here:  https://office.microsoft.com/en-us/MyAccount.aspx or this link:  www.office.com/downloadoffice

Another way to download the Click-to-Run version of Office 2013 would be to log onto your Office 365 account.  Click the gear symbol at the top right, then Office 365 settings, then Software.  If you have the type of O365 account that provides the Office suite, then you’ll see the software listed there.  Additional FAQs can be found here:  https://downloadoffice.getmicrosoftkey.com/Home/SupportFAQ.

 

Sunday
Dec152013

Ways to View Content Published to a Power BI Site

There are multiple ways to view content published to a Power BI site.  Four are mentioned below.  These screen shots were taken during the Public Preview of Power BI (during which I cleverly called my site “PowerBISite”).

Power BI Site

The Power BI Site that we see in the first screen shot is an app that was installed from the SharePoint Store when the site was initially provisioned and set up.  Apps are considered “mini applications” which add and extend functionality.  Even though this view is using the app, I haven’t seen where it’s typically referred to that way (i.e., because the mobile app is the one called Power BI App).  This view seems to be typically referred to as the Power BI Site.

The Power BI Site is what I’d expect most users and report consumers will prefer to use because it offers the thumbnail previews.  Think of this as the front door.

My URL for the Power BI Site in the USA is as follows:  

https://sites.powerbi.com/sharepointpages/SPIntegration/PowerBI/pages/PowerBI.html?languageLocale=en-US&regionalLocale=en-US &SPHostUrl=https://TenantName.sharepoint.com/SiteName&appWeb=https://TenantName.sharepoint.com/SiteName/PowerBI

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Power BI Site Home Page

The home page for the SharePoint Online site looks like the next screen shot before it is customized.  In the Public Preview, this is where navigation takes me if I click the “Return to SharePoint” hyperlink in the top right-hand corner of the Power BI Site (i.e., the screen shot shown above).  This home page is where you can access the Page properties via the ribbon.

The URL for this page is:  

https://TenantName.sharepoint.com/SiteName/_layouts/15/start.aspx#/SitePages/Home.aspx

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Power BI Site Document Library

There’s also the document library itself.  You can think of this as the traditional “All Documents” view of the first screen shot above – just without the thumbnail previews.  Same content, just a different entry point.  This is where you can get to the File and Library properties via the ribbon, so this view will be useful occasionally.

Think of this as the back door.  The first screen shot above is an endpoint which allows access to this document library.

The URL for the document library is:  

https://TenantName.sharepoint.com/SiteName/_layouts/15/start.aspx#/Shared%20Documents

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Power BI App (aka Power BI Mobile App)

Last but not least, there’s the Power BI App (aka the Power BI Mobile App) which can be downloaded from the Windows Store.  If you hear someone refer to the “Power BI App” most likely they are talking about the Mobile App and not the browser-based Power BI Site (i.e., the app that was initially installed from the SharePoint Store).

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Just a sidenote:  A “Featured” report in the browser-based Power BI Site (first screen shot above) isn’t the same thing as a “Favorite” report in the mobile app (fourth screen shot above).


Thursday
Dec052013

Getting Started with a Career in BI

imageIt’s unbelievable how often I get asked about where to begin with a career in Business Intelligence (BI).  So, here’s my thoughts on it.  If anyone has additional thoughts I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Are You a Fit for BI?

First, what is it about BI that appeals to you?  I think that’s really important to know yourself well enough to feel confident whether or not this it’s a good fit for you personally.  The following strikes me as important attributes:

  • Desire to solve problems
  • Willingness to understand business needs (and I mean really understand, really “get it” beyond a superficial level)
  • Ability to interact really well with both technical people and business people
  • Capable of learning quickly, and almost constantly considering the technologies are always evolving
  • Natural aptitude for learning “technical stuff”

Notice that it’s really only the last bullet where I mention “technical stuff.”  In BI technical skills are very important, but the soft skills are easily just as important.  How technical you want to go is really up to you.  Wayne Eckerson calls us Purple People and I think it’s true.  In the world of BI we vary from predominantly business users to quasi-technical folks to extremely skilled technical IT people.

Choosing an Entry Point Position for Getting Exposed to BI

I believe the entry point to doing BI work is lower (i.e., easier) than many other IT jobs out there.  The types of jobs I’ve seen most often as an entry point to BI are:

  • Report Writer.  The appeal of starting off as a report writer is that you will learn some querying, such as SQL and MDX, as well as other important things like change control, deployment, and probably even some performance tuning skills.  You’ll also get exposed to some data modeling principles as you work with the underlying data sources.  It’s also quite likely you’ll interact with the ETL team and/or Cube development team (for instance, you wouldn’t want to derive a new measure in 18 reports – you’d want to ask the downstream team if it’s possible to centralize it).
  • Data Analyst.  This term is used a lot and can mean a lot of things.  I’m thinking a role like this would usually be a business-oriented power user that does a lot of Self-Service reporting, data modeling, and data analysis.  This type of person would probably have opportunities to interact with the Corporate BI team quite a bit if they choose to.  This is basically what we usually think of when we throw around the term “power user.”
  • Business Analyst.  I always say that a good BA is hard to find!  To me this is a quasi-technical, quasi-business role.  If you are in a role like this, collecting requirements for BI and analytics type of projects, you would get exposed to all of the concepts.  You would be exposed to the business need, as well as helping to scope and define rules for the data model, ETL, Cube, and Reports.  You would probably work with a project manager to properly define and manage scope (always a huge challenge with BI work!) as well as prioritizing planned enhancements and change requests.  Basically this role could give a good end-to-end experience.

To Specialize or Generalize?

Figuring out if you want to focus on doing BI work as a business user (i.e., those analysts who do Power Pivot models and reporting are doing Self-Service BI) or evolve your skills to become a Corporate BI developer job is a decision you might find yourself considering at some point.  If you do decide to pursue a BI developer job, you’ll also want to give some thought to specializing or not.

Depth vs. breadth is a constant challenge for me personally – both are important.  Some people feel more comfortable specializing and therefore having much deeper knowledge in their area.  Sub-specialties for BI professionals could include:

  • Data Modeling and Data Warehousing
  • ETL and Data Integration
  • OLAP Models Semantic layer
  • Reporting, Dashboards, and Presentation Layer
  • Master Data Management
  • Metadata Management
  • Predictive Analytics and Data Mining
  • Big Data and Streaming Data
  • Mobile Delivery
  • System Architecture

Whatever you choose, if you don’t have a broad background or a grasp of the big picture, please try to start with the basics.  Understand what a good data model is, how data warehousing works, what all the components are.  You might read that data scientists are the hot new thing, or that big data is catching on, but I can’t imagine that starting with these more advanced niches would work for very many people (unless you’re a statistician).

To Focus on a Platform?

I have focused on Microsoft BI for the last several years.  Before that I did some work with Cognos, a bit of WebFocus, and a sprinkle of Hyperion and a couple others I don’t even remember anymore.  There’s so much to continually learn with the Microsoft BI platform that I am personally very happy with focusing on the Microsoft platform.

You’ll want to give some consideration to platform choice, especially if you’re starting an endeavor to ramp up skills.  For a lot of people I think this might happen just due to what you are exposed to in the workplace and that’s ok (that’s how it happened for me).  You might refer to the Gartner Magic Quadrant to get some familiarity with various BI software vendors.  The leaders in the top right will generally have more market share, thus more jobs available.

Suggestions for Getting Started

Here’s some thoughts regarding ramping up your skills.  These are not ordered in any particular way.  Which items make sense for you depends very much on your entry point and your particular focus.

  • Work vs. Formal Education.  Decide if you value work experience or formal education more, or what feels best to you.  There are BI programs available (such as CPCC’s Reach IT program here in Charlotte).  Or, you might feel like getting a “foot in the door” type of job suits you more.
  • Certifications.  The value of certifications is constantly debated.  I think they are immensely valuable for learning the basic concepts, and for getting introduced to a breadth of material that you may not deal with normally.  For Microsoft BI professionals, you would take this certification path to focus on BI.  There is also a certification from TDWI that is platform-agnostic.
  • Build a Solution.  There’s nothing better than real hands-on experience.  Create a virtual machine that has all of the software you need and build a solution.  Evaluation software is free.  Developer editions of SQL Server are very inexpensive.  Codeplex has many starter solutions and sample databases.  Public datasets are becoming easier and easier to find.  All you need is the initiative to go build something that you could use to demonstrate your skills to a potential employer.
  • Read the Kimball books.  The Kimball Group methodology is used significantly at many, many organizations.  Bill Inmon is also very influential in this space.
  • Attend Events.  In the Microsoft community, we are very lucky to have lots of opportunities to learn.  Many of them are free.  There are local user groups, virtual user groups, SQL Saturday events.
  • Talk to People.  Talking to people in the industry could help give you perspective and help you decide what your focus should be.  Heck, it might even help you get a job.
  • Volunteer.  Perhaps a really small organization or a nonprofit would be willing to let you learn as you build something for them.

What did I forget to mention?  Have other suggestions?  Please leave me a comment…

Good luck with your decision! 

 

Monday
Nov252013

Overview of Microsoft Capabilities for Self-Service BI Users

From time to time I'll be contributing to the BlueGranite blog which has lots of great BI information published by my coworkers.

This week I published a blog entry titled "Overview of Microsoft Capabilities for Self-Service BI Users" on the BlueGranite blog.  It provides a quick peek into which tools, features, and capabilities are likely to be used for what purpose and which type of power user the tool may appeal to.  Please check it out!

 

Thursday
Nov072013

How Often are Thumbnail Images Refreshed in the Power Pivot Gallery?

Overview:  A brief discussion of how and when the thumbnail preview images in a Power Pivot Gallery in SharePoint get refreshed.

The Power Pivot Gallery is a specialized document library in SharePoint which utilizes Silverlight to render preview images of the report.  These previews are very helpful for users to quickly see if they have the correct report selected before executing it.

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Ways to Refresh Thumbnail Images

Originally I had thought there would be a timer job which refreshes the thumbnails at a regular interval.  However, that is not the case.  There are 3 ways I’ve found to get thumbnails refreshed:

1.  Upload a new workbook.  The act of uploading a new workbook causes an event handler which will populate the thumbnail image for that workbook.

2.  Modify a workbook. The act of saving an existing workbook causes an event handler which will update the thumbnail image for that workbook.  Even if all you do is Edit Properties and then Save, that’s enough.

3.  Manually execute GallerySnapshot.exe.  This is a Windows service that runs on the app server where Excel Services is installed.  This exe gets called automatically when a file in the Power Pivot Gallery has been added or changed (an itemAdded or itemUpdated event, respectively, as mentioned in #1 and #2 above).  To run it manually, refer to this information:  http://blogs.msdn.com/b/mtn/archive/2010/10/15/how-to-manually-refresh-powerpivot-gallery-thumbnails.aspx.  Note that this service was called GetSnapshot.exe in SharePoint 2010, and has been renamed to GallerySnapshot.exe in SharePoint 2013.  The SharePoint 2013 GallerySnapshot.exe can be found at:  C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extensions\15\BIN.

The takeaway:  Since the thumbnails only get regenerated in the above circumstances (and not at a regular interval), the preview images shouldn’t be thought of as something that is intended to coincide exactly with data updates.

Finding More Information

Technet – Refresh a Thumbnail Images

MSDN – Refreshing Power Pivot Gallery Thumbnails

Power Pivot Geek – General Problems with Gallery Snapshots Not Being Taken