Since the release of Power BI Desktop this past week, I’ve been really spending my extra time digging into the application focusing on learning and experimenting as much as I can. When my wife has been watching Law and Order: SVU reruns at night after the rug rats are in bed, I’ve been right there next to her designing Power BI dashboards like the total data nerd that I am. When my kids have been taking their naps during the weekend, I’ve been writing calculations in the model for my test dashboards. Or when I’ve been riding in the car back and forth to work I’ve been thinking of new things to do with Power BI Desktop.
Since I’ve been spending a decent amount of time with Power BI Desktop, I thought I’d take a moment to share three things to know and remember when designing your Power BI models and dashboards that I think will help you make the most of this tool and be effective at providing the data your business needs to succeed.
1. Optimize your Power BI Semantic Model
It probably hasn’t taken you long to figure this one out if you’ve built Power Pivot/Tabular models or at least it won’t when you do start developing Power BI dashboards. The visualizations in Power BI and Power View are heavily meta-data driven which means that column names, table or query names, formatting and more are surfaced to the user in the dashboard. So if you using a really whacky naming convention in your data warehouse for your tables like “dim_Product_scd2_v2” and the column names aren’t much better, these naming conventions are going to be shown to the users in the report visualizations and field list.
For example, take a look at the following report.
Notice anything wonky about it? Check the field names, report titles and number formatting. Not very pretty, is it? Now take a look at this report.
See the difference a little cleaned up metadata makes? All I did was spend a few minutes giving the fields user-friendly name and formatting the data types. This obviously makes a huge difference in the way the dashboard appears to the users. By the way, I should get into the movie production business. ;)
My point is that the names of columns, formatting, data types, data categories and relationships are all super important to creating clean, meaningful and user friendly dashboards. The importance of a well-defined semantic model cannot be understated in my opinion. A good rule of thumb is to spend 80% to 90% of your time on the data model (besides, designing the reports is the easy part).
I’d also like the mention the importance of the relationships between the objects in the semantic model. Chance are you will have a small group of power users that will want to design their own dashboards to meet their job’s requirements and that’s one of the beauties of Power BI. But when users began developing reports, they may query your model in unexpected ways that will generate unexpected behaviors and results. I only want to mention this because the relationships between the objects in the model will impact the results your users will see in their reports. Double check your relationships and ensure that they are correct, especially after you add new objects to the model since the