Tag Archives: PowerBI

Speaking at SQLSaturday Oslo, September 2nd 2017

I got some great new during my vacation I got a mail saying I was selected to give a talk at SQLSaturday in Oslo this year. I also got notified by the tweet below which I had completely forgotten from last year. Nice surprise to see I have succesfully made a goal of mine, even though I had forgotten I had set it! I’ve been to every SQLSaturday that has been in Oslo and it has always been a great event so looking forward to be able to contribute with a talk myself this year!

My talk is titled “Data Visualization – More Than a Hygiene Factor”, based on a quote from this Medium Post. You can read my abstract below.

"For many companies data visualization is still a hygiene factor; necessary but not crucial"

In a world where everyone wants to use data to drive their business forward it is important to be able to communicate and speak the language of data even though data itself can be complex. One way of doing this is by making good data visualisations. Good data visualisations are engaging, they are informative and they let your data tell you its story. Too often data visualisation gets a low priority making the final result feeling lacklustered and making the users uninspired. 

In this session we look at some data visualisation principles and best practices, in order to deliever your message with a clear point of view and minimize confusion. Lastly we will look at how you can use these practices with Power BI in order to improve how data can be communicated to your end users in the best possible way making them come back over and over.

SQLSaturday is a free 1-day training event for Microsoft Data Platform and SQL Server professionals, providing a variety of high-quality technical sessions. If you work on the Microsoft Data Platform SQLSaturday is a great way to get inspired and hear about new things. You can find more information about SQLSaturday, September 2nd in Oslo here!



“The Little of Visualization design” – with Power BI

Andy Kirk has an excellent series called “The Little of Visualization Design” where he gives small tips and tricks that can improve your data visualizations. If you have not seen it I strongly recommend it. Now, what I am going to try and do every week after summer vacation is to try and show you have you can take these tricks and use them with Power BI. But let’s kick start it now with part 1, dual labeling. I  suggest that you read the original post by Andy first so we are at a common ground about what we are going to look at which is this pie chart.

Dual labeling. It is suprisingly normal to see and it generates more cluster on your data visualisation than you need. Repeating something will not make things clearer, it will just create more ink on your graph and make it harder to focus on what’s important.

Now if you punch in the data and create a pie chart in Power BI we get what is shown below.

So Power BI does not provide you with a dual labeling issue at front, but it is quite easy to reproduce it with Power BI. In the “Format” pane you have a bunch of options which usually are great, but you have to use it with care and have a clear vision of why you are changing the original chart if not you can end up with all of these different variations.

The one in the bottom left is probably the closest to the one in the original post. It has dual labeling, and it has quite similar colors on the pie slices. Andy Kirk’s proposed solution is to remove the labeling and provide it directly onto the pie since the colors in the original graph is so similar. Now, that doesn’t  sound to far away from the default graph that Power BI provides us with. However the default is not perfect and here is what I would do in order to improve it:

  1. In Label Style choose “Category, data value”. This makes us see the actual number.
  2. Increase font size of detail label.
  3. Increase font size of the title. In general I think all default font sizes in Power BI are too small. I always feel like I need stronger contact lenses when creating a chart…
  4. Sort the chart by value so the slices appear in order of size.
    Note: I had originally made the font size of the detail label a bit bigger. However, this made the detail label for Canada disappear. Probably because it would take up the same space as Israel. So I wish they could make the position of the label a bit more dynamic.

In the end we end up with the chart below. So all in all the default chart Power BI created wasn’t too bad, but it could be improved. And make sure you are aware that not all options in the format pane in Power BI makes your data visualisation better, it could make it worse!

I’m looking forward to some weeks of summer and then I’ll continue this series when I am back! Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or feedback drop me a comment, it is greatly appreciated.

Creating a dynamic card with text value in Power BI

Alternative title: Finding string value from a dimension with highest numeric value

The company i work for uses Yammer and I have founded a Data Visualization group which I am, manually, keeping some statistics about using Power BI. The other day I found myself wanting a dynamic card in Power BI in order to highlight which day was the most active when it came to amount of posts. In order to do this I had to figure out how to make a measure returning not the max value, but the day which had the maximum amount of posts. My usecase is finding a weekday, but maybe you want to see which product is the most popular, which county has the most purchases or which salesperson has the most sales. All these cases should be able to reuse this measure.


First try

My inital thought was to create a table in my calculation and then slice it to return only one row and one column leaving me with one cell which had the day with the most number of posts. I made a measure which used a TOPN returning the row with most posts followed by a SELECTCOLUMN to select only the column which had the weekday in it. Now, this turned out to return me the overall correct day, but it did not work when I added a filter and the POwer BI visualization returned errors so I had to start over.


The solution

I have created three measures to solve this.

1) One simple sum of [Number of Posts]:

Number of Posts = SUM(Sheet1[NumberOfPosts])

2) Finding the day with the most posts by using MAXX

MaxPostsPerWeekDay = MAXX(VALUES(Sheet1[WeekDay]);[Number of Posts])

3) Using FIRSTNONBLANK on my WeekDay column and then return the value where the sum equals the maximum value. So in the end my measure looks like this.

Most Popular Day = 
    ISBLANK([Number of Posts]);
            [Number of Posts] =

The first IF is to remove days that has no posts, in my case there is not much activity in the weekends so they will get filtered out. The beauty of this measure is that it is not limited to crads, but also easy to use with your filters and in tables where you would want it.

Creating a guest user for Datazen

If you ever want to have public access to your dashboards you can get this by creating a guest user and giving that user access to the dashboards you want to be publicly available. This is great if you want to place dashboards on a web page without haveing the users to log in to see them.

You can create a guest user by creating a new user on the server with this info:
Username: guest
Mail: guest@guest.com
Name: Guest

Now, remember that this user should only have access to dashboards that is intended for everyone to see. If you give it access to everything, business critical information can be available to anyone.

Using JSON functions in SQL Server 2016

With SQL Server 2016 we are finally able to analyze and query JSON data. It is not that often I use XML, but JSON is so much used it is about time we can use it in SQL Server. In this entry I’ll let you follow me as I take a first look at it using some data from New York Times.

New York Times has a web app called Chronicle, which lets you see how many articles has mentioned specific words and this data you can also export as JSON. I chose to use the words Radio, Televion, Mail and Internet and downloaded one JSON file per word (for some reason it doesn’t work to get the data for several terms at once). I also chose to remove one of the sets of square parenthesis since our graph_data only will have one term and not a list of terms. I end up with four files that looks like this.


So the graph_data has a term that in our case is mail, radio, television and internet and an array of data which has the number of articles containing the number of articles with the term, the year and the total number of articles published in that year so we for example can calculate a percentage of how many articles the term was in.

In order to read the JSON from the file I first load the entire file into a variable using the following code

SELECT @ChronicleMail = BulkColumn FROM OPENROWSET(BULK'C:\Users\CTP3\Documents\JSON\MailOrg.json', SINGLE_BLOB) q;
SELECT @ChronicleMail

The last line selects the text so we can have a look at what is saved in the variable, which basicly is just one long string.

Not so interesting so far, but lets start using the new JSON functions. The JSON_VALUE function returns one scalar value from a JSON string. If you try using JSON_VALUE on something returning an array you will get a NULL returned. To get an array returned you must use the JSON_QUERY function. This is fine, but if you want to insert your data into a table the function you want to use is the OPENJOSN that lets you reference some array in your JSON and then return the elements.


In our case the data is an array so lets call OPENJSON and call it on the data.

FROM OPENJSON(@ChronicleMail, '$.graph_data.data')


From the result set we can see that we now have one row per year in our data. Now that is cool and all, but we kind of want the values in different columns, not the entire JSON in a column with name value. To fix this you can add a WITH clause after the OPENJSON function.

FROM OPENJSON(@ChronicleMail, '$.graph_data.data')
	[NumberOfArticles] int '$.article_matches',
	[Year] int '$.year',
	[TotalArticles] int '$.total_articles_published'


Excellent! We now have the data in a table structure and we can insert into an actual table or do whatever we want with it. I wanted to add the term to the data so I ended up just joining it to this dataset using the JSON_VALUE function to pull only the term.

After doing this for all for files I know have a table with all terms and data for each year and I am free to use whatever tool I’d like to visualize it, f.ex PowerBI or Datazen, or since we’re in SQL Server 2016 now we can make a mobile report in SSRS. I chose PowerBI for now and added a calculation for percentage and also added year as a date to produce this.


Lastly, not sure if fun fact worthy, but if you would have used the OPENJSON directly on graph_data you will be able to see the key and datatype of the other elements and from this you will see that you would have to use JSON_VALUE for the key term, while the JSON_QUERY for the key data since it is an array. All in all I think these JSON functions is a great addition to SQL Server in 2016, I am sure I will be using them quite a bit!

Datazen Branding

It is possible to do branding in Datazen so you can use your own backgrounds, create a custom color palette, etc. However in the product documentation it is only listed the names of the files you need in this brand package. It does not show you how the layout of the files that are not image files should look like so you can create the images, but not the complete brand package.

I have tried to get a hold of how these files should be created for a while, and yesterday luck finally stroke. So, a big thanks to @cmfinlan for sharing a brand package template. You can find the template below. Enjoy creating custom branding for your needs, and may all your maps be pink!



One way of auto refreshing Datazen in your browser

Yesterday I saw Christopher Finlan tweet about one way of making your Datazen dashboard auto refresh. He used a Firefox add-in for this, and I’d like to show you how I have been doing this.

If you want to show Datazen on a big screen there is at this point no out-of-the-box way to auto refresh your dashboard, meaning you have to open it to get new data. If you use the browser viewer you can quite quickly create one of the simplest websites in the world to do this.

In the header of your .html file add the following line:

<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="90" />

It will make your page refresh every 90 seconds. This can also be used if you want to circle some of your dashboards, sort of like a carousel. The line below will after 30 seconds go to the specified URL instead of just refreshing the page. To complete the circle make sure to go to the first dashboard in your last dashboard.

<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="30; URL='NextDashboard'">

So what does the .html file look like for the easiest example? Something like this, just exchange “DashboardURL” with your URL:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<title>Name of Dashboard</title>
<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="90 ">
<body style="margin:0px;padding:0px;overflow:hidden">
<iframe src="DashboardURL" frameborder="0" style="overflow:hidden;overflow-x:hidden;overflow-y:hidden;height:100%;width:100%;position:absolute;top:0px;left:0px;right:0px;bottom:0px" height="100%" width="100%"></iframe>

Note: If you are going to setup an auto refresh I’d suggest you also set up your guest account so you can have access to those dashboards without having to login. You can then use the public dashboard URL in the source of your iframe.

Datazen: Brand package error

EDIT: If you want to get a brand package template you can find one here.

Do not copy/paste filenames for a brand package directly from the Datazen “End User Documentation”! Some of the dashes are em dashes and is not recognized by the server when you try to upload the .zip file with all the images. It will result in the following error message. You can see that the character in red circle which looked like a dash is now read as a Ă».


Now, this wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the fact that I am now unable to delete this brand package as shown below. I uploaded this package to the server and I can upload another brand package to my individual HUBs, but for now I have yet to be able to delete the faulty brand package. I’m guessing I need to be able to access the RavenDB and delete it from there, but since this is a test server without a lot of dashboards I think I’ll just reinstall the server and start from scratch again.


Part 2: Real time dashboard using a Raspberry PI and Power BI

Part 2: Using the Power BI API to make a real time dashboard

So you have set up your Azure Active Directory and created a Power BI provision for your organization? If not, you can have a look at part one of this series.

Before we start playing with the Raspberry PI let’s create a simple console application to see that we have set up things correctly in Azure Active Directory in the last post and are able to have real time updates on a dashboard in Power BI. Nothing advanced, but it is a nice test to see if we have set everything up correctly with our Azure account and Power BI. What we will do is create a dataset if it does not already exist in Power BI and insert rows of data into that dataset which will then update the dashboard in real time.

Creating a Power BI application

If you want to take the easy way out to see if you have set up everything correctly you can download a test code made by the MSDN team on github here: https://github.com/PowerBI/getting-started-for-dotnet. After downloading this code you need to insert your own Client ID that you get from your application page in Azure. You also need to set the redirect URI to the same as your application, if you don’t do this you will get an error message like the one below.


When you run the code you will see a green star-thingy appear to the right of your newly created dataset. After the dataset is created you can go and explore that dataset, even if it’s empty, and create a report. From the report you then pin report elements to a dashboard and when you run your application you will see the elements update real time. Nice!


I would suggest that you, either if you choose the easy way out or make a new application  from scratch, do some playing around and create your own dataset and insert some rows into it so you get a better understanding on what is happening and how the Power BI API works. Getting a good understanding of how datasets and inserting rows work will be useful later. We will not be able to reuse the dataset in the example code when using our Raspberry PI so we need to be able to create our own datasets, turn them into JSON and then insert some data. What you create is completely up to you and your imagination. I made a new application from scratch with a simple timer that  every second writes how many seconds it has been running, along with a timestamp, to Power BI. Does it provide great insight? Do I change how we look at this world? No, but it has provided me with some valuable hands on experience with the Power BI API. Other examples I’ve seen people doing is for example looking at clicks on a website and what device the clicks come from. Again it is completely up to you what you want to do.

Next up we will start to play with the Raspberry PI and then connect it to Power BI.


NOTE: When writing to a Power BI dataset there is, at the point when this post was written, no option to export a dataset from the Power BI Preview. This means that if you want to be able to use the data in another format than Power BI you need to store it another place as well. I am going to create an Azure SQL Database to store my data when using the Raspberry PI in case I want to use it other places other than PowerBI. Maybe you should consider doing the same?

Other parts of the series can be found here:

Part 1: Real time dashboard using a Raspberry PI and Power BI

Part 1: Real time dashboard using a Raspberry PI and Power BI

Part 1: Setting up Azure Active Directory and registering your application

When the Power BI preview finally was released I was really intrigued by the Power BI API which among other things allow you to create dashboards that are updated in real time. Now, I am expecting my first child in under a month now and I thought that why not combine my background in cybernetics and embedded systems with my present, business intelligence. I have bought a Raspberry PI and I invite you to join my mission to hopefully create a baby sound monitor that will be updating a Power BI dashboard in real time to show how often, how loud and how long my baby is crying. Hopefully we will have a quiet baby that never screams and I’ll have to use this for registering baby laughter instead, but who knows right? You might not have a baby on its way, but maybe you have some other IoT project you want to do or just want to try out the Power BI API. Either way you’re invited to embark on this journey together with me!

I will make this into a series of post, but the journey starts with setting up your Azure Active Directory and getting to know the Power BI preview where a dashboard will get updated real time using the Power BI API later. In order to use the Power BI API you need to register the application you will be making in your Azure Active Directory. I also made a new user that I am going to use for my Power BI site.

Creating an Azure Active Directory

When you log into your Azure Management Portal you will find Active Directory on the navigation bar on the left. Click on Active Directory and the new button, choose App Services, Directory and click on Custom Create to create a new AD. Give it a name, a domain name and select the country for your directory. The country can’t be changed after the directory is made and affects which data center your AD will be located in so choose wisely, or just go with the country you’re in as I did.


When your directory is created it will show up under your Azure Active Directories. I have made a new user that I am going to use with Power BI and then signed up for a preview over at www.powerBI.com using this user from my Azure Active Directory. It might take some time to get a Power BI provision up for your Azure Active Directory  organization so I would do this step before you read the rest of this post.

Registering your Power BI app

Before you can create your Power BI application you need to register your app in your Azure Active Directory. Click on the directory you created, go to applications and press add. You want to “add an application my organization is currently developing” and you want it to be a “native client application”. You are asked for a redirect URI where you can use https://login.live.com/oauth20_desktop.srf. Make sure when you start writing your program to use the same redirect URI in your code.

When your application is up you need to set some permissions for it. Click on your application, go to configure, scroll to the bottom of the page and press Add Application. Select “Power BI Service” and close the window. Power BI Service will show up under “Permissions to other applications”, but before you are done you have to check all three checkboxes in the dropdown “Delegated Permissions”.


And with that step: Congratulations! You are now ready to copy/paste the Client ID from your application and start using it together with the Power BI API. We will continue on that later. Feel free to play with the Power BI preview as well to familiarize yourself by f.ex uploading an Excel file as a data source and make some reports and dashboards. Personally I am looking forward to having more visualizations as I almost felt the word preview should have been emphasized more in this Power BI preview.

Other parts of the series can be found here:

Part 2: Real time dashboard using a Raspberry PI and Power BI