It’s a busy start to the year for Power BI Desktop as the February 2018 update is one of the most extensive in the product’s history. The introduction of multi-select data points is one much requested addition but there are plenty of others to get our teeth into.
For a quick summary of the major updates, you can watch the following video:
Multi-selecting data points
This was one of the most frequently requested Power BI features and now you can cross-highlight data points across multiple charts. You simply use CTRL+click to select these multiple data points. This is equivalent to an ‘and’ function so you could, for example, highlight ‘Home Appliances’ in a bar chart and ‘UK’ in a pie chart. The charts on your reports page would then be filtered to show results that match both ‘Home Appliances’ and ‘UK’.
Sync slicers across multiple pages
Fulfilling another popular request is the introduction of slicers that can be synced across multiple pages via a new ‘sync slicers’ pane. You can use ‘add all’ to have the selected slicer apply to all pages in a report or you can select which pages to sync.
There’s also an improvement to the numeric slicer visual in preview. Whole number snapping will see your slicer ‘snap’ to rounded whole numbers rather than decimals if you are using a whole numbers column.
Bing map geocoding
This is a ‘back room’ improvement being implemented in a staggered release to limited users initially. You won’t see any differences in your reports but your Bing map data results should arrive much quicker. According to Microsoft in fact, retrieval could be up to six times faster.
Overflow data labels
Data labels are usually hidden if they don’t fit within the data point. Now you can choose to have them go past the edge (if they don’t overlap with another label), much like you can see in Excel.
Search formatting and analytics pane
The formatting and analytics pane is now so packed with options that it can be cluttered and difficult to negotiate hence a search box for only the options you need.
Mark custom date table
Tables containing columns of the ‘Date’ or ‘Date/Time’ type can now be designated as date tables. These can then be used for time intelligence and to form the basis for date hierarchies. Previously you could only set your own date tables by importing from Excel or via LiveConnect.
Quick measures general availability
This one is pretty self-explanatory as the quick measures feature moves from preview to general availability.
New DAX functions
The NOW() and TODAY() DAX functions could already be used to return the time and date in the time zone in which they were being used. The new UTCNOW() and UTCTODAY() functions can be used to always retain Coordinated Universal Time or UTC.
Custom visuals updates
My organization preview
There is now a new part of the custom visual store called ‘my organization’, where you can see your own organisation’s custom visuals. This feature is currently in preview so will need to be enabled from the Options menu. Only Power BI admins can upload and add custom visuals to this area.
ZoomCharts Network Chart
The Network Chart custom visual from ZoomCharts allows you to view data in a network structure and to filter the data via gestures and touches on a wide range of devices.
ZoomCharts says: “The network structure lets you see the implied connections in data making important decision making more efficient and obvious.”
MAQ Software Slope Chart
Another third-party add-on, this lets you easily view trends between two data points. These trends can be based on time or other factors and the slope charts provide a clear, at-a-glance indication of trends, while also being zoom-able for more details.
Filter by list visual
Previously, if you wanted to filter a report with lots of categories you’d have to check boxes in the filter pane individually. This visual lets you apply filter values in bulk by pasting lists directly into the slicer visual.
As Timeline and as T-Accounts
The as Timeline visual lets you view date gaps and overlaps which can be useful for identifying team holiday schedules, for example. As T-Accounts lets you create T-Accounts (commonly used in accountancy) directly in Power BI.
Data Connectivity update: SAP HANA connector
The SAP HANA database management system has previously been treated as a relational source in terms of DirectQuery support. This update provides a new option to treat SAP HANA as a multi-dimensional source, in a similar way to SAP Business Warehouse. This change is preview only for now, so the original approach can still be used.
There were a number of DirectQuery performance improvements included with this release.
- Power BI will now combine additive and non-additive aggregates into one SQL query
- The handling of queries with many literals (such as those involving measure filtering) has been improved
- Some visuals and calculations will now use a single SQL query rather than multiple ones
- Queries will now be optimised to reduce post-aggregation TREATAS use in calculations will also be optimised
- Fewer SQL queries will be sent where multi-column tuple filtering exists
Other performance improvements
There have also been performance improvements in opening and saving files. The Power BI team say you could see an improvement of between 40% and 60%, especially on larger files.
The ‘Show items with no data’ feature has seen an improvement that Microsoft says will double performance, and filters for related columns now support model bidirectional cross-filtering.
Upcoming persistent filters feature
The final item is a look ahead to a new feature that will see filters, slicers and other view changes being ‘persisted’. The settings will be unique to report viewers so these end users can pick up where they left off, without the need to set up or re-filter reports each time.
The option for Persistent Filters is present from this update, although the feature is not yet enabled.