Power Map April update- signs Microsoft are listening

Many people have been confused and disappointed with Microsoft’s recent BI strategy, or at least regarding licensing and availability of the various parts of Power BI. It started with PowerPivot (now Power Pivot, of course): a free plug in for Excel 2010, it was more integrated into Excel 2013 but only in certain SKUs and subscriptions, reducing uptake of what could still be a game changer for Microsoft. Eventually Microsoft threw people a bit of a bone in including it in Excel ‘standalone’.

We’ve now grown accustomed to the new strategy, whereby various elements of Power BI available in Excel were available only in top notch versions- Office Professional Plus, or Office 365 ProPlus if you’re on a streaming Office 365 subscription, and the aforementioned Excel standalone.

Then came the announcement that Power Map, one of the jazzy new features of Power BI, would only be part of Office 365 ProPlus- not Professional Plus or standalone. This was really odd, since all the other parts (Power Pivot, Power View and Power Query) were fairly consistently available. This was a new level of exclusivity, and a disappointing one at that. The versions we’d been trying out were going to expire by the summer too!

Thankfully, Microsoft have listened and have changed their mind (kind of): with the April update of Power Map they have also announced that the versions we’ve been working with won’t in fact expire- you’ll be able to download another non-expiring version soon. Although it sounds like great news, it appears it will still only be a preview, unsupported version.

However, the next version of Excel will incorporate a properly supported version. Why they can’t make a properly supported addin available to Professional Plus and Excel standalone users now, I don’t know, but maybe the reasons are technical and down to not wanting to support two diverging versions of a plugin- it is perhaps hard to keep track of all the different versions.

I think they should have gone further, but this is a useful compromise and a step in the right direction for Microsoft.

Next, all they need to do is to put in place a decent solution for developers (MSDN subscribers and otherwise) to get hold of versions of Office that incorporate the latest Power BI stack, including access to the online Power BI for Office 365. At the moment all you can do is get a short trial of Power BI for Office 365, for example. We need to be able to access the latest parts of Power BI, in the cloud and in Excel, to do our jobs, supporting businesses to make the most of the tools. Power BI has some powerful features, like the M language, and optimising Power Pivot models to make the most of Q & A, that may be complex for many users and so Microsoft really needs to support its loyal developers and consultants to help gain Power BI traction in the industry.

April update announcement:



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Power BI announced for Office 365

At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, Power BI has been announced: Microsoft’s solution for cloud-based BI. It is for subscription-based Office 365 only, with Excel as the main authoring tool and SharePoint Online for collaboration. Also announced are iOS and Windows 8 mobile BI apps, HTML5 access rather than Silverlight, natural language search, and even new names for some recent innovations (Power Maps is the new Geoflow, for example).

Some thoughts:

- This is a big shift away from SQL Server-based BI to Office-based BI

- This is Cloud First- but more than that, it is Cloud Only, which could be a real kick in the teeth for organisations who are on-premises only. With there already being concerns about the previously free functionality of PowerPivot now being only in premium Office SKUs, and the suggestions that Microsoft are missing an open goal to eat up the market for the likes of Tableau and Qlikview, I’m hoping that Microsoft will allow Power BI to be accessible widely and for a reasonable price.

- Finally with the mobile! I really look forward to Power View for iPad.

As usual Chris Webb has compiled the best starting point for links and opinion on this announcement:


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Telling stories with data

Microsoft came a long way when they created Power View- one of the things I thought was most useful about it was its ability to help tell a story with data. Not only could you take people through your insights a page at a time, interactively, you could also output your reports to PowerPoint itself, to be interactive as part of the presentation.
Since then, Power View has become even more useful, being part of Excel 2013 (controversy about which SKUs of Office 2013 it is available in notwithstanding).

I’m pleased to see Microsoft is taking the idea of ‘telling a story with data’ seriously, exploring the idea further in their research labs. Check out this video:

Sketch Insight

How cool is that? The best bit about it, as far as I’m concerned, is that using BI in this way is surely not actually that far away. With the advent of Windows 8, many more people will soon have touchscreens.

So- I shall see you in the bright future! All that remains is for personal jetpacks to become mainstream.

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IPL a Microsoft Gold BI partner

I’m pleased to announce that IPL has become a Gold partner in the BI competency. This has involved a lot of hard work from my team and reflects our continuing commitment to the MS BI platform as a leader in the field.

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Power View in Excel 2013 and SharePoint 2013

Yesterday I blogged about the new BI features that will be in Excel 2013- one of them being Power View. He’s some more detail, particularly about what’s coming in Power View in the next version. link

It looks like you’ll be able to use this new version in Office 2013 or SharePoint 2013- which begs the question- will you need to pay for SQL Server 2012 any more, to use it in SharePoint? I’m sure the answer will become clear. But in the meantime, you can look forward to hierarchies, maps, drilling, and pie charts.

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Excel 2013: Improved BI a good thing?

Microsoft look to be getting pretty serious about using Excel as a self-service BI tool, with the promised features in Excel 2013 advertised here http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/bi/Products/OfficePreview.aspx

PowerPivot is going to be incorporated into Excel itself (rather than being an add-in), and Power View reporting will be able to done in Excel. If you’re the kind of Excel user who mostly plays with data, rather than crunching numbers, then this news will be music to your ears! But is a more powerful Excel, in terms of BI, a good thing?

I’m quite excited about it myself- but that could be mostly because of the frustrations of Power View only being available in SharePoint so far (and PowerPoint, if you export a report from SharePoint). BI people have, for the longest time, advised against excessive Excel use for sharing of data- and that’s not just because Excel wasn’t as good at it as ‘real’ BI tools. It was because of good data governance, and data lineage- people doing their own thing in Excel was seen as a ‘bad thing’, where something more manageable and controlled like a data warehouse was seen as the solution to silos of Excel data on the desktop. When you can service people’s needs via standard reports and ad-hoc reporting capability, you reduce their need to ‘do BI’ themselves, achieving all the benefits of decision making using high quality data.

However, reality and experience suggests that an enterprise DW doesn’t solve all of an organisation’s craving for information. What if you need a report now, rather than waiting weeks or months for IT to provide you with a report? What if you need to combine data from carefully curated data warehouses with other publicly available sources? What if you want to tell a story with data, and don’t have the budget or expertise to build a full BI system? As a BI consultant, what if you want to prototype a report with a user, to help refine your understanding of their requirements? I frequently find that Excel is the answer to this, and PowerPivot is the key thing that you need to deal with these questions.

The only thing missing is manageability. This comes via SharePoint- by publishing Excel-based PowerPivot ‘cubes’ to SharePoint you can again define and manage a ‘single version of the truth’, but in a much more agile way than a typical enterprise data warehouse development.

So I welcome incorporating PowerPivot into Excel, and I’m such a fan of Power View that giving it a wider audience is very exciting- maybe they’ll even include it in non-SharePoint SSRS deployments in the future. I think there will always be a place for a well designed data warehouse and purpose-built BI toolset, but Excel 2013 will give BI power to end users, and when managed via Sharepoint, organisations might not consider there is a need for traditional BI at all.


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Upgrading from SQL Server 2012 RC0 to RTM

If you installed SQL Server 2012 RC0, your evaluation may have expired, or may be doing so shortly. So you’ll likely be wanting to upgrade to RTM- and you might run into a few problems along the way. That was certainly our experience, and when you’ve got SharePoint on the same box (as a demo BI machine, for example) you will want to avoid having to reinstall everything from scratch. Unfortunately there are quite a few problems along the way and you may be discouraged from persisting with this.
I thought I’d share my experience: in the end I managed to upgrade in place, saving quite a bit of time, and although many of the answers are out there, I’m putting them in one place for convenience.

Step 1: Turn back time

First off, you will be blocked from firing up SQL Server Management Studio, with a message about expiry. In the meantime, if your server has been running without a reboot for a while it could well be that your SharePoint BI is still working happily. If so, take the opportunity to download and backup any important reports and cubes you really can’t lose. Once the server is rebooted, the SQL Server services will not be able to start again, and the SharePoint functionality will be lost. You may well be scratching your head at this point, and considering a full reinstall.

Here’s the first answer- simply turn the system clock back a couple of months and manually fire up the SQL Server services. It sounds like it wouldn’t work- but it does- you should find everything back up and running! If you didn’t make those all-important backups, now’s the time.

Step 2: Upgrade in place

Next, you should be aiming to upgrade in place. In my case we were installing Developer Edition. There were two instances on the box- one for PowerPivot for SharePoint, and the other for ‘the rest of the SQL platform’.

You need to choose the option that says ‘Upgrade from SQL Server 2005, SQL Server 2008 or SQL Server 2008 R2′. It doesn’t mention upgrading from SQL Server 2012 RC0 but it does the trick.

I first upgraded the PowerPivot instance, then the other instance. Importantly, make sure the SQL Server services are running before you try the upgrade (you need the time travel trick for this), otherwise you’ll get errors.

The next problem you may get is an error saying Access to the path ‘C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\110\License Terms\SQLServer2012_License_DEV_1033.rtf’ is denied.’

Access to license file denied

Simply make the file writeable

At this stage I found the file, unchecked its ‘read only’ flag, and clicked ‘Retry’, after which the upgrade continued to completion.

I then upgraded the other instance, and fired up SharePoint. Nothing worked- PowerView reports hung, PowerPivot reports were blank or worse. All seemed lost. So that you don’t fall into the same pit of despair as I did, there’s just a few more things to do…

Step 3: Reboot, upgrade, and re-run

The first thing to do is a reboot. You should find all your SQL Server services are running, which is reassuring at least.

Next up, go into SharePoint Central Admin, select the SSRS service app, go into its properties page and press OK. This triggers an update of SSRS that brings it up to speed.

Next, get back into the SQL Server 2012 installer, and re-run the PowerPivot for SharePoint configuration tool. This detects you’ve already got it installed and you need to update it- follow the default options, and quite a while later it will be finished.

Finally, give it another reboot for luck. Your mileage may vary, but for me this was enough to bring the MS Bi in SharePoint back to life.

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