No software company can build every single feature that everyone wants to see all at once. Ultimately there has to be some prioritisation, and along with the prioritisation comes compromises and ultimately disappointments for some (many?). Back in July 2015, Microsoft started a chain of actions and announcements that will prove to be a game changer (in my opinion) for Power BI moving forward.
- First it announced that it was opening up access to its Power BI visuals tool kit so that anyone with the skills and the desire could build their own visualisations on their own You can read about that here https://github.com/Microsoft/PowerBI-visuals.
- At or about the same time, Microsoft announced that it would allow people to contribute their own visualisations so that others can share them http://blogs.msdn.com/b/powerbidev/archive/2015/08/14/powerbi-visuals-is-open-for-contributions.aspx
- In Sept 2015, it held a competition to challenge talented programmers and analysts to build the best visualisations they can think of http://blogs.msdn.com/b/powerbi/archive/2015/09/03/announcing-the-power-bi-best-visual-contest.aspx
- And then the big one – in October 2015 Microsoft announced that anyone can import a custom visual directly into Power BI without any coding at all. http://blogs.msdn.com/b/powerbi/archive/2015/10/19/visualize-your-data-your-way-using-custom-visuals-in-power-bi.aspx
Why is this a game changer?
The fact of the matter is that Microsoft decided to build the data modelling capabilities (Power Pivot) and data acquisition capabilities (Power Query) first, before investing heavily in visualisation capabilities. I think this was the right decision. In fact it was also a brave decision but definitely not the sexy decision. Why? Well in the world of Sales and Marketing, it is common knowledge that you should “sell the sizzle, not the steak”. Tableau on the other hand has always invested in the visualisation layer first, because Visualisations have a lot of “sizzle”, and that is what Senior Execs get excited about. But the problem is you need a good juicy steak underneath the sizzle if you are ultimately going to enjoy the meal. Microsoft created the best juicy steak first (Power Pivot and Power Query), and is only now building the sizzle (Power BI Visualisations)! To date this approach has left Microsoft well behind in the visualisation stakes compared to the likes of Tableau. However now by opening up the Visualisation platform to all comers, the gap will be closed very quickly, and a lot faster than if a big software company like Microsoft tried to close the gap on its own.
Let me demonstrate with a quick example.
Power BI Standard Slicer
I have been complaining (to myself mainly) about the standard slicer button in Power BI. If you take a look at the standard behaviour below, you will see it is designed to work on tablet devices that don’t have multi touch capabilities. But in my view they threw the baby out with the bath water with this design. This standard Power BI Slicer does not work like an Excel slicer, but instead you have to ALWAYS multi select instead of a simple “click to change filter from 1 item to another item”.
The Chiclet Slicer
Then this week I found the Chiclet Slicer developed by by Amir Netz (ironically from Microsoft).
This slicer does everything that I want and more.
There is reportedly capabilities to handle images as buttons, but I haven’t been able to get that working as yet. I am sure that is just a teething problem and learning issue, but it will get there quickly. The point is I am sure I would not be using this new slicer today if it wasn’t for Open Source approach to new visualisation announced by Microsoft.
Here’s how you can use any custom visualisation
Navigate to the Power BI Visuals Gallery
Select the visual you want to download. This is the Chiclet Slicer in my case (shown below) but check out the others while you are there. Microsoft intends to release new visualisations into the Gallery every month moving forward so check back often.
After downloading, go to Power BI Desktop (or Power BI in the browser) and click the ellipsis symbol at the bottom of the visualisations pane.
Once you are done, the new visualisation will appear in your Visualisations pane ready for you to use. You may have to experiment with your new visualisation to work out how to use it. And also note that they normally come completely unsupported – the free ones anyway.
Where to from here? I expect to see all of the following
- Lots of new free visualisations popping up each month.
- A rapid closing of the gap between Power BI and Tableau in the visualisation space in the coming months, ie not years.
- Companies building their own visualisation for their bespoke needs, either in house or outsourcing the work to contract developers.
- Specialist BI companies developing high quality visualisation extensions for commercial sale.
There has never been a more exciting time to be in BI, let alone BI working with Microsoft BI.