Category Archives: Power BI

Using Power BI to Report on Lookup Fields in SharePoint

This post is the sixth and final post in a series exploring Power BI and complex data types in SharePoint. This post examines the various options in Power BI for working with lookup fields. The previous posts are:

A lookup field in SharePoint contains values looked up from another list in the same SharePoint site. Strictly speaking, the field contains only the ID from the item in the source list, and the value(s) is/are looked up whenever the field is displayed. The lookup field can also be used to display multiple field values from the target list items.

Defining a lookup field in SharePoint

The List

Consider the following list that contains a lookup field named “Neighbourhood”:

The lookup field neighbourhood in the SharePoint view

We can see from the screenshot above that the text value for neighbourhood is displayed in the view, although only the row identifier is stored in the column. We will be able to get both values and more if desired in a Power BI report, but first we need to build the report using Power BI Desktop.

Loading the Data

We first launch Power BI Desktop, select “Get Data” and then choose SharePoint Online list (if connecting to SharePoint Online) or SharePoint List (if using SharePoint Server). We are then prompted for the URL of the SharePoint Site. The dialog is titled SharePoint lists, but the value is the URL of the site, NOT the list itself. Once this is entered we are prompted for credentials if we haven’t connected to this site before. After entering credentials, we can select the list that we want to report on. In our case, it’s named “Listings”. We select it, and then click on the Edit button.

Loading data rom the Listings list

Once the data loads in, one of the first things that you’ll notice is that there are a lot of columns to choose from, and it’s a good idea to remove the columns that you don’t need. We can do this by right clicking on the desired column titles and selecting “Remove”. In this case, we can remove the ContentTypeId column and everything to the right of it, with two important exceptions. We want to keep the “FieldValuesAsText” in addition to the special “Neighbourhood” column at the far right of the columns, as we’ll be needing them for our options below.

Using FieldValuesAsText

Examining our columns, we can see that amongst the simpler text fields, we don’t have a “Neighbourhood” column, but instead, a “NeighbourhoodId” column, with numeric values. We do have a Neighbourhood column further off to the right, but it doesn’t display simple text (we’ll come back to this shortly). If we simply want the text value of our lookup target, we can use the “FieldValuesAsText” column quickly.

Scrolling right in the Query editor view, we find the “FieldValuesAsText” column. The record values represent a one to one relationship with the text values of the list row, so we can click on the column expander at the right of the column title. From there we can extract the text value of any column, including our lookup field, “Neighbourhood”.

Extracting text using FieldValuesAsText

With “Neighbourhood” checked, and nothing else, including the “Use original column name..” option, we can click OK, and the “FieldNameAsText” column is replaced by a new column, “Neighbourhood” that contains the text values for Neighbourhood.

If this value is all that is needed, then this is a totally valid approach, and we can move on to report building. However, this is only one way to achieve this goal. If more information is needed, then other methods may be more suitable.

Retrieving all Lookup Field Values from the Extended Column

Given that the lookup target item is a SharePoint list item, all that item’s properties are available to us. We can access them from the extended column set up for the field. In our case, the original “Neighbourhood” column is the extended column. We can expand this column by selecting its column expander.

Extracting field values using the extended column

We then deselect all of the columns except the ones that we want to use in the report. The fields available are the fields available in the target list. In our case, we select the “Title” field, as it is the one being looked up. We can however retrieve any of the fields that we need from the target list.

Keep in mind that “Title” in our example is a simple text field, so no further action is necessary. The retrieved fields can be complex (person, MMS, etc), but keep in mind that if a complex field type is retrieved, it will need to be transformed just like any from the list in question.

The field name in the target list may not adequately describe its function for the report. In our case, “Title” actually means “Neighbourhood” in this report. It’s a good idea to rename it.

Finally, if multiple field values are to be retrieved, the data model could grow significantly. This is because the values for every field are repeated in every row of data. Given that the original lookup column adds a measure of relational behaviour to SharePoint, using this relationship is the most efficient way to work with this data. Power Query allows us to do just that.

Working with Related Tables

To work with related tables, we need not only the original data table (in our case, “Listings”) but also the table for the lookup list itself. To do this, from the Query Editor, we create a new data source like the one created above for “Listings”, but instead we select the lookup list (“Neighbourhoods”).

Once imported, we can remove any extraneous columns, and then set the data type for the ID field to be “Whole Number”.

Setting the ID column to whole number

We also need to set the data type of the “NeighbourhoodId” column in the Listings table to “Whole Number”. Once these options have been set, we are ready to work with the data model and the report. We select “Close and Apply” from the ribbon to load the data into the model.

Once loaded, we launch the relationship builder in the design pane in order to establish the relationship between the two tables.

Power BI relationship editor with default relationship defined

We can see that Power BI has already detected a relationship. However, it is not correct. The model designer assumes that because both tables contain an “id” column, then they must be related. However, the true relationship is between the “Id” column in our “Neighbourhoods” table, and the “NeighbourhoodId” column in our “Listings” table.

We must first delete the detected relationship by selecting the connector between the two tables and pressing “Delete”. We can then create the proper relationship by dropping one of our related columns onto the other. Once this is created, we also need to ensure that the “Cross filter direction” is set to “Both”. We do this by double clicking on the relationship connector and selecting the appropriate option.

Setting cross filter direction

Power BI relationship editor with correct relationship defined

Once the relationship has been established, we can return to the design pane and construct a rudimentary report. We drag a few fields from Listings into a table, create a calculated measure for the number of listings, and we add the “Title” field (renamed to “Neighbourhood”) to the canvas separately. Once we set the visualization for “Neighbourhood” to a slicer, we can easily slice our listings data by neighbourhood.

Slicing report with the values from a lookup field

We can therefore see that there are several options for accessing data for a lookup field, ranging from simple to complex. The trade-off for simplicity is flexibility. Which approach used will depend on your requirements but storing the lookup table separately is the most efficient as the data is only stored once and referenced.

Using Power BI to Report on Hyperlink or Picture Fields in SharePoint

This post is the fifth in a series exploring Power BI and complex data types in SharePoint. This one details the use of SharePoint Hyperlink or Picture fields. The previous posts are:

A hyperlink or picture field in SharePoint consists of a name-value pair. The value is always a URL, and the name is the descriptor for that URL. When the field is created, the creator can specify the character of the field, whether it is a hyperlink, or a picture.

Hyperlink or Picture field in SharePoint

If picture is chosen, then all values will be treated as images, and SharePoint renders them as such wherever displayed, in forms, views, etc. The name part of the name-value pair is used as the alt tag for the image when it is written. If hyperlink is chosen, the name portion will be displayed wrapped in a link to the value. These behaviours are particularly suitable to the way that Power BI works with both link and images, as we’ll see shortly. In our example below, we’ll be working with a list that contains 2 instances of this field type, one configured as a picture, and the other as a hyperlink.

The List

Consider the following list that contains two of these fields. The first named “Picture” is not surprisingly configured as a picture type, and the other, “More Info” is configured as a hyperlink:

Both Picture and hyperlink fields in a SharePoint view

This view renders a thumbnail of the image for the “Picture” field, and a clickable hyperlink using the link name for the “More Info” field. Behind the scenes however, the data is simply stored as that name-value pair. We will be able to get both field types to render with appropriate behaviours in a Power BI report, but first we need to build the report using Power BI Desktop.

Loading the Data

We first launch Power BI Desktop, select “Get Data” and then choose SharePoint Online list (if connecting to SharePoint Online) or SharePoint List (if using SharePoint Server). We are then prompted for the URL of the SharePoint Site. The dialog is titled SharePoint lists, but the value is the URL of the site, NOT the list itself. Once this is entered we are prompted for credentials if we haven’t connected to this site before. After entering credentials, we can select the list that we want to report on. In our case, it’s named “Listings”. We select it, and then click on the Edit button.

Loading the Listings data

Once the data loads in, one of the first things that you’ll notice is that there are a lot of columns to choose from, and it’s a good idea to remove the columns that you don’t need. We can do this by right clicking on the desired column titles and selecting “Remove”. In this case, we can remove the ContentTypeId column and everything to the right of it, with two important exceptions. We want to keep the “FieldValuesAsText” column, as we’ll be needing that to extract the text values.

Using FieldValuesAsText

In our example, both the “Picture” and “More Info” fields are displayed with a linkable value of “record” for every row. We will explore using these columns below, but to use FieldValuesAsText, it is best to remove them to avoid naming conflicts. As with most complex field type, the “FieldValuesAsText” column can be used to extract the URL for the Hyperlink or Picture field.

We scroll right and select the expander icon for the “FieldValuesAsText” column, then deselect all available fields except the “Picture” and “More Info” columns. In addition, we want to ensure that the “Use original column name as prefix” option is deselected to avoid a lot of messy renaming later.

Retrieving data with FieldValuesAsText

We then select OK, and two new columns are added in place of FieldValuesAsText named “Picture” and “More Info”. These columns contain the value portion of the name-value pair that make up the Hyperlink or Picture field, but the name portion is dropped.

Raw data for the Hyperlink or Picture Field

If all that is needed for the report is the URL portion, then this approach is sufficient, and you can continue working with the data model and report as below. However, to retrieve both the name and the value from the field, an alternate method is required.

Retrieving all Field Values

Instead of removing the “Picture” and “More Info” columns as described in the previous section, retrieving all of the values requires us to use them. In this case, we can safely remove the “FieldValuesAsText” column first, as it won’t be needed. The “Record” values shown for the field value on each row are Power BI’s way of expressing a one-to-one relationship. In this case, each relationship is with a record that has 2 fields, “Description” and “Url”. To use them in a report, they must first be flattened. We do this by selecting the column expander in the upper right of the column title, selecting both fields, and clicking OK.

Expanding the Hyperlink or Picture field

All Hyperlink or Picture fields will have the same properties, and in our case, this needs to be done for both the “Picture” and “More Info” fields. Because of this, it’s likely a good idea to check the “Use original column names as prefix” box to help keep everything straight. The columns can be renamed at any time if desired. Once This is done for both columns, we will see both the description, and the actual URL value for both of our “Hyperlink or Picture fields, as seen below:

Extracting all Hyperlink or Picture properties

At this point, we are ready to load the data into the data model by selecting the “Close and Apply” button from the ribbon. Once loaded, we are placed into the report design canvas. From here, we need to do a small amount of model editing.

Using Picture or Link Data in the Report

We can add a new table to the design surface, and then add “Picture.Url” to the table. We can quickly see that the default behavior is not optimal – it only displays the URL, not the rendered picture.

Raw picture data in a Power BI report

This is because the data model only knows the contents of the field to be text. We need to tell the model that this is a picture, and we can do that by selecting the Model tab in the ribbon, selecting the field in the field selection pane,

Setting the field properties in Power BI

Once flagged in this manner, the images will automatically render as images whenever they are used in tables, and several other visuals.

Picture field rendering in a Power BI table

The hyperlink field must be categorized in a similar fashion as the picture field, with one difference – instead of Image URL as the data category, we pick Web URL. Once we have done this, we can add it to our table above along with a couple of other fields, including the link description.

Adding Web URL data to the Power BI table

The hyperlinks are active and clickable, but they’re not the nicest to look at. They also take up a significant amount of space on the visual. Happily, there is a table feature that we can take advantage of to help us with this. To turn it on, open the table properties pane (the paint roller), open the Values section, and turn on the option for “URL icon” . All of the long links in the table will be reduced down to a compact link icon.

Web URL data formatted as an icon

Ideally, I would like to be able to recombine the link description and the link in the visual, the same way that it is rendered in SharePoint. However, this does work well, and it lends us a nice level of interactivity in our reports.

As we can see above, the SharePoint “Hyperlink or Picture” field is not only available to Power BI, but much of its utility can also be brought forward into Power BI reports.

Using Power BI to Report on Rich Text Data Fields in SharePoint

This post is the fourth in a series exploring Power BI and complex data types in SharePoint. It discusses working with using Power BI to report on rich text fields from SharePoint. The previous posts are:

A rich text field in SharePoint is a special instance of the multi-line column type which contains formatting attributes. The column becomes “rich” when either the “Rich text” or “Enhanced rich text” options are selected in the field’s definition.

SharePoint rich text fields

The List

Consider the following list that contains a rich text field named “Description”:

Rich text field displayed in SharePoint view

This view displays the value of the rich text field and retains its formatting. Internally all of the formatting commands are stored as HTML, rendering is a simple task for SharePoint. However, None of the default Power BI visuals support HTML rendering. We are left then with two options. We must either retrieve the raw text from the rich text field, and lose the formatting, or find a visual that supports HTML rendering. Happily, both options are possible. As with any SharePoint data, we must first start with Power BI Desktop.

Loading the Data

We first launch Power BI Desktop, select “Get Data” and then choose SharePoint Online list (if connecting to SharePoint Online) or SharePoint List (if using SharePoint Server). We are then prompted for the URL of the SharePoint Site. The dialog is titled SharePoint lists, but the value is the URL of the site, NOT the list itself. Once this is entered we are prompted for credentials if we haven’t connected to this site before. After entering credentials, we can select the list that we want to report on. In our case, it’s named “Listings”. We select it, and then click on the Edit button.

Loading the Listings data

Once the data loads in, one of the first things that you’ll notice is that there are a lot of columns to choose from, and it’s a good idea to remove the columns that you don’t need. We can do this by right clicking on the desired column titles and selecting “Remove”. In this case, we can remove the ContentTypeId column and everything to the right of it, with two important exceptions. We want to keep the “FieldValuesAsText” column, as we’ll be needing that to extract the text values.

Extracting Plain Text from Rich Text

One thing that you will notice right away is that he more simple column types like “Title” show their value directly in the Query editor. Rich text fields also show their values directly in the editor, but they include both the text and the html formatting commands. The rich text field in our example is named “Description”, and each entry begins with “<div class=…..”.

Rich text field contents in Power BI

Given that none of the standard Power BI visuals support HTML rendering, this is clearly not what we need for our report.

We could perform a series of text substitutions to strip out all the HTML formatting from the column, but that process would be highly tedious, not to mention messy. Happily, The Power BI SharePoint connector can do this for us automatically through the FieldValuesAsText column.

First, we can remove the Description column altogether. Next, with our example in the Query Editor, we scroll right and select the expander icon for the “FieldValuesAsText” column. We then then deselect all available fields except the “Description” column. In addition, we want to deselect the “Use original column name as prefix” option.

Expanding FieldValuesAsText

We then select OK, and we once again have a Description column, but this time it is free of all HTML formatting tags.

Description field with all formatting removed

At this point, we can click on “Close & Apply” in the ribbon, add a table to the design surface, and add a number of dimensions, including our “Description” field. It is displayed in the visual free of the HTML formatting.

Unformatted rich text in a Power BI table

Showing Rich Text in Full Fidelity

There may be cases where we want to use the rich text formatting, and not remove it. As mentioned above, that’s not possible using the out-of-box visuals. We are therefore left to find a custom visual to do this, and at the moment, there is only one such visual to the best of my knowledge. This is the HTML Viewer visual by Pragmatic Works, and its purpose is to do exactly as the name suggests.

To begin with, we need to start at the beginning of the previous section, prior to the removal of the Description column. In this case, we want to use the HTML codes, so the initial “Description” column is perfectly adequate as-is. All that we need to do is to select “Close and Apply” in the ribbon to load the data into the data model.

We must now get the HTML Viewer from the custom visuals marketplace. We click on the ellipsis in the visuals pane, select “marketplace” and then search for the visual using the search box. Once located, we select it, and click “Add”.

Acquiring the HTML Viewer

A new icon for the visual then appears in the gallery.

The HTML viewer displays and renders the values as a list. Only one dimension is allowed, so it is not possible to use it as a replacement for a table. The best way to use this visual is to make it the target of a selection. For example, to see the description of our listings, we can add a slicer on the page using “Title” and the HTML Viewer using “Description”.

Full fidelity HTML in a Power BI report

While it is limited, it is possible to render rich text fields from SharePoint in full fidelity. However, if only the text is necessary (as is likely the case for reporting), Power BI gives us a rich set of tools to make this process relatively painless.

The Road Ahead for SQL Server Reporting Services and Power BI Report Server

Power BI has garnered a lot of attention in the past few years as the “place to be” for Microsoft business intelligence. Power BI is of course Microsoft’s cloud platform for dashboarding and reporting. On premises, Microsoft’s reporting platform has traditionally been SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and is now joined by Power BI Reporting Server (PBIRS). While there are differences between the two in the way that they are licensed and distributed, the main technical difference is that PBIRS includes SSRS, plus the ability to render both Power BI reports (pbix) and Excel based reports through Excel Online.

PBIRS is therefore able to render all four report types as defined by Microsoft:

Paginated

RDL (classic SSRS style reports)

Interactive

PBIX (Power BI Desktop)

Mobile

RDLX or PBIX (Datazen and Power BI Desktop)

Analytical

XLSX (Excel)

Given that PBIRS is the on-premises reporting platform, and Power BI is the cloud platform, they should theoretically be able to perform the same task. However, this isn’t the case. Currently, there is no way to render paginated (or as I like to refer to them, operational) reports in the cloud. PBIRS can render all report types, but today, the Power BI Service cannot.

Jason Himmelstein and I recently hosted Riccardo Muti, Microsoft Group Program Manager for Power BI Report Server on our BI Focal podcast (you can hear the whole show here) and we asked him a few questions about the future of paginated reports.

While it has been hinted at before, Riccardo explicitly stated that the ability to render paginated reports in the cloud was not only on the roadmap, but it was actively being worked on. This will complete the picture for BI in both the cloud and on premises. This is important because I the ideal world, the choice of on-prem, cloud, or hybrid should be related to the data in question, not the available features. No more standing up an Azure virtual machine to be able to get printable, paginated structured reports.

Riccardo sees this service rolling out in three distinct phases. Initially for the preview, RDL reports will be able to connect to cloud data sources like Azure SQL Database, Azure Data Warehouse, Azure Analysis Services, and Power BI data models. The next stage will leverage the On Premises Data Gateway in order to connect to on-premises data like SQL Server, Oracle, Teradata and more. The next phase will begin to leverage Power Query to connect to the world of data sources that Power Query Offers.

With paginated reports adopting Power Query, and Excel having moved to Power Query as a default, it is hard to argue with making an investment in learning Power Query. It all seems to be coming together.

One of the top requested features for SSRS on-premises for year has been the ability to authenticate to it with claims-based authentication. This will be the native authentication mechanism for paginated reports in the service. When this is combined with the fact that these reports will ultimately leverage Power Query, and the vast number of data connection options that it brings, it’s not hard to wonder when these features will be coming down to the on-premises product. When asked about this, Riccardo confirmed that this is certainly the vision for the product.

The future looks bright for both cloud based, and on-premises reporting.