29

Feb

Microsoft Power View and Visualisation

The new release of Microsoft SQL Server 2012 includes a brand new Business Intelligence (BI) reporting tool called Power View (formerly known as Project Crescent).

End-user reporting was introduced in SQL Server 2005 with Report Builder. This capability has been extended in SQL Server 2012 with the graphical report designer Power View. This is a self-service reporting tool which allows business users to create interactive reports. Power View is not a replacement for Report Builder, but rather a natural progression and amalgamation of PowerPivot and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS).

What is Data Visualisation?

In his article ‘A Tale of Two Types of Visualization and Much Confusion’ (see http://eagereyes.org/criticism/tale-of-two-types), Robert Kosara explains Pragmatic Visualisation as a way to visually represent data in such a way as to gain new insights into that data. A visualisation should allow us to visually gain insight into data, and develop an understanding of the data. This can replace traditional non-visual methods such as data mining or statistics.

If a report created with Microsoft Power View allows users to visually gain new insight, and to understand the data, then I believe the tool will be a success.

Why should we use Data Visualisation?

When the amount of data is large or abstract, a visualisation can make the data easier to read and understand. A good example of this is a public transport map such as the London Underground, or Tube, map. This contains a large amount of data which would be very difficult to absorb and understand in any other way. Visually being able to see if a station on one line is within walking distance to a station on another line would be difficult to present in a non-visual manner, making visualisation the optimal way to present the data.

 

Tube map - data visualisation

 

Data visualisation can help create a shared view because it clearly shows how data is trending. The Slider feature in Microsoft’s PowerPivot provides the functionality for users to interact with the data and also see performance trends over time.

What do you need to know about Microsoft Power View?

Microsoft describes Power View as “an interactive data exploration, visualisation, and presentation experience.”

It is a tool for business users to use to create intuitive ad-hoc reports. A user creating a report with Power View is not required to know about security, database names, and table structures, as the tool natively understands the relationships between the objects.

Power View Benefits

Power View is a tool where a visually rich and interactive report can be created quickly and easily using a drag and drop interface.

During my trialling of Power View, one of the features that I was most impressed with was the ability to create multiple views of the same report. There isn’t just one view of the data, as is typically the case when using a traditional reporting tool. Many different views of the data can be created. The user can navigate between these views using a Microsoft Office-style ribbon interface. The view of the data can be instantly switched from a bubble chart to a line chart, or a bar chart, as well as various others. This provides another medium of interaction for the user, and allows them to select a view of the data which best helps their absorption and understanding of the data.

I found the slider, which I mentioned earlier in this post, to be a very intuitive and interactive feature. I think that many company directors would enjoy using this tool because they can visualise how their company’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) trend over time.

Visually Power View’s interface reminded me of Microsoft PowerPoint, the familiar presentation tool in Microsoft Office. Another feature of this tool is that reports can be exported to PowerPoint, where they are presented as fully interactive reports – ideal for those situations where the information needs to be presented to others.

There are some great interactive Power View demos available here:

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/microsoft_business_intelligence1/archive/2012/02/16/the-power-view-contest-is-here.aspx

A windows live account and Silverlight Version 5 are required to view the Power View demos.

Conclusion

Power View is not the first tool of its type to arrive in the market, however I think Microsoft has made great gains in ensuring reports are more interactive, enjoyable and easy to develop. Power View represents a change in the mind-set of what reporting means.

Now, reporting no longer has to be a function carried out by the IT Department, which often results in a dry, static, and limited view of the data. Reporting can now be about business users having fun while interacting with the data, and learning more about their business at the same time.

Posted by: Glenn Busch, Developer, Enterprise Applications | 29 February 2012

Tags: SQL Server


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