Tim

Tim Kent's Blog

New e-Learning MS Business Intelligence Course

I’m sure a number of you know of UK SQL Server MVP Chris Testa-O’Neill from his many presentations at user groups and conferences.  Chris has just authored a new e-learning course for Microsoft which covers the BI stack.  From Chris:

"I am pleased to announce the release of the Author Model eCourseCollection 6233 AE: Implementing and Maintaining Business Intelligence in Microsoft® SQL Server® 2008: Integration Services, Reporting Services and Analysis Services

This 24-hour collection provides you with the skills and knowledge required for implementing and maintaining business intelligence solutions on SQL Server 2008. You will learn about the SQL Server technologies, such as Integration Services, Analysis Services, and Reporting Services

This collection also helps to prepare for Exam 70-448 and can be accessed from: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/elearning/course/6233.mspx

Well worth a look I reckon!

SQLBits VI comes to London

Just in case you hadn’t already heard from Chris or Simon the next SQLBits has been confirmed for 16th April at Church House Conference Centre in Westminster.  Simon also explains why the tight timescales and only single day event this time.

If you need to find a reason to convince your boss why he should give you a day off to attend just look at the session list from the last SQLBits!

And if you fancy presenting yourself, session submission is open now.  You'll need to Login/Join first then complete your Speaker Profile before submitting a Session 

See you on the 16th!

SSRS 2008 – Icon Charts

In my last post I had a bit of a moan about the lack of new data visualisation features in PerformancePoint Services but to be fair MSFT have really turned up the dial on the data visualisation functionality with the release of Excel 2007 and SSRS 2008.  SQL 2008 R2 sees further advances with features such as Sparklines, Data Bars and indicators being far easier to create in SSRS.  There’s still a few things missing from the stack though when compared against some of the pureplay visualisation vendors such as Tableau and Spotfire.

Icon Charts (I’m not actually sure that’s their real name!) are another form of Tufte’s “small multiple” that combines the concepts of lattice/trellis charts and heatmaps.  This type of visualisation utilises the user’s perception of colour (hue) and form (size) to allow analysis of multiple categories with multiple quantitative measures.

I was hoping that it might be possible to do something with the new indicators in R2 and though you can use custom images there’s no simple way to hook them up to the data in terms of size and colour.

In this solution (workaround/hack?) I’m using the matrix object again but rather than using an inline chart I’m simply using a square symbol (letter n) from the wingdings font and then setting the colour (with a sequential palette) and size according to the data.  My example uses hard-coded values in a switch statement in the expression but you could be cleverer than this and make the values percentages of the maximum in your dataset for example.

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Add a couple of legends so that the viewer can clearly see what they are looking at.  It’s easy to pick out that SouthWest in Q3 had good revenue but low profit.  Is there a Problem? Add a drillthrough to detail report to allow the user to find out.

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As always the sample report can be downloaded from here: IconCharts.rdl (81.36 kb)

Alternatively, e-mail devteam(at)adatis(dot)co(dot)uk for a copy.

PerformancePoint Services 2010 – First impressions

We’ve been lucky enough (or we rather hassled enough people in MSFT for long enough!) to have been participating in the Office 2010 technical preview for the last couple of months but as it’s all been under NDA haven’t been able to blog about it.  This also means that we’ve had a chance to look round SharePoint 2010 and, in particular for me, PerformancePoint Services.  Nick Barclay has just done a series of posts about what’s new/improved/different in the new version so go there for the full list.  Here’s a quick round up of our first impressions:

What looks good so far:

  • SharePoint integration – Whilst Dashboard designer is still pretty much the same product for doing your, errr, dashboard design it’s no longer the admin and security tool as well.  This is all carried in SharePoint and in fact you have to set up a specific PPS site to do this.  A great deal of effort has obviously gone into this and which looks to have paid off.

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  • Security is all through SharePoint – no need to set up permissions twice!
  • AS Conditional formatting now works.
  • Decomp tree is back!!

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  • Measures can now be formatted independently.
  • Workspace browser is now much more intelligently organised.
  • Filter by value – you can now restrict rows\columns by value

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  • Dynamic dimension measures on scorecards- this was a bit of a workaround in 2007 as I’ve posted about previously. This now works properly
  • Re-usable filters – Filters can now be shared and re-used across dashboards

Disappointments:

  • Lack of improvements for data visualisation – Very disappointing - other than the decomp tree, the visualisation side of PPS has changed little.  Still no real control over how your graphs look. The only other new item to be introduced is the Pie Chart!!!! oh dear.  Still no bar charts (and I mean Bars not Columns), no chart formatting options or (controllable) second y axis options that I can see :(

oh look it's 3d!!

  • Decomp tree is not a chart type but a right click option from a deployed report.  i Like the option to do this from any point in a report but would be nice to have both options.
  • It’s still called PerformancePoint! – I have to admit I when I read another blog of Nick’s following the demise of Planning I didn’t entirely agree with him that it should be renamed.  Having spent the last ten months trying to explain to various IT departments that PerformancePoint is not the devil and that the Monitoring side has not been affected (usually to no avail) has changed my opinion completely. 
  • As per Chris’s blog – ProClarity just seems to have disappeared – I know that was never what Monitoring was supposed to be but the lack of an ad-hoc cube browser is a huge oversight.
  • Did I mention the lack of data visualisation improvements????

There’s lots more to discuss and there will be more to come over the next few weeks time allowing.  SharePoint 2010 looks pretty impressive…

Boyan Penev – Data Mystification

This is a great post from Boyan Penev which I’m sure will be familiar to many of you who design reports for customers.  Sometimes you just have to give them what they want even when it goes against what you believe :(

SSRS 2008 – Lattice Charts (Small Multiples)

Update: Nick Barclay has made some nice tweaks to the sample here

Whenever I’m reading Visualisation books and in particular the best practice examples, I always find myself wondering whether:

a) it’s possible with Reporting Services? and

b) it can look as good with Reporting Services?

and this was the case whilst I finally got round to starting to read Few’s new book Now You See It. One of the key principles of data visualisation is “Compared to What?”.  It’s all very well presenting the information in a clear fashion but without context it’s hard to argue it’s worth.

The use of a matrix of charts (lattice charts, trellis charts) allows the eye to very easily compare data both horizontally and vertically.  This method of display is also known as “Small Multiples” – a term coined by Tufte in his book - Envisioning Information.  These charts also allow you to easily add additional dimensions to a two-dimensional display.

I’m sure many of you will have used SSRS inline-charts before in a table (my bullet chart examples use this method) but it’s also possible to do this with the matrix object as well.  I’m not going to explain in detail the method to produce in-line charts in SSRS as it’s well documented already in this msdn article but in summary you simply set up your matrix with the appropriate row and column groupings, design your chart outside of the matrix then when it’s ready simply drop it in the data cell. 

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One thing to make sure you do is to change the maximum setting for your value axis to be the maximum value from your entire dataset using a scoped field expression (=MAX(Fields!Sales_Amount.Value, "DataSet1")).  This ensures that all the axes have the same scale - without this you will be visually comparing apples with oranges!.

With a bit of work on the formatting, the result looks pretty reasonable (though the spread of AdventureWorks data isn’t that great).  You can easily see which region is performing best and which category has the best sales.

As usual you can download the sample: MatrixCharts.rdl (26.11 kb)

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Dynamic Dimension members on a PerformancePoint KPI

One of our customers had read Nick Barclay's post on dynamic sets in SSAS 2008 and was hoping that this would mean that you could create KPI's with dynamic dimension members.  Well the answer is yes and no.  It's already possible to do this in Monitoring (or should I say PerformancePoint Services) using custom sets in the scorecard designer (more on this below).  However in PPSM these sets are resolved at the point the Scorecard is rendered in the browser.

This is fine as long as the members of your sets are not affected by the filters applied to your scorecard (member.children for example) - unfortunately the set does not get re-queried when you change a filter.   For instance if you were to create a set of your top 10 customers and drag that onto the rows of your scorecard, changing a time filter will not cause the KPI dimension members to change even if you've used time.currentmember in your set definition.  So you may end up displaying the Top 10 customers for the current month which may be different to  the Top 10 for the selected time period.

Update: Please see Nick Barclay's comment below for a very neat solution to this issue using filter link formulas.  (Wish I'd thought of that!)

Custom sets in the scorecard designer aren't the most obvious thing to use nor are they very user-friendly.  Your best bet is to use a tool like SQL Management Studio/Mosha MDX Studio to design a query that you know works then paste out the MDX for the set into the custom set formula editor.  You access this by dragging the Custom item in the Details pane onto the relevant position on your scorecard:

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Paste your set query in to the pop-up dialog.  For Example:

TOPCOUNT(
    [Product].[Product Model Categories].[Subcategory].members,
    10,
    [Measures].[Internet Sales Amount]
    )

You can then use the update button on the edit tab of the ribbon to see the results.  Unfortunately there's no way to edit the custom set once you've added it.  You have to delete the dimension members and then add a new custom set.

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