7 Exciting Power BI Updates in 2021
Businesses of all sizes, be it a conglomerate with a global footprint or a startup in a niche space, all use data visualization tools for making critical business decisions.
Power BI is currently the most widely used data visualization tool.
In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into the most critical Power BI features and updates, rolled out in 2021.
Power BI in 2021 – What’s New?
There’s a tonne of Power BI updates on a monthly basis. So we cherry-picked a few highlightable ones from this year so far!
In this section, we’ll discuss the following updates rolled out in 2021:
- Object-level security →
- Power BI Premium at per-user plan →
- APIs for automated pipeline deployment →
- Automatic aggregations →
- Direct query support for dataflows →
- Small multiples for visuals →
- Goals features →
Let’s look at them one by one.
Object-level security (OLS)
The Object-level security feature was a recent addition to Power BI, and it makes the job of Power BI administrators a lot easier. From a Data Security standpoint, the Power BI administrators are bound to tackle many challenges.
The Row Level Security feature addressed the challenge of providing access to the right set of rows within a table for each user.
Power BI Row Level Security (RLS)- Simplified Setup Guide >>
However, there are scenarios where an entire table or its specific set of columns must not be accessible for specific users. The Power BI administrators can easily tackle such scenarios by enforcing object-level security.
For example, the operations department might not require access to the accounts receivables data. Here, the administrators can simply enforce Object-level security and allow access to the tables or columns with accounts receivables data only for users in the finance department.
Power BI Premium at per-user plan
The Power BI Premium was offered on a per-capacity basis until last year. In mid-2021, Power BI announced that Power BI Premium is now available on a per-user basis as well.
There are some key differences between the Premium at per capacity basis and per user basis.
There is no capping on the number of users on the per capacity basis, and it costs $4,995/month with a yearly commitment. On a per-user basis, Power BI Premium costs $20/user.
When compared to Power BI Pro, the Power BI Premium users (at per user basis) can unlock the critical Premium features including paginated reports, Advanced AI, dataflows, application lifecycle management (or) deployment pipelines.
On the restrictions part, the Power BI Premium at the per-user level has a comparatively much higher set of limits over the Pro users. Here’s a quick comparison:
|Power BI Pro
|Power BI Premium (Per user)
|Model size limit
The Power BI Pro users can easily switch to Power BI Premium at the per-user model, just by setting up an additional payment of $10.
APIs for automated pipeline deployment
Power BI introduced the Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) features last year. The users can set up different environments and manage the Deployment Pipelines for Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) services.
The Pipeline Deployment option is currently available for all the Power BI Premium users, be it a per-user or per capacity license model. The UI is intuitive and easy to use.
You can start from Dev, Test, and then to Prod. Or if you already have a smoothly running Prod, you can replicate the reports and contents, and point them to Test or Dev environments as needed, and make use of the pipelines moving forward.
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The pipeline feature doesn’t highlight any mismatch at the data level, but at the reports and datasets levels. It highlights the specific reports or datasets with the mismatch, so you can easily fix it, instead of searching through all the content manually.
The interesting update in 2021 about Power BI’s ALM features is that you can now automate the Power BI deployment pipelines with REST APIs.
Currently, you can use the APIs to schedule automated deployment, deploy multiple pipelines concurrently, and set up a cascaded deployment, if the deployment in a pipeline depends on another pipeline.
The Automatic aggregation feature is available for preview for Power BI Premium users, just by enabling the option.
Performance issues are usually driven by huge data volumes. The Developers spend an enormous amount of time optimizing performance, even after creating dashboards.
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Data aggregations demanded query optimization tricks to eliminate performance bottlenecks.
With Power BI’s automated aggregations feature enabled, the query performance optimization is achieved automatically (through an AI solution) based on user-generated queries, especially for data aggregations.
Currently, the automated aggregation feature supports Azure Synapse Analytics, Snowflake, and Google BigQuery data sources. Microsoft is looking forward to extending this feature for other data sources too in the future.
Direct query support for dataflows
Power BI users, when connecting dataflows, had no other choice other than the import mode for fetching the data into datasets.
However, Power BI recently started supporting direct query mode for dataflows as well. The users are relieved from the pain of importing data into datasets, and instead, have direct access to the dataflows themselves.
With direct query support for dataflows, the users no longer have the need to duplicate the data in a dataflow. The users can also save space, by eliminating the duplicated data in the dataflow imports.
Furthermore, the users can now easily work with large dataflows, while improving the query performance.
Small multiples for visuals
Have you dealt with a cluttered Power BI visual, especially a bar or column or line or area charts displaying data from more than one dimension?
If yes, you’re probably aware that it’s quite easy to lose critical insights in the noise.
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Power BI came up with the preview for the small multiples feature to solve this problem. With this feature (technically a field in your reporting canvas), you can easily divide a single cluttered visual into multiple clean visuals based on the dimension of your choice.
You can see the split visuals side by side, so you don’t miss any important insight. Further, there are many use cases to play around with the small multiples feature, which you can learn in detail from this video.
Power BI recently introduced the goals feature for preview. The feature enables each user to track their goals with their actuals.
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When you sign in to Power BI Service, you can choose the goals option in the left pane. You can create a goal or a scorecard and track it yourself.
The goals feature is currently restricted for the Power BI Premium users. The feature is greatly helpful for businesses to keep users in sync with business objectives.
In 2021 so far, Power BI has come up with a tremendous set of updates in terms of new data sources, enhancing the existing connectors, new visuals, and data management options.
As indicated earlier in this post, there are a lot more Power BI updates in 2021. We’ve just chosen and shared a few highlightable updates in this post.
Microsoft seemed to have started a little late in the data visualization space, but Power BI surely holds a major part of the market pie today, due to its continuous improvement upon user feedback.
If you’re thinking about something that’s still missing in Power BI, you can simply head to the Power BI ideas page and submit your ideas. The Power BI team prioritizes and works on the ideas based on the number of votes each idea receives.