A large number of quality plugins, created by partners or created by the community is often the sign of a healthy software platform. While it indicates that there are still niches that the core product does not cover, organizations recognize that no one product is going to meet everyone's needs. Instead, the developer is open and supportive of the wider community, helping to enrich the core offering and build an ecosystem of supporting tools.
As with any major effort, companies must be in a position to document and have a plan to mitigate the potential risks associated with implementing software. It is no different with Microsoft Power BI.
Please note that the purpose of this post is merely an encouragement to assess risk exposure and consider how you would overcome potential future issues that might arise from any cause, is do not a warning against using external tools created by the Power BI community in general.
What about Power BI?
"My company uses Power BI" does not reflect the overall scope of the platform. It doesn't even stop at Power BI Desktop, Service, Gateway, Report Server, or anything else Microsoft develops.
- Visuals - Power BI has been promoting "custom visuals" for nearly five years (although the term "custom visual" seems to be disappearing), it has an evolving SDK for creating visuals, it has a market with more than 250 images, a process for «certify“Visuals, toggles to block all visuals or only non-certified visuals in the Power BI service, and has built in support for organizational visuals in the Power BI service.
- Connectors / Data Extensions - Power BI has a Power Query SDK to build custom connectors and a process to certify connectors
- External tools - At its Business Applications Summit in May, Microsoft did a demonstration and wrote about the next function to open "External Tools" directly from a tab on the Power BI Desktop ribbon (DAX study, ALM Toolkit, Tabular editor, and whatever else you want to define)
- XMLA endpoint - With XMLA read / write in Power BI Premium, you can now connect a large number of external applications to Power BI models (even non-Microsoft BI tools could be part of your "Power BI deployment")
Even within these categories, there are several areas within Power BI Desktop and Service to apply different settings. These can be at the model or report level, at the workspace or tenant level. Are you aware of the different options out there and their impact on your organization's Power BI experience?
Why should we assess risk?
Identifying and planning for potential risks is not a sign that something is wrong, it means that you are prepared in case something does go wrong. It should be a critical part of an implementation strategy.
Two recent articles and some conversations with clients have made the concept of risk the most important thing to me.
- CloudScope ends support for Power BI custom visuals by CloudScope - both the article itself and the follow-up discussion in the community
- I'm done using Visual Studio! by Paul Turley - You don't quite give up on VS, but Tabular Editor is clearly the future of large-scale model development
- A question as to why Microsoft would even allow non-certified custom visuals
- A question about whether DAX Studio can be 'trusted' on company assets when Windows Defender provides a warning before installation
- A question about how reliable DAX Studio is if it's a single developer publishing it
I materialized some thoughts in this post today after Paul posted his blog post. I think people should be prepared and able to "make the case" for external tools in the Power BI ecosystem as they become mainstream and, in fact, Microsoft is promoting them in the product. In particular, Tabular Editor and DAX Studio are poised to be even more widely adopted.
Here are some sample questions that might help you get started as you evaluate different aspects of third-party tools around the Power BI ecosystem (some serious, some lighthearted):
- Have you read about the differences between certified and non-certified custom connectors or visuals, and are you ready to accurately describe the differences and their usage implications to co-workers?
- What custom extensions and visuals are used in your organization? How are they distributed? How would they be inventoried? Are did they inventory?
- What does the Microsoft certification process for images and extensions entail?
- Will your IT department or other relevant areas of your organization support the use of external tools such as DAX Studio and Tabular Editor, and to what extent?
- Does your company use organizational visuals and, if so, what are the processes related to developing, implementing and supporting visuals, especially in case of rotation?
- Are the third-party tools you choose open source? If so, have you looked at the code?
- What level of support is available for the visuals, extensions, and third-party tools that you use? Does the actual level of support differ from your expectations?
- What if Darren Gosbell, Daniel Otykier, Andrej Lapajne, or others who create community tools are hypothetically “hit by the bus,” or decide to stop supporting your work for whatever reason?
- Does Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari secretly collect, read and laugh at your deadly level DAX if you send it to DAXFormatter.com?
- What if a third-party tool in use in your organization disappeared tomorrow? What alternatives would be available and how long would it take to implement them?
I am not here to answer all questions and make judgments that work universally for all organizations. Rather, I simply want people to be intentional about using third-party tools in Power BI and to be able to answer questions rather than panic if a boss or executive asks about something specific. Everything has an element of risk: it is up to you and your company to decide how much to tolerate and what your plan is to overcome potential problems if they arise.
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