It’s my habit to post a review of the past year on this date, and as always there’s a lot to think about. This has been the first year where the majority of my posts have not been on SSAS or MDX. Most of my consultancy and training is still on these topics but given the lack of new features in SSAS recently it’s become harder and harder to find anything new to say about it (although a few other bloggers have managed to, such as Richard Lee’s great posts on using PowerShell to automate various SSAS administrative tasks). On the other hand I’ve invested a lot of time learning Power Query and as a result I’ve found a lot to write about, and this is true even after having written a book on it. I really hope that SSAS gets some attention from Microsoft soon – I’ve come to accept that I won’t see anything new in MDX, and the same is probably true of Multidimensional, but Tabular and DAX should get a major upgrade in SQL Server v.next (whenever that comes). Given the strong ties between SSAS Tabular, Power Pivot and now the Power BI Dashboard Designer I would guess that we’ll see new Tabular/DAX features appearing in the Power BI Designer in the coming months, and then later on in Excel and SSAS. When that happens I’ll be sure to write about them.
In the meantime, why the focus on Power Query? It’s not just to have something to blog about. If you’re a regular reader here you’ll know that I’m very enthusiastic about it and it’s worth me explaining why:
- It solves a significant problem for a lot of people, that of cleaning and transforming data before loading into Excel. My feeling is that more people need Power Query for this than need Power Pivot for reporting.
- More importantly, it’s a great product. It works well, it’s easy to use and I’m constantly being surprised at the types of problem it can solve. Indeed, where there’s an overlap between what it can do and what Power Pivot can do, I think users will prefer to work with Power Query: its step-by-step approach is much friendlier than a monolithic, impossible-to-debug DAX expression. Whenever I show off Power Query at user groups or to my customers it generates a lot of interest, and the user base is growing all the time.
- I love the way that the Power Query dev team have released new features on a monthly basis. The amount that they have delivered over the last 18 months has put the rest of Power BI to shame, although I understand that because Power Query isn’t integrated into Excel in the way that Power View and Power Pivot are they have a lot more freedom to deliver. What’s more important though is that the Power Query dev team make an effort to talk to their users and develop the features that they actually want and need (the ability to set the prefix when expanding columns is a great example), rather than build whatever the analysts are hyping up this year. This gives me a lot of confidence in the future of the product.
- Having seen the way that Power Query has been integrated into the Power BI dashboard designer, it could be the case that in the future the distinctions between Power Query, Power View and Power Pivot disappear and we think of them as parts of a single product.
One other big change for me this year was that I resigned from the SQLBits committee after seven years. There’s no behind-the-scenes scandal here, I just felt like it was time for a change. I work too hard as it is and I needed to free up some time to relax and be with my family; I was also aware that I wasn’t doing a great job on it any more. It was a very tough decision to make nonetheless. I had a great time with SQLBits while I was involved with it and I’ll be at SQLBits XIII in London next March as an attendee and hopefully a speaker. I know it will be another massive success.
Looking forward to next year, I hope the new direction for Power BI will be good for partners like me. There will certainly be continued interest in training for it, but the real test will be whether there’s a lot of demand for consultancy. I’ve done some Power Pivot and Power Query consultancy work this year, and demand is definitely increasing, but it’s still not a mature market by any means. Maybe the move away from Excel will change the nature of the BI projects that people attempt with Power BI, so that there are more formal, traditional implementations as well as the ad hoc self-service use that I’m seeing at the moment. The new Power BI APIs should also encourage more complex, IT department-led projects too. I don’t have a problem with the concept of self-service BI but I think it’s a mistake to believe that all BI projects can be completely self-service. I would like to think that there’s still a need for professional services from the likes of me in the world of Power BI; if there isn’t then I’m going to need to find another career.
Anyway, I’ve probably gone on for long enough now and I need to get back to enjoying what’s left of the holidays. Best wishes to all of you for 2015!