Power BI’s Latest Features and How to Use Them

By: Marcus Radue | April 27, 2021

[Updated 12/21/21]

In this regularly updated blog, Marcus Radue (Solution Architect) highlights key feature updates so you know how to capitalize on Power BI’s latest enhancements to help your organization make the most of data analytics.

Power BI Features (December 2021 Update)

Watch the December webinar recording

The Power BI team ended the 2021 calendar year with some great new features. Some of the key highlights from the December release include sparklines, new format pane updates, and hybrid tables – which are in preview for Power BI premium and premium per user dedicated workspaces.

Sparklines

In my opinion, this is one of the top features in 2021. Sparklines bring exciting new capabilities to your table and matrix visualizations in Power BI desktop.

They are relatively easy to set up, as you can see below, and bring great functionality to your reports.

New Format Pane Updates

The new format pane was released in preview last month. This month the Power BI team has added some format pane features that were missing in the initial release.

  • Action card for buttons, shapes, and images
  • Responsive toggle and data limit settings for General > properties
  • Global text size for table / matrix
  • Background for Scatter chart > category labels
  • Analytics > Ratio line for scatter charts
  • Numeric input truncation and incorrect red borders bugs have both been fixed

Hybrid Tables (preview)

Another exciting feature release is the announcement of hybrid tables with Power BI premium or premium per user licensing. Why should you care about hybrid tables? Hybrid tables allow for a combination of import and direct query partitions all within the same table. This means you can now configure tables containing archive data (import), current data (import incremental refresh), and real time data (direct query).

You can read more about feature release here.

New Visualizations

  • Shielded HTML Viewer by Nova Silva
  • graphomate charts 2021.4
  • Zebra BI Cards 1.0 by Zebra BI
  • Leverage process mining through Business Intelligence by PmBI
  • Drill Down Combo Bar PRO by ZoomCharts
  • Paginated report visual (Generally Available)   
  • Charticulator (version 1.2.0)

New and Updated Connectors

  • Azure Data Explorer (Connector Update)
  • FHIR (Connector Update)
  • Dremio Software (Connector Update)
  • BQE Core (Connector Update)
  • TIBCO Data Virtualization  (Generally Available)
  • Exasol (Connector Update)
  • Starburst Enterprise (Connector Update)

You can read about the entire December desktop release here.

The PowerQuery connector December update summary can be found here.

Power BI Features (November 2021 Update)

Watch the November webinar recording

The Power BI team once again delivered a great release with the November features. Some highlights of this release include the new format pane, page and bookmark navigators, and the new scorecard visual – along with new data connectors such as Azure Synapse analytics and Google Sheets.

New Format Pane (preview)

A new format pane is available and brings an updated look and feel with better organization of the visual properties. The Power BI team has made a concerted effort to modernize the layout of Power BI desktop and align features from other O365 products (such as PowerPoint). A lot has changed with the new format so please read this document from Microsoft with all the details about this new feature.

Note: As of the time of this release, there are some known issues with the button action properties in the new filter pane. Therefore, you may want to delay enabling this preview feature until they are resolved.

Page and Bookmark Navigators

The page and bookmark navigator feature offers a new automated way to create button navigation for all your bookmarks and / or pages in your report. Previously this setup was all done manually through the bookmark pane and button actions. With buttons being a commonly used feature in Power BI, this feature increases your speed to delivery when creating your Power BI reports.

Scorecard Visual

The scorecard visual in Power BI desktop now allows content creators more flexibility in managing their goals within Power BI. Visual formatting options are now available for scorecards with this new visual with the ability to create a new scorecard directly from Power BI desktop.

Along with the new scorecard visual, several new features are now available for scorecards in the Power BI service:

  • Goal level permissions
  • Power Automate integration
  • Moving goals around the scorecard
  • Showing/hiding and moving columns

New Visualizations

  • Inforiver standard edition by Lumel
  • Drill Down Map PRO by ZoomCharts
  • Lipstick Bar Chart by Nova Silva
  • Charticulator (version 1.1.2)

New and Updated Connectors

  • Azure Synapse Analytics (New Connector)
  • Google Sheets (New Connector)
    • This was one of the most upvoted Power BI ideas from the community!
  • Azure Cosmos DB V2 (New Connector)
  • Delta Sharing (New Connector)
  • Google BigQuery (Connector Update)
  • Cognite Data Fusion (Connector Update)
  • Dremio Cloud (Connector Update)

You can read about the entire November desktop release here.

The PowerQuery connector November update summary can be found here.

Power BI Features (October 2021 Update) 

Watch the October webinar recording

The October desktop release is packed with some great new generally available features including a new heat map layer in the Azure maps visual, enhanced flexibility and performance for DirectQuery over Power BI datasets and Azure analysis services, DAX function SWITCH() performance improvements, Power BI Gen 2 and ODBC support for paginated reports. 

Azure Maps Heat Layer 

There is now a new heat map layer within the Azure maps visual. Enable this layer to display thousands of data points on your map. 

DirectQuery Improvements Over PBI Datasets and AAS 

The feature to combine Power BI datasets and Azure analysis services models with other data sources has been out for some time now. However, this feature enhancement brings added flexibility and performance when using a DirectQuery connection over PBI datasets and AAS models. You are now able to select single table objects from your PBI dataset or AAS model, whereas before you were limited to bringing in the entire dataset or model. 

SWITCH() Improved Performance 

You should now see improved performance for the SWITCH() DAX function when using a large number of values (hundreds or more) or if the value expressions contain measures references.  

Power BI Gen 2 Generally Available 

For those of you using Power BI premium or considering Power BI premium for your organization, Power BI premium Gen 2 is a great improvement over Gen 1. The costs have not changed for capacity sku pricing, and the new benefits are amazing! 

Benefits of Gen 2 vs Gen 1 include: 

  • The ability to license Premium Per User as well as by capacity 
  • Enhanced performance 
  • Greater scale
  • Improved and streamlined metrics 
  • Autoscale 
  • Reduced management overhead 

Read more about Power BI premium Gen 2 here

Paginated Reports ODBC Connector  

The ODBC connector for Power BI paginated reports is now generally available. This is an important feature because it expands the number of data sources you can now use such as SAP Hana, Redshift, Snowflake, Oracle, DB2, Vertica etc. 

Admin API Updates 

For Power BI administrators, the Power BI admin API is an important tool for monitoring and analyzing your Power BI tenant. There were 2 new admin API releases in the last month. 

  • GetUserArtifactAccessAsAdmin 
    • This API allows you to search by a User Id and scan your Power BI tenant for which Power BI objects that user has access to. 
  • GetUnusedArtifactsAsAdmin 
    • This API allows you to scan for all unused datasets in the last 30 days. Future enhancements to this API include the ability to find unused reports and dashboards so stay tuned for those improvements. 

New Visualizations 

  • Lollipop Bar Chart by Nova Silva 
  • Drill Down TimeSeries PRO visual by ZoomCharts
  • Inforiver by Lumel 
  • Hierarchical bar chart by Excelnaccess.com 

New and Updated Connectors 

  • Amazon Redshift (Connector Update) 
  • Dataverse (Connector Update) 
  • Google Analytics (Connector Update) 
  • Azure Cosmos DB V2 (New Connector; Preview)  
  • Azure Databricks (Connector Update) 
  • Amazon Athena (Generally Available) 
  • SIS-CC-SDMX (New Connector; Preview)  
  • SumTotal (Connector Update; Generally Available)  
  • Usercube (New Connector; Preview)  

You can read about the entire October desktop release here

The PowerQuery connector October update summary can be found here

Power BI Features (September 2021 Update)

Watch the September webinar recording

The Power BI desktop team has delivered another great release in September. Some of the highlights in this month’s release include new formatting options for buttons, line chart series labels, report insights, and Power BI Goals automated status rules and improved filtering.

New Button Formatting

There are now several new formatting options with buttons – including an expanded menu of shapes, the ability to add shadowing, glow, and custom images. These features unlock new creative ways to display buttons in your Power BI report pages.

Line Chart Series Labels

An exciting new feature for line charts is the ability to add series labels. You can see below the new option in the formatting pane. This previously could only be achieved by using a custom visual or overlaying two separate visuals.

Insights (preview)

In my opinion, the insights feature is the most exciting feature release this month. Users with a PPU license – or analyzing a report in a premium or premium per user workspace – can take advantage of this feature to explore anomalies, trends, and KPIs from their data.

Read more about this feature release here.

Power BI Goals Improvements

You can now implement automated status rules with Power BI goals. An improved filtering experience was also added in this month’s release.

Please read the documentation for more information about setting up goal scorecards within your Power BI tenant.

New Visualizations

  • PAFnow Process Mining flowchart visual by Process Analytics Factory GMBH
  • Drill Down Network PRO by ZoomCharts
  • Annotated Bar by Queryon
  • Graphomate pictograms 2021.2 by Graphomate

New and Updated Connectors

  • The Power BI Connector in Power Automate (Generally Available)
  • AssembleViews (Connector Update)
  • Azure Databricks (Connector Update)
  • Bloomberg Enterprise Data and Analytics (Connector Update)
  • DataVirtuality (Connector Update)
  • Exasol (Connector Update)
  • Vena (Connector Update)

You can read about the entire September desktop release here.

The PowerQuery connector September update summary can be found here.

Power BI Features (August 2021 Update)

Watch the August webinar recording

The key features of the August desktop release include customized shape formatting, X-axis constant line improvements, and the sharing of Q&A synonyms throughout your organization. Important Power BI service updates include automatic aggregations over DirectQuery datasets, Power BI REST API support for DAX queries, and detailed historical activity information for Premium datasets.

Customize Shape Formatting

The Power BI desktop team has added more shape options, along with new various formatting options to customize your shapes and improve your report design.

X-axis Constant Line

In this month’s release comes the ability to conditionally format the x-axis constant value. Additionally, you are able to shade regions before and after your constant value.

Sharing Q&A Synonyms

Hopefully you been able to utilize the Q&A visual and model within your Power BI report design. Within the Q&A model configuration you can now share your synonyms throughout your organization.

If you are interested in how to use the Q&A model in Power BI desktop check out my July presentation and featured demo around advanced analytical features in Power BI.

To enable this sharing, check the new option in the “Data Load” section of the report options menu.

Next, share your synonyms with your organization in the Q&A model setup.

Once you publish your report, you should now see the box checked in the Power BI service dataset settings to share your synonyms with everyone in your organization.

Automatic Aggregations

An exciting feature released in the Power BI service is automatic aggregations over DirectQuery datasets. Aggregations are not a new feature in Power BI. However, they now can be enabled without any configuration in Power BI desktop. This feature is currently in preview so make sure to read the finer details in the Microsoft documentation.

If you are interested in setting up your own aggregations in Power BI desktop, please see my previous webinar and blog.

You can read more about the automatic aggregation feature release here.

Power BI API updates

The Power BI team continues to bring add functionality to their REST API. This month they have released support for DAX queries and detailed historical activity information for premium datasets.

One thing to keep in mind with the detailed historical activity information feature is that only one log analytics resource can be used per Power BI premium workspace. Hopefully in the future this feature will be opened to a one-to-many relationship between a log analytics resource and Power BI workspaces.

New Visualizations

  • Timeline by Queryon
  • Drill Down Graph PRO by ZoomCharts
  • BIpm custom visual by ProcessM

New and Updated Connectors

  • One Dataflow Connector (Connector Update)
  • Automy Data Analytics (New Connector)
  • Azure Databricks (Connector Update)
  • Dremio (Connector Update)
  • Google BigQuery (Connector Update)
  • Quickbase (Connector Update)

You can read about the entire August desktop release here.

The PowerQuery connector August update summary can be found here.

Power BI Features (July 2021 Update) 

Watch the July webinar recording

The highlights of the July desktop release include the introduction of streaming dataflows in the Power BI service and new functionality to the scanner admin API. Most of the Power BI desktop updates involved several previously released features moving from preview to generally available. 

Features Moved from Preview to Generally Available 

  • Small Multiples visual 
  • Sensitivity labels in Power BI desktop 
  • New model view 

Streaming Dataflows 

In my opinion, the most exciting feature of the July release is streaming dataflows in the Power BI service. This feature brings another option to integrate near-real time data into your Power BI reports. 

Pre-requisites 

To create a streaming dataflow, you must have a premium or premium per user dedicated workspace.  

You must also have either an Azure Event Hub or Azure IoT resource configured to source the streaming dataflow. 

Click here to read more about the new steaming dataflows feature. 

Conditional Formatting for More Properties 

You can now find the “fx” button – signaling conditional formatting – next to the following properties in your Power BI visuals:

  • Data label colors 
  • Total label colors 
  • Legend text colors 
  • Axis start and end 
  • Axis title, gridline, and label colors 
  • Funnel visual percent bar label colors 
  • Funnel visual category axis color 
  • Multi-row card title text, data label colors, and category label colors 
  • Gauge visual axis colors, including start, minimum, and maximum 
  • Slicer slider and header font colors 

Security updates 

The following security updates have been made regarding sensitivity label application in Power BI desktop: 

  • Republish a PBIX with the option to not override the destination sensitivity label 
  • Inherit sensitivity labels from Excel files when importing into Power BI desktop 
  • Set a mandatory label policy from the Power BI admin portal 
  • Publish a custom help link for sensitivity label support 

Scanner API Enhancements 

End-users of the Power BI admin scanner API can now view dataset tables, columns, measures, DAX expressions, and mashup queries as part of the scanner API output. 

New Visualizations 

  • Charticulator (custom visual version 1.0.5)​ 
  • Multiple Sparklines​ 
  • Acterys Reporting​
  • PureViz Infographic – from PowerPoint to Power BI​ 
  • Dynamic radial bar chart by JTA​ 
  • Drill Down Waterfall PRO​ 
  • Control Chart XmR by Nova Silva 

New and Updated Connectors 

  • Amazon Athena (new connector) 
  • Databricks (updated connector) 
  • Dremio (updated connector) 
  • MariaDB (updated connector) 

To read about the entire July feature release click here

Power BI Features (June 2021 Update)

Watch the June webinar recording

Paginated Reports Visual (Preview)

The highlight in the June desktop release is the new Paginated reports visual. This visual is currently in preview mode and requires a premium dedicated workspace either through premium per user, premium sku, or embedded sku licensing.

To set up a paginated report visual, you first need a published paginated report in a premium dedicated workspace.

Next, add the paginated report visual and the fields from your dataset that you will link to your report parameters.

After that, you will connect your published paginated report to the visual and configure the parameters to the selected fields from your dataset.

Finally, add slicers or other visuals to dynamically change your parameter values and run your paginated report.

You can read more about the paginated report visual feature here.

Power BI Service Updates

Some additional feature highlights from this month are in the Power BI service.

Dataset Discoverability

Workspace admins or members will now be able to endorse a dataset and by doing so make it available to their organization through the dataset hub.

Request Access to Datasets

Building off the dataset discoverability feature, users will now be able to request access to a dataset, similar to requesting access to a sharepoint site or teams channel.

API Enhancements

There were several improvements to the Power BI API that will make it easier to automate deployment pipelines and manage your dataflows in deployment pipelines.

  • Automate deployments with new APIs and PowerShell samples (Preview)
  • Manage Dataflows in deployment pipelines (Preview)
  • Admin APIs for deployment pipelines

New Visualizations

  • Drill Down Combo Bar PRO by ZoomCharts
  • Dumbbell Bar Chart by Nova Silva
  • graphomate bubbles 2021.2
  • Zebra BI Tables 5.0
  • Zebra BI Charts 5.0

New and Updated Connectors

  • Assemble Views (new connector)
  • BQE Core (new connector)
  • SumTotal (new connector)
  • Adobe Analytics (updated connector)
  • Anaplan (updated connector)
  • Azure Databricks (updated connector)
  • Cognite Data Fusion (updated connector)
  • Dynamics 365 Business Central (updated connector)
  • FactSet Analytics (updated connector)
  • Google BigQuery (updated connector)
  • Starburst Enterprise (updated connector)
  • Vessel Insight (updated connector)
  • Workplace Analytics (updated connector)
  • Snowflake (updated connector)
  • Azure Consumption Insights (connector deprecated)

Power BI Features (May 2021 Update)

Watch the May webinar recording

Modern Visual Tooltips (Preview)

In my opinion, this is the most impactful new feature from the May update. Instead of right-clicking on your visual to open the tooltip, the tips become available simply by hovering over your data points in those visuals. You are then able to see your tool-tip or navigate to the drill-through pages you have set up. You can also change the styling and formatting of the tooltip pane in the customize theme pane in Power BI desktop.

Currently, drill actions are not available in the modern tooltip for the following scenarios:

  • Report page tooltips
  • AppSource visuals (Custom visuals)
  • Matrix visuals
  • Line charts
  • Area charts
  • Stacked area charts
  • Decomposition tree

Features Now Generally Available:

  • Small multiples – Now on by default
  • New field list in the model view
  • Smart narratives
  • Anomaly detection

Support for Removing the Sensitivity Label in Desktop

For those organizations taking advantage of M365 sensitivity labels, you can now edit those in Power BI Desktop. Previously, you could apply them to your Power BI Desktop files, but you couldn’t remove them once they had been applied. Now they’ve added the functionality of removing them, so you don’t always have to do that through the online service.

Q&A Now Supports DirectQuery for Power BI Datasets and Azure Analysis Services

Organizations taking advantage of the Machine Learning Q&A visual and data modeling feature can now use it with DirectQuery connections.

New Visualizations

  • ADWISE roadmap v2.0​
  • Bubble chart by Akvelon​
  • Cycle Plot by Nova Silva​
  • Drill Down Donut PRO by ZoomCharts​
  • Drill Down Map PRO by ZoomCharts​
  • Drill Down Pie PRO by ZoomCharts​
  • graphomate charts 2021.2​
  • graphomate matrix 2021.2

New and Updated Connectors

  • New Connector: EQuIS​
  • Connector Update: Automation Anywhere​
  • Connector Update: Vena​
  • Connector Update: Azure Databricks​
  • Connector Update: Amazon Redshift​
  • Connector Update: Vertica​
  • Connector Deprecation: Microsoft Graph Security

Quick Create Reports From A SharePoint List

This feature lets you quickly create reports from a SharePoint list view on a SharePoint site. It works similarly to how you can use the “Get quick insights” feature against a Power BI dataset. It will make creating reports from SharePoint data much easier.

Additional announcements about new features and roadmap enhancements were announced in the Microsoft Business Applications Summit rather than in the Power BI update. Keep watching our blogs to get updates and insights related to those new features in the future.

Power BI Features (April 2021 Update)

Watch the April webinar recording

Power Automate for Power BI (preview)

This is an excellent feature release that incorporates more of the Power platform directly within Power BI. If you have built Power Apps and integrated them with your Power BI datasets, now you can integrate the flows you make with Power Automate. Doing so will turn your flows into a button on your report that users can click to trigger the actions you have defined in that flow.

This new visual is only in preview mode right now and needs to be imported from the AppSource store.

Read more about this announcement of this new visualization here.

power bi power automate

Small Multiples Enhancements (preview)

Some additional formatting options have been released in preview for small multiples. It now supports padding controls and is enabled in the combo chart visualization.

power bi small multiples enhancements

New and Improved Shapes

PowerPoint continues to be more integrated into Power BI Desktop. Microsoft has released new shape designs that you can create and use to format your page layout backgrounds within Power BI Desktop.

Invert Access and Continuous Access Sorting

You can now invert your value axis on Power BI line, bar, column, area, and combo chart visuals.

DAX Enhancements: Many-to-Many and IF and SWITCH Function Improvements

CROSSFILTER now supports many-to-many relationships, and there have been performance improvements to IF and SWITCH functions. You may see performance improvements in certain situations when using those DAX functions.

New Visualizations and Connectors

Microsoft Charticulator Visual – Previously, this was a third-party tool that you had to use outside of Power BI Desktop. Now you can download it from the AppSource store and integrate it directly into Power BI Desktop as a custom visual. This tool lets you create custom visualizations that are not in AppSource, are not in your standard visualization menu, and still don’t require any code in the background. You can use Python or R scripts to create custom visuals and import those into your reports, but the Charticulator visual gives you a drag and drop interface to create them.

  • Cycle Plot
  • Graphomate Charts
  • accoPLANNING
  • LegendMap
  • Financial Reporting Matrix – Profitbase
  • Merged Bar Chart – Nova Silva
  • Bloomberg Data connector
  • SoftOne BI connector
  • Text/CSV By Example (generally available)
  • Automatic Table Detection from Excel files (generally available)
  • Automatic Table Detection from JSON files (generally available)

Easy Report Sharing via Links

If you are using other Microsoft 365 applications, then you may be familiar with the sharing options for files where you can select the security and type of link you want to create. That functionality is now available for Power BI Desktop files. Previously, you could only grant direct access to your reports. Now reports can be shared via links in addition to direct access sharing.

Deployment Pipelines

There are some new capabilities available for deployment pipelines – specifically around paginated reports and data protection labels. You can read more about the new deployment pipeline support here.

Enhancements to Sensitivity Labels

Microsoft has updated where sensitivity labels are included in Power BI. Now you can manage those labels and pull that metadata out using the Power BI admin API. Embedded sensitivity labels in Power BI are now generally available. You can now secure the full data journey from Azure to Office. Also included is an Admin API to Set and Remove labels in Power BI.

You can read about the full April feature release here.

Power BI Features (March 2021 Update)

Advanced Data Selection in Azure Maps Visual

There is a new selection control option available for the Azure maps visual. Report consumers will now have four ways to interact with data on the map.

  • Range selection
  • Radial
  • Polygon
  • Radial and box

X axis constant line for line charts

There is now an option to add a X axis constant line in the analytics pane. This option will only show for continuous type data.

DAX function updates

There is a new DAX function IF.EAGER(). This function behaves similar to the IF() function but may have a difference performance based on how it is evaluated in the performance engine.

Calculate filters are now easier to use. You can now include multiple filter conditions from the same table without needing to explicitly write two or more filter statements.

New visualizations and connectors

  • SMART KPI List by Nova Silva
  • Comparison Chart
  • Combo Bar PRO Visual
  • Kerberos-based SSO for Denodo

Windows 7 depreciation

Power BI desktop has stopped supporting Windows 7 as of January 31st, 2021. It is now only supported with Windows 8.1 or newer.

External tools menu is generally available

The external tools integration is now generally available. Read here for a list of fully supported operations.

You can read about the full March feature release here.

Power BI Features (February 2021 Update)

DirectQuery and Creating Composite Models for Power BI Datasets and Azure Analysis Services (preview)

You can now delete your DirectQuery connections to Power BI datasets and Azure Analysis Services. You can do this by navigating to the Data Source settings in the Transform data button on your home ribbon.

Search Bar

There is now a global search bar available in Power BI desktop. This search bar adds common functionality seen in other O365 applications and includes suggested actions and recent files in the dropdown menu.

power bi search bar results

Color Picker

The color picker has been updated to include RGB values in addition to HEX values when choosing colors.

New Visualizations and Connectors

  • Shielded HTML Viewer by Nova Silva
  • Zebra BI Tables (version 4.5)
  • Zebra BI Charts (version 4.5)
  • ValQ 2.0 Released with Connected and Collaborative Planning Features
  • Drill Down Combo PRO by ZoomCharts
  • New Teams Analytics Connector
  • Snowflake: Support for Custom Roles
  • Parquet Files: Connector Available in Power BI Desktop
  • Hive LLAP: Support for Windows Authentication
  • Salesforce: API Update
  • SAP HANA and BW: New Documentation

You can read about the full February feature release here.

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Marcus is a Solutions Architect experienced in data modeling and business intelligence reporting. He is skilled at the Microsoft SQL / Azure stacks and Power Platform. Marcus is passionate about using data modeling and data visualizations to give his clients meaningful insights about their data.

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