New Power BI Solution Templates Provide End to End Data Marts

Microsoft has announced today that they are going to provide a series of “Solution Templates” as part of the Power BI service.  The first solution templates are based on Dynamics CRM and Salesforce and feature an end to end solution for extracting data out of the underlying data source, transforming it into a reporting database and then using Power BI to visualize the data.

A Power BI solution template includes three components:

  1. The ability to get data out of the source application with an initial full load and subsequent incremental loads (ie, just new and changed records) to get data into a datamart or data warehouse,
  2. A pre-configured database and Power BI model with extensible schema and calculations for measures and KPIs pertaining to the domain, and
  3. Quick start tools like a default set of Power BI reports that work out of the box and can be extended.

Solution Templates leverage either SQL Server on premise or Azure SQL in Azure to provide the operational data store. 

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Power BI Increases File Size Limit from 250 MB to 1 GB

Microsoft has announced that they are increasing the file size limit for files to 1 GB from 250 MB.  This limit impacts any data source which is not direct query enabled.  It also impacts any Power BI Desktop file that is published to the Power BI service.

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We know many of you are doing analysis that involves large amounts of data and have large data models that you want to put into Power BI to share with others. After hearing your requests and seeing what you want to accomplish, we increased the file size limit for both Excel workbooks and Power BI Desktop files to 1 GB.

When you publish a PBIX file from Desktop, publish an Excel file to Power BI service, or upload an Excel or PBIX file through Get Data in the service, you won’t get a file size limit message unless the file is greater than 1 GB. Additionally, the data will continue to refresh as long as the data model size does not grow beyond 1 GB. After that, refreshing the dataset will give an error message letting you know your dataset is too large, and it will fail to refresh until you filter the data model back down under 1 GB.

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Power BI Q&A Support for On Premise Data Sources Coming Soon

One of the most powerful features in Power BI is the natural language based Q&A feature.  It allows end users to pose questions and receive reports, dashboards and answers using natural language queries.  The Q&A query makes suggestions to the end user on what to ask as well as automatically displays the appropriate chart or graph based on the type of data.  End users can also pin any question to their dashboard.

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The Q&A support is going to be extended to on premise data sources through the Enterprise Gateway.  Starting with SQL Server 2016 Analysis Services Tabular Models, now in preview, end users will be able to use the Q&A feature to access data on premise in the same as currently supported with cloud data sources.  Additional support for on premise data sources such as SQL Server, Oracle, SSAS, etc. is coming soon.

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Microsoft Canadian Data Centers Now Officially Open for Azure and Office 365

Microsoft has officially launched Canadian data centers in Toronto and and Quebec City.  Azure and Office 365 are now available wit Dynamics CRM expected in September 2016.

Express Route will also be available in Canada with Bell being the first partner provider. 

When you’re in the Azure Portal, you can now see Canada Central and Canada East as new regions.

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DataZen is Officially Dead, Customers Need to Transition to SQL 2016

Microsoft has officially killed the independent DataZen product stack with most of its features now incorporated into SQL Server 2016, SQL Server Reporting Services and Power BI.

Customers will be given 1 year of support following the release of SQL Server 2016 and then the product will be considered end of life. 

To offer Datazen customers more time to plan on when to transition to SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services Microsoft will provide support for existing deployments of Datazen-branded products for 1 year following the SQL Server 2016 GA release.

Our team is actively working on the SQL Server Migration Assistant for Datazen which will help customers in migrating content from Datazen Server 3.0 to SSRS 2016. We plan to release the Migration Assistant shortly after general availability of SQL Server 2016.

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How Do Latest SharePoint Announcements Impact Custom Branding?

With the latest announcements around SharePoint and Office 365, there are a significant number of user interface changes coming first to Office 365 and eventually SharePoint 2016.  With the latest changes, how does this impact those organizations that want to support custom branding of their intranets? 

Already a Challenge – No Consistent UI Framework

In Office 365, there are already multiple ways to apply themes and custom branding including master pages in SharePoint, themes in SharePoint, Office 365 themes, etc. 

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In addition, there are areas within Office 365 that you cannot brand at all such as Office Delve, User Profiles, Video Portal, etc.  These “next generation” portals are off limits for custom branding and if you have invested a lot of energy into branding your corporate communications intranet, the experience breaks when they link off to one of these portals.  So my navigation, CSS styling, etc. all disappears when someone goes to Office Delve:

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Other than changing the Office 365 suite bar colours you’re stuck with this user interface.

New SharePoint Mobile App

Microsoft has announced a new SharePoint Mobile App.  Presumably, the web mobile experience will also be updated.  For the current mobile web experience, if you use collaboration sites your users get a simplified, mobile friendly but completely unbranded user experience.

If you apply master pages and custom CSS, then you’re on your own and SharePoint provides the full original page with your custom branding.  Using this approach allows you to create your own branded pages but you’re also responsible for making them responsive – they break by default on any mobile phone.

With the new mobile app, Microsoft is imposing its own responsive framework, its own user interface, etc. in a stronger way than in the previous model.  It’s not quite clear how your custom web parts, CSS, JavaScript, etc. will be included into the page and how this will then make its way to the mobile phone so stay tuned.

New Publishing Pages Model

Microsoft is revamping the publishing pages model to be closer to sites such as Wix for creating web content pages. 

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The new authoring canvas will be easier to use than the traditional SharePoint canvas – more like the new blogging tool in Office 365.

New Development Framework

Microsoft is introducing yet another framework for creating custom web parts.  The new web part (e.g. App Part, Add-In, etc.) model will be client side, TypeScript based and integrated into the new page model. 

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The framework includes a new page architecture that supports custom web parts using client side technologies such as JavaScript.  You’ll be able to use your favorite JavaScript frameworks such as Angular or React or KnockOut to build new web parts. 

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The new SharePoint Framework model also removes the horrible dependency on IFRAMES that were part of the original SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online app-part model, which should make it easier to support responsive sites and to embed JavaScript as custom user experience elements.

Key Recommendations on Custom Branding

Based on the current picture, we would recommend the following in regards to Custom Branding and SharePoint:

1. Be prepared for an inconsistent approach to branding – its clear that Microsoft continues to take responsibility over some key components of the user experience and not handing them back to be branded by your corporate communications team. 

2. We’re back in multiple frameworks, different experiences on Office 365 vs. on premise SharePoint, etc.  This will cause lots of headaches for developers building hybrid custom apps, add-ins, branding, etc.  in the near term until SharePoint 2016 aligns with the latest Office 365 frameworks. 

3. If you’re still on SharePoint 2003, 2007 or 2010 and you have server side based custom web parts get rid of them as part of any upgrade.  The current and future direction is 100% client side JavaScript and the sophistication of the JavaScript libraries is continually improving.

4. The new SharePoint Framework, if it isn’t buggy (a big if), could provide some noticeable improvements to the current SharePoint Add-In model.  It’s better integrated into the page, provides better support for modern JavaScript and CSS, and should be easier to deploy than the current model. 

5. You’ll have the option of still using “classic” (e.g. the current) SharePoint pages and your current web parts will continue to work.  Existing custom web parts won’t be able to be deployed to the new pages framework apparently, so be prepared to re-write these components to support the latest user experience.

Stay tuned as more announcements come out!

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SharePoint Team Sites Get a Make Over in Office 365

Microsoft has provided a face lift to SharePoint team sites that enables integration with Office Graph, provides an improved sites home page and integrates team sites with Office 365 groups.

New SharePoint Home Page

“Sites” is now “SharePoint” and the home page has been redesigned to make better suggestions as to sites you can follow and discover.

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The new home page provides frequently updated sites, suggested sites based on Office Graph and sites you have explicitly followed.

With the new SharePoint mobile app, you can access the same list of sites through your mobile device.

New Default Team Site Home Page

The default team site now has an improved home page that surfaces content such as important documents and activities.

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Office 365 Groups Now Provides a Full SharePoint Team Site

When you create an Office 365 Group, you now are provisioned a full SharePoint team site. 

New Document Library UI with Support for Pinning

The document library in SharePoint UI has also been redesigned.

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The new UI supports the ability to pin documents that are important and they show up at the top of the list.

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New SharePoint Mobile App!

Microsoft has announced a new native mobile app for SharePoint.  With support for Windows, IOS and Android, users will be able to access sites, documents, links and people through a simplified mobile user experience.

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The SharePoint mobile app comes first to iOS, followed by versions for Windows and Android in the second half of 2016. And a planned, future update to the app will bring company news and announcements to your device.

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