Post by Rob Collie and Chris Finlan

Datazen:  A Beautiful, Mobile-Optimized Dashboard Delivery System That Makes Your Power Pivot Work Shine VERY Brightly

Datazen (The Latest Addition to Microsoft’s Suite of BI Tools) is a Mobile Monster
(Monster in a GOOD Way.  Yes, PowerPivotPro has its own DZ Custom Theme – You Can Too)

Datazen Q&A With Chris Finlan

***Intro from Rob:  Today I’m interviewing Chris Finlan of Microsoft about MS’s recent acquisition of Datazen, and what this means to us in the Power Pivot and Power BI community.

ROB:  Last month, Microsoft purchased a company named Datazen.  Most people had never heard of Datazen before, but you had pointed them out to me last summer I think.  You were already a big believer in them at that point, as were your customers.

CHRIS:  Yeah, I love Datazen.  I’m as passionate about it as you are about Power Pivot. I think it’s an extraordinary product, and have felt this way for quite some time Don’t believe me? Check out the date of my review in the Windows Store.  (Spoiler alert:  it was April of 2013 – that’s before I even applied for a job at Microsoft).

ROB:  You’re truly a trendsetter in tech and clothing.  I think one of the natural first reactions/questions from the community is, “wait, did MS just buy one of Power BI’s competitors, and if so, when do I use it versus, say, Power Pivot?”

CHRIS:  No, DZ was designed from the beginning to “only” be a visualization layer on top of the Microsoft Data Platform.  In your post on Visualizations Layers in Perspective: The Last Mile, you pointed out three key reasons at the end on why you’d buy a visualization tool.  Datazen checks all three boxes (and oh by the way, there’s no longer anything to buy – it’s simply a benefit you receive when you license SQL Server Enterprise with Software Assurance).

ROB:  Which means it’s free for many existing MS customers.  More on that later.  But I also want to talk about how DZ can be used to “light up” the great work being done by Power Pivot practitioners, because hey, that’s what we do around here.

Any Flat Table in Excel Can “Power” a Datazen Dashboard

image

EX:  Power Pivot Produces a Flat Pivot (or DAX Query Table),
and DZ Can Use That Excel File as a First-Class Data Source.
(The ONLY Server Required Here is a DZ Server – No SharePoint, No SQL, No SSAS)

 

ROB:  I’ll throw you a softball to start that off:  What’s so special about Datazen that would compel Microsoft to make such a purchase?  I know the basics – that it’s beautiful, completely themeable, and runs equally well on all phones, tablets, and computers – but for you, what’s the crux of it?

CHRIS:  Well for one, the actual dashboard creation/design experience is unlike any you’ve ever seen before.  Most folks who create dashboards start with the data first, then start the lengthy back-and-forth around what the end result will look like with their users.  Datazen flips the script on that – it invites users to start with the visualization first, and mocks up the data view so you know exactly how the data should look in order for the dashboard to work.  This is incredibly powerful – because for 15 out of 16 people, this is the perspective they’re used to and feel comfortable with.  It’s speaking their language, and makes the translation to “data gene speak” for them simple.

ROB:  That’s pretty novel, I agree.  But “my kind of people” – the people reading this article – I don’t really think they need it to be quite that simple.  Are you saying that this is NOT aimed at the Power Pivot crowd?

CHRIS:  No, I think it’s GREAT for the Power Pivot crowd.  You lay out a dashboard that would “wow” people, and then Datazen shows you the table it needs to “power” that dashboard.  You then go create a Flattened Pivot or DAX Query that produces that shape.

ROB:  Kinda like that diagram I drew above?

CHRIS:  Precisely.

Datazen:  A Beautiful, Mobile-Optimized Dashboard Delivery System That Makes Your Power Pivot Work Shine VERY Brightly

You Can Have THIS, No SharePoint Required.

ROB:  In that sort of deployment, there’s no SharePoint requirement, nor is there even an SSAS server requirement.  Just desktop Power Pivot, and the DZ server, and you’re off to the races.  That’s a MAJOR big deal that got me excited last summer:  web and mobile reach without the SharePoint tax.

CHRIS:  There are still many benefits of SharePoint of course, but if you’re not already a SharePoint customer, you truly CAN get started quickly with DZ.  Compared to other server products, the DZ server is very “light” to install and configure – here’s a guide for doing so in Azure.

OneDrive and Auto Refresh

Datazen With Auto Refresh:  No Server, Just OneDrive and Power Update

ROB:  OK, so I set up a DZ server in Azure, which sounds simple enough.  And I am using my Power Pivot workbook as a data source, by connecting DZ to a flat pivot therein for instance.  How does the DZ server “see” my workbook, since the workbook is on my desktop and DZ is running in Azure?

CHRIS:  You put the workbook in OneDrive for Business, and then install OneDrive on the DZ server so it synchs.  So when the workbook gets saved to OneDrive, it then gets replicated to your DZ server automatically.

ROB:  And then, when I get updated data, I save a new version of the workbook “over the top” of the workbook on OneDrive, and DZ picks up the latest.

CHRIS:  Correct.  But I’ve been using Power Update to handle that refresh for me, so it’s hands free.

ROB:  I love that, obviously.  Power Update runs the refresh locally on a schedule, and pushes the updated workbook to OneDrive for you.  So us Power Pivot types get mobile/web visuals of the highest quality, AND auto-refresh, and the only server required is one that even *I* can install myself.  It’s like nerd nirvana.  Nerdvana.  For nerds who hate installing software, in particular.  Like me (and most of the biz world’s Excel pros).

CHRIS:  Yeah, I work primarily with MS’s Enterprise customers – people with IT departments.  And their response to DZ is very positive as well.  But I see what you mean – smaller orgs and even individuals can now “project” very professional results quickly and affordably.

ROB:  And that was the thing that excited me the most about DZ last summer.  Mobile beauty and 100% themeable.  It’s a perfect fit for the Insight as a Service crowd in particular.  So what’s the “draw” with Enterprise customers?

CHRIS:  For one thing, buy-in.  For many folks who read this blog (and me), sometimes getting people to buy into the idea that Excel and Power Pivot can be an Enterprise solution is challenging.  Yes, it’s hard to believe, but there is often a bias against Excel in organizations because of a myriad of reasons.  In fact, this bias becomes more profound the higher you up you go I that organization. C-level executives tell us they want to see KPI’s while brushing their teeth (this was an actual quote from one of my customer’s CEO, by the way). This means they want something simple, looks beautiful and runs on their mobile device – and that brings us back to DZ.

ROB:  And you’ve told me that DZ enthusiasm, in turn, then leads to Power Pivot buy-in.

CHRIS:  Yes.  Once the decisionmakers have seen how cleanly and crisply the data can be delivered to them, wherever they are, then we need the Producers, the Power Pivot pros, to feed good metrics into the dashboards.

ROB:  Anything that makes the Power Pivot pros’ work shine, or even better, that triggers such work to be done in the first place, is something I heartily endorse.

Can I Ditch My Flat Pivots and Go “Direct?”

server with cube iconque01

ROB:  All right, this is all good news.  At some point though, if I DO have a Power Pivot for SharePoint server or an SSAS Tabular server, I’m going to want to ditch the flat-pivot-as-data-source approach (or the DAX Query Table equivalent) and just connect DZ directly to my Power Pivot model.  I can kinda do that today already right?

CHRIS:  Yes, you can give DZ an MDX or DAX query string, for instance, and it will just work.

ROB:  But I need to provide that MDX or DAX query myself, DZ won’t write it for me.  DZ doesn’t give me a field list experience like Excel pivots for instance.

CHRIS:  That’s correct, in the current version of DZ.

ROB:  Aha!  Current version!  While I really like the current “no SharePoint/SSAS required” story, I *do* also want the “field list experience” someday soon – for cases where we DO have a SharePoint or SSAS server.  I’ve been very vocal about this.  Give it to me.  Yes, I’m greedy and I want it both ways.

CHRIS:  Pretty sure everyone has heard you say that now, repeatedly.

ROB:  So, when???

CHRIS:  You know I can’t talk about future product roadmaps.

ROB:  Yes, but I like making you squirm.  OK, anything else you’d like to share?

CHRIS:  Jen Underwood had a great post recently about Datazen and pointed out how companies that deployed mobile BI showed double the adoption rate vs. those that don’t.  That’s a great reason to get started with Datazen and help us at Microsoft shape the product to meet your specific needs.  And to that end, both Rob and I would love to hear from folks who’ve used the product, have questions, feedback, or simply want to learn more.  Just drop a note to [email protected] with any and all comments.  Enjoy!

This Post Has 42 Comments

  1. Drat, and here I was hoping to take over the world with my creative dashboard skills… Now I will need to start reading up on my competitors 🙂

  2. I’d be interested in a comparison between Datazen and PowerBI – not sure how both products are meant to fit in together.

      1. Hi Chris, thanks for the link – good video. There does seem to be fair bit of overlap though (doesn’t PowerBI also offer mobile dashboards), so perhaps what would be useful is a post comparing the two solutions, and where you might use one over the other. Either way, it’s exciting to see what can be used!

        1. Hey Peter,

          In short:
          Datazen = your choice when you need an on.premise solution (great with Multidimensional models as well)
          Power BI = your cloud choice (doesn’t work with SSAS Multidimensional yet)

          There’s a lot of overlapping, but it’s too soon to tell how things will look down the road and how much $$$ they’ll invest on Power BI vs Datazen now. Datazen is more mature for sure.

          1. I’m currently learning Power Pivot in order to provide multiple reports from our SASS (which is on Azure), plus some outside data. I’ll move to get everything in SASS Tabular once I’ve finished the prototyping stage with Power Pivot. PowerBI doesn’t work for me (currently), as reports can only be distributed to users in the same domain. Sounds like Datazen is the ticket then! Thanks for the feedback.

    1. Hi Ted,

      You can view dashboards in Windows 7 using the browser. As far as creating the dashboards in Windows 7, without giving anything away, keep an eye out here for more details on that in the coming weeks/months . . . 🙂

  3. We just got our Datazen server up and we’re connecting it to our domain today! Now I can go crazy writing DAX queries on our SSAS Tabular models and building dashboards. So excited!

    I also like the BI hub setup and the ‘keep it simple’ approach to building dashboards. Once all of the back end data connections etc are enabled, this will allow ‘us’ (IT) to help power users do just the fun stuff and take ownership of their creations. 🙂

  4. I wish this was more accessible to smaller businesses. You can’t get the Datazen server without a SQL Enterprise license, and the mobile apps don’t work without the server (i.e., you can’t just email them a dashboard like you can apparently with the Windows 8 app). I rebuilt a core operational report for a client as a dashboard in just 30 minutes but it’s a non-starter because of the SQL Enterprise restriction.

  5. I’m playing around with DZ and indeed it provides some nice visualizations, however seems that DZ Server is still on earlier stages as it doesn’t support AD groups (really annoying to map AD users manually) and as repository DZ relies on Raven DB.
    Another thing to be improved is the Data Source creation on server side, depending on how many data sources you have that might require additional efforts to support/maintain the DZ environment.

    1. @ Sidney Buss,

      Thanks for the feedback – you can expect to hear more about how the product is evolving and the road forward in the near future.

  6. Hi Chris,
    Can you provide more details on how to use Sharepoint to host an Excel instead of OneDrive? And we can refresh Excel from SP. I have gone through your blogs but couldn’t find such use case. And i don’t find any way to set SP connection in DataZen either.
    Thanks a lot.

      1. Hi Chris,

        Thanks for replying, I am new in this tool, so can you please explain me step by step process of using custome MDX queries & how to access data from SSAS cube.

  7. I have created a dashboard and published it over the servers, but I am not getting the thumbnails of my created dashboards.I checked the rendering services and made some possible changes in WEB configuration file but still I am not getting any thumbnail for my created dashboards, cam some help on this.

  8. Hi Piyush,

    Go into Windows Services on the Datazen server machine and check if the three Datazen services are running. If not, restart them. The thumbnails should start coming up soon after that.

  9. Hi guys, I am also playing around with DZ and like what I am seeing so far. However for our proof of concept, we are looking to have a dashboard on a big TV screen and see it refresh automatically. However there doesn’t seem to be an option to do this. I either have to reopen the report or click the refresh button manually. Is this possible?

    1. Correct – it doesn’t support streaming scenarios at this time. You can potentially use the HTML5 view in an iFrame of another page with some code to automatically refresh the page on a timer, I suppose.

  10. Hi Chris/ROB,
    we have developed some dashboards using Datazen. Earlier Dashboard thumbnails were appearing in the browser as well as Client apps. But now for couple of Dashboards, thumbnails are not appearing. Even for the newly created and published dashboards, thumbnails are not appearing.
    Please provide your inputs on the same. Chris your solution posted @ http://christopherfinlan.com/2015/07/20/render-unto-datazen-a-solution-for-rendering-issues/
    also did not work.
    Thanks I advance.
    RamukNarik

  11. Hi,

    Can anyone tell me how to interpret a dimension attribute from SSAS cube as a ‘date type’ to be used in the timelines and time charts?

    Thanks!
    Jon

    1. Hi Jonathan,
      The new version of the server allows you to change the field type once the query has been brought into Datazen for use with the dashboards
      Chris

  12. I have a Datazen Srever installed in one machine, and another server in some other machine, I want to move the datazen dashboards into another machine (from previous machine to new one).

    Can some please let me know how to achieve this. I have checked the CP but didnt find any such option to restore the files.

  13. Is there any way to email snapshot of DataZen Dashboard or PDF/Image export to executives? Something similar what we do in SSRS.

    1. Yes, you can do this with the Windows 8.1/10 App using the Share functionality in the app to send a snapshot of the current dashboard and selections.

  14. Hi Chris,
    I’m glad to find this very resourceful blog.
    One problem I would like to mention for Server Connection in Datazen Designer tool, where it saves the user password and fails to connect when the password had changed in AD server. We integrated Datazen with AD with SSO enabled. I’d like to see some improvement in this area so it’s transparent to the developer (or password is not even required) when it’s changed within AD. The AD group support for user authentication in Datazen Server is also critical for large enterprise adoption.

    1. Hi Jay,

      Thanks for this comment – as the product is being integrated into Reporting Services, you’ll see AD group support. A public preview of the new RS is available for download now if you’d like to check it out.

      Chris

  15. Hi Chris,

    I want to move from Dev environment to Prod Environment What is the best way of re-deploying the Dashboards? and backing them up if things go wrong. I do see some scripts link, Its been while so i would appreciate if you can post the shell scripts to take a long and understand better!!

    1. Hi Peter, This is no longer available for new customers to download. If you are an existing customer, you can contact Microsoft support to get a copy of this for your environment.

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