The Power of Dynamic Comments in Power BI
The Why Behind the Numbers
‘Why’ is this number what it is?
This question is asked a million times a day by anyone doing analysis. Sadly, the answer to “why” can take hours or even days to answer. Adding Comments to reports is a widely accepted standard for enabling users to share their “why”. Power BI does allow for comments ‘out of the box’ at the report-level. But as most users can attest, commenting at the ‘report’ level isn’t enough to truly answer “why?”; especially since 99% of PBI reports include multiple visuals on a single report!
Two of the Top Methods for adding comments to Power BI reports that answer the “why” with context and detail are 1) Dynamic Commenting and 2) Commenting on data-points. Adding this level of commenting to PBI is reported to save decision makers 10s to 100s of hours a month in “time spent searching for answers or validation”. The good news is that with Power ON you can bridge this Power BI ‘commenting gap”.
In this blog we explain why and how it enables users to add important context to Power BI reports to fuel more timely analysis, decision making, and action.
Why Comments are important in Power BI
A key value Power BI report is to quickly enable decision makers to identify what is happening and why it is happening, to enable decisions and take action. Many users say that Comments make reports more understandable by explaining details behind numbers, or changes in a plan, forecast, or report.
This is especially true when multiple people are using the same report or when you have a complex data model with information stored outside of the model.
The most valuable type of comments is those that are “dynamic”, versus those that are static. Dynamic comments are seen based on the filters selected. For example, when a user filters for a certain month and products, she will only see the comments related to that particular month and products. This means all products and different time periods may have their own separate set of comments.
Dynamic commenting with Power BI + Power ON
With Power ON Visual Planner, Power BI users can add “dynamic” comments that can be made “at the data-point level”. These commenting capabilities are enabled by Power ON’s cutting-edge technology that allows users to “enter and write-back data” from Power BI directly to a database. This includes not just data and numerical entries, but text comments as well.
When the commenting feature is enabled in Power ON users can add comments at any intersection of data in Power BI. This means that Comments can be added to multiple visuals in one report. Adding comments at a data-point level, versus the standard ‘report level’ out-of-the-box with Power BI, offers several advantages.
- Keep a History: Users can keep the history of all comments which is extremely helpful in the iterative planning process. Normally, in Power BI, when a new version of a dataset is created, the old comments are lost with the previous version of data. Once Power ON has been added to Power BI, this is no longer the case as Power ON’s write-back records all the comments instantly in a database.
- Easy to Use: Power ON’s commenting feature is easy to set up and use. This is important because it brings to the forefront the true value of self-service business intelligence. Business users can simply write a comment on any cell of a Power ON visual save changes, and within 2 seconds, the comment will be saved in a database. Everyone in a team, with proper permissions, can see the comment in real-time.
- Click-not-Code: Lastly, with Power ON, there is no need to wait for an IT specialist to configure a Power App to gain the comment capability. Once the Power ON add-in is added to Power BI, the dynamic and data-point level comment capability is available for us. And, if you know how to use Power BI, then you already know how to use Power ON. Many clients find this a key advantage of Power ON because they are already using Power BI and other products from the Microsoft stack.
Standard commenting methods in Power BI
As mentioned, Power BI does support some commenting features out-of-the-box. These can be used in-addition-to, and not ‘instead of’ the advanced Power ON enhanced commentary; so we wanted to include them here as well.
1 – Text Box: One method is to create text boxes in reports. While this adds some value, the text cannot be changed, it’s purely static; what you see is what you get.
2 – Power BI Service Comments Feature: Using Power BI’s out-of-the-box feature, one can add comments at a dashboard or report level. When a user adds a comment, Power BI captures current filters and creates a bookmark. When the comment is then selected, a report will change and show the exact look that was active when the comment was added. Despite being a decent collaboration tool, the standard comments feature is more of a “chat-like function”, with the ability to tag users, but it isn’t really a full commenting solution. The function does not support row-level security (RLS), has limited formatting options, and does not allow deleted comments to be retrieved.
3 – Smart Narratives. This native Power BI visualization provides dynamic insights and helps to summarize visuals and reports. With Smart Narratives, users can summarize key takeaways from reports and highlight trends that are updated in real-time. For certain use cases, Smart Narratives are a good choice. However, the visual has a few key limitations:
- Does not support Power BI Server.
- Does not support on-premises Analysis Services, live connection to Azure Analysis Services and SQL Server Analysis Services.
- Does not work with custom visuals and some standard visuals.
- Has issues with complex measures, such as percentage of grand totals, and calculation groups.
4 – Power Apps. This is a more flexible option for dynamic commenting in Power BI. You can create a custom Power App and bring it to any Power BI report. This option certainly has advantages, especially because users can write comments and do write-back directly from Power BI. However, some key user reported limitations of Power Apps include:
- Does not support Power BI Report Server.
- Can be complex to configure a Power App.
- Has custom development and configuration costs associated.
Success with Dynamic Commenting in Power BI
As we’ve seen, there are several options to support Commenting in Power BI. Power BI users who have added Power ON have reported significant efficiency gains and improved communication with very light lift (think click-not-code). Following are two quick glimpses of how Commenting with Write-back, at the detail level, can improve users, decision makers, and even customers, overall experience.
Success Story 1: Saving Days of Work with Real-Time Commenting
Workwear Group, part of Wesfarmers Ltd, one of Australia’s largest listed companies, is successfully using Power ON’s dynamic commenting. Using Power ON visuals, account managers add comments to provide management with real-time descriptions of forecast changes. As a result, management has a better understanding of the numbers, which results in a faster workflow. According to Workwear Group, the time when teams spent days waiting for each other’s comments, explanations, and decisions is now in the past.
Power ON’s write-back engine brings true flexibility when it comes to iterations and collaboration. For example, an entire team can work on the same report, add comments to describe variances, proposed alternate values, or simply ask each other questions directly in a Power BI visual.
Success Story 2: Improving patient experiences through better communication
For Mater Group, a large healthcare services provider, behind the actual numbers in KPIs, lies each patient’s story. Commentary associated with each KPI provides context to management and the Board to ensure focus and that choices are made for the betterment of patients. Commentary highlights successful initiatives to be expanded upon or draws focus to areas in need of improvements. Commentary is a critical and valuable tool in helping Mater achieve their goal of delivering the highest standard of patient safety on a consistent basis.
Power ON’s unique ability to add commentary within Power BI turns KPIs from “just a number” into the story of the patients.
Power BI is an amazing BI tool, no doubt. BUT it has been missing is the ability to add dynamic comments that can change based on filtering.
Adding Power ON to Power BI, you can easily bridge the commenting gap in Power BI.
Check out how other customers benefited on our Customer Success Stories page. Or learn about capabilities beyond Commenting on our Visual Planner page.
Until next time…