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Power BI improves with each monthly update. Will it reach a point where SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services) becomes redundant? This detailed blog compares the two products, and considers the future of SSRS.
Posted by Andy Brown on 18 October 2019
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Creating reports for viewing on-screen
This is a category which Power BI wins for ease of use and functionality, but SSRS probably still just wins for its range of features.
Creating reports in Power BI
The basic principle behind a Power BI report is that of visual interactions:
Clicking on the Drama category in the column chart and the 18 certificate in the slicer at the top of the page means that you only see 18 Drama films in the table.
You can do very little in Power BI by clicking within a visual; instead, you change properties in the formatting tools provided in a separate ribbon. For example, to change the appearance of the chart above you would need to first select it, then change its formatting properties:
The long list of formatting properties for a column chart, for example.
This does mean that you have to guess which property you need to change (you can't just right-click on part of a visual to find out), and many properties that you'd like to change don't exist yet:
As one example, suppose that you wanted to underline the title of a visual. Here are the properties of a Title. As you can see, underlining is not (yet, at any rate) one of them, so you'll have to either a) wait until a Power BI update comes out to implement this or b) live without your underlining.
Power BI does have some conditional formatting, but not much yet:
Here we're setting the chart colour to be an expression depending (say) on the size of the number displayed, but as yet not many properties support conditional formatting like this.
To see what a report can look like when lots of different types of visuals are combined, consider this Power BI dashboard showing Devon road traffic data by Marie Woltman (you can see the live version here):
Click on an area of the map to update all of the other tables and charts.
Finally, Power BI has numerous ways to support drill-down - here's one of them:
One of a few ways of enabling drill-through in Power BI.
Power BI is thus perfectly set up to create interactive dashboards (perfect for what-if analysis, or for impressing managers in board meetings).
Creating reports in SSRS
Creating reports in SSRS does feel like going back in time a bit. Consider a grouped table like the one shown below:
This table is showing films by certificate.
To get this, you would create a table looking something like this:
This table is anything but WYSIWYG (it's only when you preview the report that you see exactly what the table looks like).
SSRS doesn't support interaction:
When you click on one of these report items, the other doesn't change (there is a way to enable drill-down, but it's a bit cumbersome).
Where SSRS does score is in the range of formatting that it can support. Most properties that you'd want already there:
The start of the list of properties for a textbox - it's pretty comprehensive.
However, you can also set almost any property of any object to depend on the value of an expression:
Here the font colour of a text box will depend on an expression (so you could use this to colour long films red and short films blue, for example).
What this shows is that (as so often in this blog) it's difficult to compare Power BI and SSRS because they are ... different.