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Our take on the new features introduced in the October 2019 update for Power BI
Part two of a six-part series of blogs

This month's big story is a huge range of improvements to the Q&A feature in Power BI, with more in the preview pipeline. There are also a built-in PowerApps visual, improvements to data profiling in Query Editor and a new template for connecting to datasets.

  1. Updates to Power BI for October 2019
  2. The new Q+A visual, and many other Q+A changes (this blog)
  3. The PowerApps visual is now part of Power BI
  4. Data profiling enhancements in Query Editor
  5. PBIDS files to create data access templates
  6. Features in Power BI preview as at October 2019

For a cumulative list of all of the updates to Power BI Desktop in the last few years see this blog, or have a look at the Power BI courses that we run.

Posted by Andy Brown on 20 October 2019

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The new Q+A visual, and many other Q+A changes

This will be a long page - there are a LOT of changes to the way that Q&A works in Power BI!

Microsoft seem to be trying to tilt Power BI from a situation in which report authors decide what to show towards a situation in which report consumers decide what they want to see.  I'm still not convinced that this works - read on, and judge for yourself!

The new Q&A Visual

Most obviously, there is a new visual in town:

The new Q&A visual

This visual is included within Power BI by default.


If you use any of the old methods to add a Q&A box, they will just add a Q&A visual:

Other ways to add Q&A

If you click on this tool on the ribbon, it will just create the same visual - as will double-clicking on the background of your report.


A note to Wise Owls - did you know that double-clicking on a report invoked a Q&A box?  I didn't!

When you add a Q&A visual, you get this initially:

A new Q&A visual

You can type in any question, and Power BI will attempt to answer it.


Here's an example of a question you might ask (I've gone for an easy question here - later on I'll show what happens when your question isn't so well structured):

Sales by region

This chart shows the quantity sold by region. Power BI doesn't understand the word sold, and has underlined it in red (more on this later).


Q&A visuals are like any other visuals

A big feature of the new Q&A visuals is that they can be themed, and will interact with other visuals:

Q&A visual interacting

The Q&A visual on the right is showing the towns for the selected North West region, and also showing the formatting from a theme that I've applied.

A Q&A visual shows the visual which most closely answers the question you've asked.  If you tweak the question, Power BI may change the type of the visual, but it will still behave like a static one.

Among other implications of the above is that Q&A visuals will support bookmarks.  For example, I've created two bookmarks as follows:

Two bookmarks

You can click on one bookmark to show my original question in the Q&A box, and another to show the same Q&A question (but this time requesting a pie chart).


Each bookmark will show a different version of the Q&A visual:

Column chart Pie chart
Column chart bookmark Pie chart bookmark

Notice that the pie chart bookmark is showing not only a different chart, but a different question too.

I've found one way in which Q&A visuals seem to be treated differently: it seems that you can't (yet, anyway) right-click on them to copy them.

Freezing ("converting") your Q&A choice

If you ask a particularly good question, you may then want to convert your Q&A visual into its specific type:

Converting a Q&A visual

Click on this icon to convert your Q&A visual into a standard one.


When you do this, you get a standard Power BI visual (a bar chart for the above example);

A standard bar chart

The question has disappeared, and you can now format this as a standard bar chart.


Note the differences between the properties for the Q&A (before) and bar chart (after) visuals:

Q&A visual properties Standard visual properties
Q&A visuals have no data or formatting properties ... ... but standard visuals obviously do!

Formatting your Q&A visual

Don't like the look of your question box?  Change it!

Original Q&A visual After some formatting
The original Q&A visual  After some formatting

You can change the appearance of the question box and suggestion cards separately:

Questions box Suggestions
The question box The suggestion cards

Adding to the Q&A dictionary of terms

There are a host of ways in which Power BI tries to get you to ask better questions.  If you type in a word Power BI doesn't recognise, it underlines it (by default in red):

Errors in red

Convinced the word cntre should exist? Add it as a valid term.


So for the above example, you can click on the link shown below to define your new term:

Defining a new term

Click to define what you mean by a cntre.


You can now teach Q&A what you mean by your new word:

Teaching Q&A

You could achieve the same effect in this case more easily by setting synonyms, a previously existing Power BI feature.

Google-style intellisense 

When you type in some phrases, Power BI will come up with a drop list suggesting what you meant to say:

Choice of phrases

You can choose one of the alternatives listed in the drop list.


Row labels

You can now use the Modeling view to set a row label for any table (apparently this feature also exists in Excel!):

Row label feature

Here I've assigned the RegionName field to be the row label for the region table.


This means that when you refer to the table, Power BI will pick out by default your row label as the field to display:

Row label in use

Power BI displays the region name, since that is the row label that you've assigned to the table.


Support for measures tables and other disconnected tables  

If you wanted to use the old version of Q&A with measure tables, you often had to resort to creating a separate model specific to Q&A.  No longer!

Well, that's what the update website claims.  As so often with Q&A, my experience isn't quite the same ...

So I've created two new measures in a separate table:

Two new measures

The measures show the percentage of sales represented by the London and the North West regions.


I then created a normal bog-standard table to show that these work: 

Standard table

The figures I'd expect to see.


I want to show this in a Q&A box, so I tried this:

Q&A table

Not only did it take a while to get the question into a format which produced what I wanted, but the answers are wrong and I can't for the life of me see why!


Q&A tooling

Power BI now gives you the ability to look at the questions users of your reports have asked, and review them (in effect, you can see people's browsing history):

Q&A Tooling

You can review questions asked, teach Q&A new words and review the dictionary of new terms that you've created.

However, I'm not going to review this in any more detail because it's in preview:

Preview mode

The tell-tale link - the feature is in preview, even though it doesn't appear as one of the standard preview options.


In conclusion, I really want to like Q&A, and can see just how much effort Microsoft have put into it, but I still think they'd be better off improving the existing visuals than they would be giving users the ability to create their own on the fly.  I fully accept that history may prove me wrong ...

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