Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Is Power View meant to replace ReportBuilder?

At first glance, it could be easy to confuse Power View and Report Builder. This blog is aimed at helping you to understand the 'why' of these packages, so that you and your business can get the best out of these complementary reporting packages.

I do hear complaints now and again, that the Microsoft Business Intelligence reporting packages can offer similar functionality, so it isn't clear to users whether they are using the best option available to them. The reporting packages, such as Excel, Reporting Services and so on, are aimed at specific users with specific needs. The answer to 'which package is right for you?' will depend on the user and the requirements for building and delivering the report, and it is good that there is more than one option.

One way of looking at the 'Do I use Power View or Report Builder?' debate is to look at the distinction between a puzzle and a mystery, as specified by Outliers author Malcolm Gladwell. A puzzle can be viewed as a defined question with a defined answer; when all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, then the puzzle is solved. A mystery, however, is more uncertain; we do not have all of the information in place, and the answer can involve surfing lots of ill-defined information in order to get an answer.

Report Builder is aimed at business users who have puzzles i.e. they have the information in place, and the data will give them the answer in the form of a designed chart. A puzzle could be a straightforward question, such as 'What was our sales for the last quarter, for a specific product?'

Power View is aimed at business users who have a 'mystery' to solve. The question could be ill-defined i.e. 'how do I find out the characteristics of the data?' or 'are there any anomalies in the data?' The question could start off as a puzzle, answered quickly in Power View- but then it could spawn mysteries. So, we go from 'what' to 'why?' by looking at the data from different angles. 

My perspective in this is that options are always a good thing, particularly if it means an opportunity to learn something new. I'm aware that Power View is a new package for people, given that it's available in SQL Server 2012. I've written this blog in order to help people to understand the 'positioning' of Power View in relation to its older cousin, Report Builder.

Power View

Power View is easy to use, and quick. It involves very little typing, and assumes that the underlying data model is correct. It does not require programming language.

Instead, it simply requires you to drag and drop, and it means that you are only ever a few clicks away from the data representation that is available to you. It is easy for data analysts to produce reports that help you to  produce 'ad hoc' reports. In other words, it does not require you to know a 'set' question to answer, before you start. It helps you to work with an unknown query definition, or workload. The point is that it helps you to 'surf' the data without a need for structured reporting requirements.

Report Builder

Report Builder is also easy to use, and is aimed at producing reports quickly and easily. Again, it is not aimed at report writers with programming knowledge. Instead, it is aimed at information users and analysts who require reports quickly. Report Builder helps you to work with known query definitions, or workloads, to produce a defined report. Report Builder can help you to surf the data to a degree, too, but it is mainly for structured reporting.

Although Report Builder has been available since SQL Server 2005, there are some interesting new features added in SQL Server 2012 RC0 for Report Builder. It's no surprise, for example, the Word and Excel renderers are compatible with the latest version of Excel and Word 2010. This will only work, however, if the Microsoft Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel and PowerPoint pack is installed.

Report Builder is part of SQL Server 2012 RC0, and earlier versions can be found in SQL Server 2005 and 2008. In 2012, it comes in two versions: stand-alone, and ClickOnce, which is available in both SSRS native and Sharepoint integrated mode. In the stand-alone method, it needs to be installed on the computer, and it can be downloaded from here. The ClickOnce version is installed as part of the SQL Server 2012 RC0 installation sequence, and can be started from within Sharepoint or via Report Manager. In Sharepoint, it is nice to see that Report Builder reports are just seen as 'Documents' and you'll be able to create one by selecting 'New Document' from the Sharepoint library.

On the other hand, Power View is solely part of Sharepoint Enterprise and SQL Server 2012. 

To summarise, both applications:
Easy to Use
Aimed at Information Workers

Report Builder:
Can be obtained from outside Sharepoint
Emphasis is on a straight reporting tool rather than an analysis tool

Power View:
Is only available in Sharepoint Enterprise
Is only available in SQL Server 2012

To answer the question, the packages support and complement one another; Report Builder isn't meant to be replaced by Power View, but offers a slightly different perspective on easy-to-access structured reporting.

I hope that helps. As always, any questions, please do leave a comment. 

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