Now that Power BI has hit the GA milestone (general availability), I decided to spin up a trial subscription for it and get familiar with the tools that it offers. My previous experiment with connecting to CRM Online OData feed with Excel 2013 Power Query seemed to be one of the very few blog posts that come up when you search for information on the topic. In that article I never bothered to go deeper into actually working with the CRM data as the big news really was that the latest version of Power Query was finally able to access data from CRM Online, thanks to the added support for Office 365 authentication on the OData feed.
I repeated the steps for connecting my Excel 2013 Power Query to a CRM 2013 organization hosted on CRM Online and started to think about a simple report I could build. Opportunities tend to be a nice entity for demonstrating your typical reporting needs on summing money values based on sales process stage, owner etc. so I selected the OpportunitySet to be included in my workbook query. Scanning through the columns showed that I had every field I needed, but there was one problem: I couldn’t see the actual data in them. Instead of the Estimated Revenue figures or Owner names all I had was a link that read “Record”.
“Hmm, well, a link’s a link so let’s click on it then. (Click) Okay, so now I’ve drilled down into an individual value. I no longer have a grid of opportunity records and columns, which kinda sucks. Oh, and also I can’t see any Undo button to take me back.”
Life would be so much easier if you just read the manual before starting to use new tools, but ain’t nobody got time for that in the fast paced IT consulting world, right? After a bit of trial and error I figured out what the procedure for turning that [Record] link into actual data values is. Since it’s not immediately obvious, I decided to write it down onto this blog post, so that anyone else experimenting with using Power Query and Dynamics CRM Odata feeds can move on faster than I did.
In all the columns that display the record link you can see a small icon with two parting arrows on the right side of the column header. This is where you can drill down to the column contents and choose which attributes for that field you would like to include in your query data. For example, when I click on the CustomerId column on the OpportunitySet query, the following menu opens up:
Once you click OK, the values for the chosen columns to expand will be shown on the query editor grid. Repeat this for each column you plan to leverage on your report. As you expand more columns, you’ll notice that the Applied Steps dialog in the query settings pane will list each of them as a step. You can also see that these fields will be included on the formula bar, which will read something like Table.ExpandRecordColumn and then a list of our chosen attributes.
After we’ve expanded all the necessary columns, we can then proceed with using this data in our report. While Power Query is the component in Excel 2013 that pulls the data into our Data Model, it doesn’t necessarily offer all the tools that we’d want to use for working with the data set. Move over to Power Pivot instead to define relationships between different tables, rename the columns, create calculated columns and do any other manipulation with the data before presenting it on a report layout. Then finalize your work on the Power View canvas and design the report that you wanted.
There’s an excellent tutorial available on the U2U Blog that covers all of the steps in more detail: Dynamics CRM 2013 and Power BI for Office 365 – Part 1 and Part 2. Wish I had also found that earlier on, but better late than never…
There should also be a Part 3 coming up that will talk about how to upload the report onto Office 365 Power BI for publishing it to the end users. I’m quite interested in seeing what will be the procedure here, because I’ve not seen much information about how to consume OData feeds in the Power BI portal. In fact, this tweet by Jamie Thomson implies that some OData features would have been dropped from the product:
When I click around in the Power BI Admin Center, I don’t see any options for adding a new data source that would be an OData feed. If I’d like my report contents to get updated after I’ve uploaded it, I’d need to set up the Scheduled Data Refresh feature. However, the list of supported data sources doesn’t mention anything about Dynamics CRM. This leads me to believe that the current version of Power BI doesn’t yet support using CRM OData feeds as data sources in reports published on the Power BI portal.
With an on-premises Dynamics CRM instance you could of course set up a direct SQL Server data source and publish it to Power BI via the Data Management Gateway component. However, the much more interesting cloud scenario of building Power View reports that leverage data from CRM Online directly seems to be beyond the current feature set offered by Power BI, unless I’m mistaken. Let’s hope that we get more information about the possibilities of Power BI for CRM Online customers when Microsoft presents their latest Dynamics product roadmaps at Convergence 2014 in a few weeks time.