Dashboard Week Day 3 – New Orleans 311 Calls and Power BI

Today marked the midway point of dashboard week and the day of Power BI. Getting hands on with a rival software to Tableau has definitely been beneficial. I now have my own opinions of Power BI and will be able respond to questions with these when I’m inevitably challenged on why someone should make Tableau their visualisation tool of choice. More of that later.

The challenge today was to obtain data about calls made to the 311 number in New Orleans. “NOLA 311 is New Orleans’ primary source of local government information and non-emergency services. Whether you are a local resident, visitor, or business, NOLA 311 will provide a prompt, courteous and professional customer service experience.” ~ City of New Orleans.

To get the data we had to call the API from the City of New Orleans Open Data page. This was fairly straightforward to do in Alteryx once you could get your head around the confusing documentation about the number of records to call. My workflow can be seen below. After a little bit of data prep and clean up, the data set was ready to be loaded into Power BI.

To prevent hours making exploratory graphs in a software we had never used before, Andy encouraged us to take to pen and paper first. I made a couple of rough sketches of charts I thought would show the data well, so got to work on these first. When I first opened up Power BI, I made an immediate and rash decision that I didn’t like it, just because it was different to what I’m used to. I took a step back and thought as I’m pretty familiar with Microsoft Office tools, it can’t be all that bad, and it wasn’t.

Once I got my head around how to configure the basics of charts, things seemed fairly intuitive to me. Of course the menus and panes are completely different to Tableau, but you can quickly work things out. I started off with some basic charts, such as line charts, bars charts and a map and found that formatting and configuring these were fairly easy. I also soon learned that by default the charts will all filter each other which was some welcomed interactivity.

I moved onto trying some calculated fields as my next experiment. The process of going about this was not dissimilar to Tableau, by left clicking on the fields, you get an option for ‘new column’. From here you have a calculation window that appears where you can start writing calculations such as IF statements and datediffs. Again this was fairly straightforward and easy to chuck into some new charts.

My final experiment was to try and find a new map type as the default filled map on Power BI didn’t look great. A quick google and I found you can use MapBox maps directly in Power BI to create heatmaps, circle maps and clusters. I went for a heatmap, which was easy to set up and played around with the radius and opacity to find a nice looking fit for the data, as you would in Tableau. A bit of tweaking here and there and I had my final viz. More of an exploratory dashboard but it makes good use of Power BI’s built in interactivity.

My thoughts on Power BI

Overall, I think Power BI was fairly intuitive to use, it’s very useful for creating some quick analysis on the fly. You do however very quickly run into limitations. From what I found today your formatting options can be fairly limited and the default chart types are fairly basic and not very customizable. You can get what you need out of it for some basic analysis, but it by no means has the power of Tableau. I realise that my opinion comes from someone who has used Tableau nearly every day for the last three months and has only touched Power BI for a few hours. Nevertheless, I do remember the days when I first opened up Tableau and it was clear there was a lot more that could be done with the tool compared to opening up Power BI for the first time today. As I mentioned earlier, it has been great to really get stuck into a rival tool so that I can enter discussions comparing Tableau and Power BI with my own experiences behind my answers. Whilst on placement and further down the line it will definitely be put to me more than once why Tableau is better. I feel now I can provide a bit more depth to my answers rather than ‘I’ve just heard it’s better’.

Three down two to go…

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