Power BI: Making Date & Time Keys

Saving the Day from Delay Part 2

Creating DateKey and TimeKey columns can be done with built in functions in the Power Query editor. Quick call out, if you need the time along with dates, I highly recommend splitting your datetime columns in half – one date only and one time only. From there, you can use the same process to convert your time to a decimal number and use a Time Table for your time functions (GitHub link below). Below are some screenshots to walk you through the process.

Let’s say you have a datetime column like my Date column below. To start, I recommend going to the Add Column tab in the query editor, and select Date Only then Time Only to create two new columns. This way the new columns will be right next to each other in the applied steps which will make troubleshooting down the road a lot easier. Don’t forget, you can right click on steps and rename them to help yourself walk through and/or adjust steps in the future.

Time to make our keys! There are a couple ways to do this, but the easiest is to click on the calendar icon (or clock icon for time) and select whole number (select decimal for the time only column). If you’ve worked in Excel, this will look familiar. These whole numbers for date (or decimal for datetime) is the same across the two platforms and is what DAX uses in the background to process datetime equations.

Final Date and DateKey Columns
Final Time and TimeKey Columns

And that’s it! Next post we will look at how to join the date and time tables to your keys in the data model.

External Resources:

Power BI: Data Model Optimization

Saving the Day from Delay Part 1

Optimizing your data model can be a daunting task. If you read the intro to this series, you know one of the most efficient and sustainable solutions to a bogged-down data model is to remove native date queries and use a date table. This post will dig into how and why this will speed up performance in both refreshes and in the online PBI service and how to make date and time keys.

The key to optimization is compression. An efficiently compressed data model is a lean, mean, query running machine. There are two types of compression – horizontal and vertical. Horizontal compression occurs on a row by row basis while vertical compression occurs column by column. Power BI uses the Vertipaq Engine, a vertical compression model, to compress data inside the data model. While vertical is more CPU intensive, it is also more efficient as it finds the best option for compression based on the data type in the column (values/whole numbers are most efficient). Data mozart does an in-depth look on this process that I highly recommend reviewing if you have more questions (link at bottom of this post).

Vertical compression is significantly slower on date time columns than value columns. DateKeys are your best friend in compressing your data model because they allow you to capture vital date information but store it in a value format (the most optimal format – think whole number). Converting all your primary date fields to a DateKey will allow all calculations using that primary date field to run much faster as Vertipaq can process the requests more efficiently.

Next post we’ll cover making time and date keys in the Power Query Editor.

External Resources:

Saving the Day from Delay: Recap & Series Kick-Off

Ironically, I’m a few months behind on a recap for my presentation on building and using a sustainable, dynamic date query in M code – Saving the Day from Delay. On a positive note, the delay means that I can do a series on the importance of date tables, how to effectively use them in DAX, and what I mean by sustainable and dynamic practices. At the end of this post is a link to a GitHub containing my most up-to-date M Query referenced in this series and the PowerPoint used in the aforementioned presentations.

Presentation Recap

Using a date query, whether from a SQL table or Power Query table (M), can aid in optimizing and honing your data model. A main culprit in sluggish Power BI data models are the native date hierarchies. Native date hierarchies are the default setting in Power BI and provide you with hierarchies to use in visuals that allow for easy drilldowns through year, quarter, month, and day. You can turn off this default under File > Options > Current File > Data Load (see below). You can also do this in global settings, but I recommend doing this file by file as the benefits reach diminishing returns on datasets containing under a 500,000 rows.

Where to change your default settings

If you’re unsure what I mean by native data hierarchy, the image below contains an example of a date hierarchy built by Power BI. To rebuild a date hierarchy from a standard date table, drag and drop columns on top of each other to create a custom date hierarchy. By right clicking on the Hierarchy title, you can rename and reorder your hierarchy accordingly. One of the biggest reasons to turn off the native date hierarchy is that you now only have one hidden DAX table in your data model for the date instead of however many date fields you have in your model (I’ve seen some models with up to 15 date fields!).

Native Date Hierarchy

In subsequent posts, I’ll cover the benefits of turning off this feature, reconnecting your data model, how to customize the date query, custom columns in M, and best practices for a lean, mean data model machine.


I Wrote a Book – Hands-On SQL Server 2019 Analysis Services

While not the first time I have authored, this is the first book that I wrote as the sole author. Analysis Services is the product I built my career in business intelligence on and was happy to take on the project when I was approached by Packt.

I think one of my favorite questions is about how much research time did I put in for this book. The right answer is almost 20 years. I started working with Analysis Services when it was called OLAP Services and that was a long time ago. Until Power Pivot for Excel and tabular model technology was added to the mix, I worked in the multidimensional model. I was one of the few, or so it seems, that enjoyed working in the multidimensional database world including working with MDX (multidimensional expressions). However, I was very aware that tabular models with the Vertipaq engine were the model of the future. Analysis Services has continued to be a significant part of the BI landscape and this book give you the opportunity to try it out for yourself.

This book is designed for those who are most recently involved in business intelligence work but have been working more in the self-service or end user tools. Now you are ready to take your model to the next level and that is where Analysis Services comes into play. As part of Packt’s Hands On series, I focused on getting going with Analysis Services from install to reporting. Microsoft has developer editions of the software which allow you to do a complete walk through of everything in the book in a step by step fashion. You will start the process by getting the tools installed, downloading sample data, and building out a multidimensional model. Once you have that model built out, then we do build a similar model using tabular model technology. We follow that up by building reports and visualizations in both Excel and Power BI. No journey is complete without working through security and administration basics. If you want learn by doing, this is the book for you.

If you are interested in getting the book, you can order it from Amazon or Packt. From November 20, 2020 through December 20, 2020, you can get a 25% discount using the this code – 25STEVEN or by using this link directly.

I want to thank the technical editors that worked with me to make sure the content and the steps worked as expected – Alan Faulkner, Dan English, and Manikandan Kurup. Their attention to detail raised the quality of the book significantly and was greatly appreciated.

I have to also thank Tazeen Shaikh who was a great content editor to work with. When she joined the project, my confidence in the quality of the final product increased as well. She helped me sort out some of the formatting nuances and coordinated the needed changes to the book. Her work on the book with me was greatly appreciated. Finally, many thanks to Kirti Pisat who kept me on track in spite of COVID impacts throughout the writing of the book this year.

I hope you enjoy the book!

Welcome to 3Cloud …

A little over a month ago, Pragmatic Works Consulting was a part of a merger that included 3Cloud and Applied Cloud Services over a period of a few months. Let’s look at the journey.

June 30, 2020: 3Cloud Receives Growth Equity from Gryphon Investors
July 30, 2020: 3Cloud Acquires Applied Cloud Services
September 9, 2020: 3Cloud Acquires Pragmatic Works Consulting

From June through September, 3Cloud went from about 70 people to 170. We are now the largest Azure “pure-play” consulting company in the United States. And this is just the beginning…

So, what are my thoughts on this?

I am truly excited about the opportunity to grow a consulting company that is focused on Azure. Sure there is a lot of change, but change is not bad. As we bring our three companies together to become one, there are challenges and successes. All of us have already benefited from the merging of skills and teams to create a more complete solution team for our customers.

I look forward to seeing how we evolve over the next few months and years. Exciting times are ahead!

Customer Impact

While working for a data centric company like Pragmatic Works was great, the shift to cloud technologies and Azure data services required us to expand our capabilities beyond data and SQL Server. This merger allows us to immediately add value to our customers by adding application development and infrastructure capabilities to our toolbox. Beyond that, 3Cloud and ACS bring a mature managed services offering including the ability to host and manage customer resources in Azure (CSP).

I think our customers get a significant boost in services as we become a more complete Azure company.

Some Final Thoughts

I will miss working directly with Brian Knight and Tim Moolic, two of the founding partners at Pragmatic Works. Their vision helped shape a great organization over 12 years. In case you did not realize it, Pragmatic Works will continue on as a training organization. You can still expect excellent technical training from the team there. We all will continue to learn and grow with their support.

If you are interested in joining our team or learning more about what 3Cloud offers, reach out to me at shughes@3cloudsolutions.com. I look forward to seeing you on a webinar or working with you in the future.