Month: May 2013

A Sample SSRS Dashboard and some Tips & Tricks

A Sample SSRS Dashboard and some Tips & Tricks

May 30, 2013

The other day, I was browsing for some sample SSRS dashboards and one of the top images that came up made me cringe. You might wonder what could be so bad in a dashboard as to make me cringe. Well, apart from the factor that the dashboard was openly flouting all the best practices for visualizations and that it would have misled countless people in virtue of being one of the top five images for the search term – ‘SSRS Dashboard’, it was made by ME. To be precise, this dashboard was made by me around 3.5 years back, a time when I believed more in ‘eye-candy’ rather than effective visualizations. That was when I felt that I owed a proper SSRS dashboard to the community.

SSRS Sample dashboard and some tips and tricks

First of all, let me start by saying that this dashboard was inspired (a polite way of saying – a complete rip-off Smile) from this Dundas Dashboard example. Personally, I felt that this was a very good dashboard example and I decided to reproduce it in SSRS. The result is given below:-

SSRS Sample dashboard

Let me tell you some of the things that I like in this dashboard:-

1) The colours are carefully chosen. Note how the dashboard is not a kaleidoscopic combination of different colours like it’s predecessor. Light tones of grey are used to depict the axis as well as the gridlines, while the charts are more darker which gives them more attention.Also, in spite of having 4X times more information than the previous dashboard, the new one doesn’t look crowded (thanks to the right choice of colours)

2) The dashboard focuses on the three main KPIs but also has an executive summary on the right. I also like the way each line represents a story for that KPI.

3) I particularly like the KPI boxes on the left. Each box has a current value (which is highlighted by the size), difference from YTD (which is the small box on the top right), a sparkline on the bottom as well as conditional formatting to show whether the KPI is above or below the target. I think it gives a sexy eye-candy sort of feel to the dashboard without bending the visualization best practices. Also, I prefer the faded red and green colours to the normal traffic light red and green colours that we see in usual dashboards.

4) The labels are all formatted appropriately (for eg, 3M instead of 3,000,000). This ensures that we don’t waste a lot of space for labels. With that said, let me go ahead and show you some of the tips and tricks I employed for making this dashboard:-

I) Alternating Background for the sparkline


You can see the above sparkline (which is for the four quarters) has an alternating background for the four quarters. By default, you can have alternating colours in SSRS chart background if you set the background color of the chart area to a color (say light grey) and the InterlacedColor property of the X axis to another color (say dark grey). Now the problem is that the line charts will start at the meeting point of the two colours (like shown below) instead of at the centre.

Normal alternating background for sparklines

One of the ways you can get this done is by adding 4 striplines to the X-axis. For the first and third stripline, ensure that the BackgroundColor is the same (lets say light grey) and the second and fourth should have the same BackgroundColor (which is dark grey). All the striplines should have a Stripwidth of 1. The IntervalOffset property should be 0.5, 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 respectively for the four striplines.

Stripline property

Click on the Y axis and press the delete button to remove it. For the X axis, click on it and set the LineStyle property to None, Major TickMarks–>LineStyle to None and HideLabels to True. This will give us the required result below. For use in the dashboard, remove the chart border also.

required alternate background for sparklines

II) Pretty KPI boxes

KPI boxes

The pretty KPI boxes are just a combination of textboxes and the sparkline we made above. This is how it actually looks in design mode

KPI boxes in design mode

Right now, I have hardcoded most of the stuff. But you can change it as required. For eg, to get the conditional formatting, you can write a simple expression in the Color property of the textbox. The only other thing is to have different font sizes / font styles for the $ and numeric value. To demonstrate that, I pull in a textbox and type $ in it. After that, I drag and drop a field from my dataset (SAC) to the textbox.

ssrs textbox

Now I can individually select $ and give it a different font style / font size and also do the same for SAC (whose expression I modified to =Sum(Fields!SAC.Value, “G1_B1”) from =Fields!SAC.Value)

ssrs textbox - selected text properties

III) Formatting the labels

To format your labels in thousandss, you can use the format – 0,’K’

Label format - thousands

Similarly, if you want to format in millions, you can use – 0,,’M’. Note that you are just increasing a comma.

Label format - millions

IV) Correlated column charts

correlated column charts in SSRS

For this, add a normal column chart with 3 measures.

column chart

Now change the PointWidth property of the second measure to 0.6 and third measure to 0.3.

PointWidth property

Now right click on the Chart Area, and click on Properties. Check the ‘Enable 3D option and set the rotation, inclination and wall thickness to 0.

3D option

After that, set the BackgroundColor property of the chart area to No Color. Now you should have the required correlated column chart.

final correlated chart

Well, there are a few more tips in the dashboard that I made (even though I have hardcoded a LOT of stuff, since this was just a demo) and if you want, you can download the rdl file of this report from here. Hopefully, I have redeemed myself by creating a better dashboard than the original one! Smile

Posted by SQLJason, 44 comments
And I’m Speaking at the PASS Summit 2013!

And I’m Speaking at the PASS Summit 2013!

May 27, 2013

10 days back, I was attending the speaker dinner for SQL Saturday Atlanta when I got a mail with the subject line – PASS Summit 2013 – Call for Speakers Results. Speaking at the PASS Summit was one of my goals for this year and I had submitted three abstracts. Holding my breath, I opened up my mail and guess what?  SQLJason - I'm speaking at the PASS Summit 2013 Yes, I am speaking at the PASS Summit 2013!!! And to make it doubly sweeter, I got two of my sessions accepted. Being a business intelligence professional, it was hard for me to ignore the parallels between SQL Saturday Atlanta and the PASS Summit
I was speaking at SQL Saturday Atlanta for the first time and I will be speaking at the PASS Summit also for the first time
I submitted 3 session abstracts for SQL Saturday Atlanta as well as the PASS Summit 2013.
Both SQL Saturday Atlanta and PASS Summit selected two abstracts, the only ones from over 15+ events that I have done so far. PASS Summit is the world’s largest, most-focused, and most-intensive conference for Microsoft SQL Server and BI professionals. Organized by and for SQL Server and BI users, PASS Summit delivers the most technical sessions, the largest number of attendees, the best networking, and the highest-rated sessions and speakers of any SQL Server event in the world. For a SQL Server speaker, the PASS Summit is the mother of all events and every year, top speakers from all over the world submit abstracts for this annual event. To cut it short, I am honoured to be among the chosen ones for this year (although I am a little sad that some of my favourite speakers are not there in the list) and am extremely thankful to the abstract review team as well as PASS for choosing my sessions. Now that the sessions have been made public, feel free to visit this link to see the amazing line-up of speakers and sessions for the event. Also, if you haven’t registered for this event, it is still not late – Register for PASS Summit 2013. My session abstracts are given below

Geospatial Analytics Using Microsoft BI

Speaker(s)Jason Thomas Duration: 75 minutes Track: BI Information Delivery

In this age of Big Data, location matters more than many people imagine. Almost every set of data has some geographic information tied to it, and it’s all the more pertinent to understand and unravel the patterns and trends behind that data. This session will start by explaining why geospatial analytics is important in today’s world and then continue by exploring how we can share, analyze, and visualize data using the comprehensive Microsoft BI toolset, including Power View, GeoFlow, SQL Server Reporting Services, and more. The session will feature practical demos for each of these tools, during which we’ll work on some of the publicly available data sets to uncover some interesting facts.
Visualizing John Snow’s Cholera Map Using Microsoft BI

Speaker(s)Jason Thomas Duration: 75 minutes Track: BI Information Delivery

Back in 1854, London was developing into one of the world's first modern cities, although without the essential sanitary infrastructures. This along with the increase in population made it the perfect breeding ground for many diseases, such as cholera. Around the same time, physician John Snow explored the correlation between diseases and contaminated water supplies and came up with one of the most famous maps in history. Relive the adventure of John Snow as we follow his journey in this session using Microsoft BI tools. As we recreate his map, we’ll also talk about the  steps and best practices for exploring geospatial data.
Posted by SQLJason, 7 comments
Ehh, What’s up, SqlJason?

Ehh, What’s up, SqlJason?

May 16, 2013

It’s been more than a month since the last post and you might be wondering – what’s up with SqlJason? Well, let me tell you that the last one month has been really busy and I thought of filling you guys in with some of the juicy stuff that’s been happening! Ehh, What’s up, SqlJason? 1) Speaking Events
Last year April was when I started my first speaking assignment in the USA and it was great to have so many different opportunities to present last year. This year April also turned out to be the starting month for my presentations, and I can’t believe that I already presented at five different places this month. Speaking events in April The PASS BA Conference was the first stop, and this was my first experiencing presenting in a big stage. Looks like it went good from the session evaluations (got a 4.6, my session ranks in the top 15 out of the 60+ sessions in the conference) Session Evals sorted by session ratings The attendance was also pretty decent, managed to pull in 98 people which is the highest I have ever got in any of my sessions. Session Evals sorted by attendance I had lots of fun with my #sqlfamily and also got to meet a lot of new people. Overall, a very fun experience and I am definitely going to attend PASS BA Conference next year. Next stop was SQL Saturday Chicago and this was just the next day after PASS BA Con. After all the partying and the awesome speaker dinner at the previous night, speaking was always going to be difficult task but luckily, everything including the demos went fine. I also got to see some great sessions by Mark V & Doug Lane, Julie Koesmarno, Leonard Murphy. In short, another great experience and a very well organized event. Next on the list was SQL Saturday Jacksonville which took place 2 weeks after the Chicago event. The Jacksonville event was one of my favourites from last year and it turned out to be even better this year as it was the first time all four of us CBIG buddies (me, Javier, Melissa and Rafael) got selected to speak at the same event. And I must say Jacksonville didn’t disappoint me, great crowd as usual and highly interactive (and very generous with the session evals too hehe). A couple of days later, I started off for my first user group speaking event of the year – Triad SQL BI User Group at Winston Salem. A big thanks to the user group leaders (Katherine Fraser and Doug Purnell) for giving me the opportunity, really enjoyed interacting with the user group members there. The next speaking event was the Carolina Code Camp 2013 which was in Charlotte itself (finally a home event! Open-mouthed smile). Unlike the other four events, the majority of the attendees was from a non-SQL Server background. So it was fun speaking to a different profile of attendees and I must say that this was one of those sessions where the attendees laughed at all of my jokes (either they got all of my jokes or were being REALLY nice with me Smile). I remember someone saying that event speaking is really addictive, I couldn’t agree more! Just to prove that, I have 2 more events coming up in the next week:- a) SQL Saturday Atlanta – I will be speaking on the topic “GeoSpatial Analytics using Microsoft BI” at 1 pm, this weekend. This is going to be another really great event with registrations hitting record levels for a SQL Saturday (800+ including waiting list). If you are coming for the event, definitely drop by and introduce yourself, I would love to meet you. b) Mariner Webinar – If you are not able to attend my session at SQL Saturday Atlanta, don’t worry. I am doing the same session (“GeoSpatial Analytics using Microsoft BI”) as a Webinar for my company – Mariner on May 21, 2013 12:00 PM-01:00 PM Eastern. You can register for this FREE event by clicking on this link – Click to Register  2) CBIG Updates As some of you recall, me and three others (Javier, Melissa and Rafael) started a new BI user group this year in Charlotte – CBIG. We are having a great run with attendees steadily increasing from 35 in the first meeting to 50+ in the last meeting (65 being the highest as of now). Even though five meetings are too early to call the user group a success, the popularity of CBIG is evident from the 87 registrations (including waiting list) we received in our fifth meeting (where our seating capacity is only 60). We had already moved from the initial meeting room after our second meeting (where our seating capacity was 30) and now, due to the increasing number of registrations, we are moving our venue from New Horizons to the Microsoft Campus (which has a seating capacity of 85) in July. That said, the numbers are secondary. The primary aim for us is to cultivate a culture in CBIG which mainly revolves around the community spirit as well as a passion for technology. If you are in or around Charlotte, don’t miss out on our user group meetings on the first Tuesdays of every month. We have got meetings lined up till September as of now and the RSVP links can be found at Also, don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to speak at our user group, we are always looking for speakers! 3) SQL Saturday Charlotte – BI Edition Announced And yes, we have also announced the date for SQL Saturday Charlotte – BI Edition. The event will take place on Saturday, October 19, 2013 (which happens to be the Saturday after the PASS Summit 2013, which also is in Charlotte). The planning is going on full steam and we are confident that we will have a great event laid out for all of you guys. Ensure that you register today to extend your PASS Summit 2013 experience.   4) And now the BIG one – Personal Updates For those of you who know me personally, this might be old news. And for the others, you might recall me saying at the start of the year that I might not match up to my previous year’s activities this year due to personal reasons. Well, the personal reason is given below. Me & my wife with the baby bump Yups, I am going to be a father to a baby girl this August 12 and I have no shortage of adjectives to describe my condition right now – excited, anxious, nervous, hyperactive, charged and so on. I am looking forward to those sleepless nights and all the other joys that come with parenthood. For the moment, I am going to stop writing and enjoy a good night’s sleep when I can.

Posted by SQLJason, 1 comment