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Visual measures in Power BI: Why they are awesome and why every developer needs it

by Inforiver | Feb 07, 2023 |

The typical star-schema data model consists of a set of dimension tables, and a single fact table. The fact table holds measures such as Sales, Quantity, Units and more. Dimensions such as time (e.g., Year, Quarter and Month) and other categories (e.g., regions, products, and sales reps) are used to slice and dice these measures.  

In standard data models, it is very uncommon to see measures such as Sales 2022 and Sales 2021.  

Let us take a sample dataset that tracks sales data for three years. Plotting them in a chart would look as follows. Note that we have assigned year and month fields on the x-axis, and sales on the y-axis. 

Inforiver Chart value mapping

The above chart plots a nice trend. However, to deliver effective insights, I should do one or more of the following:  

  • Given that the current or most recent year is key, plot monthly sales for 2022, and show corresponding 2021 data right next to each month (e.g., May 2022 and May 2021 appear next to each other) 
  • Calculate MoM, QoQ, or YoY variances to show changes 
  • Highlight variances in the chart if possible 
  • … and more 

This type of analysis requires you to traverse through time, which requires some enhancements to the data model. One approach report developers take is to create a DAX measure that holds prior period value (e.g., a time shift of -12 months), and use it to further calculate variances (held in additional DAX measures). A second option is to utilize the quick measure feature provided in Power BI, provided you are not subject to some of its limitations. 

Some report designers go a few steps further and create multiple derivative measures for each period of interest (e.g., 2022 Sales, 2021 Sales and 2020 Sales). Variances across any pair of such measures are also calculated through additional DAX measures, though the effort increases manifold. 

However, these options have a few limitations. 

(a) casual users who build reports only occasionally need to familiarize themselves with DAX  

(b) report consumers with reading view access cannot edit/modify/create measures  

(c) report developers working with DirectQuery connectivity will have their own limitations in creating DAX measures 

(d) report developers working with cloud data sources such as Snowflake do not prefer to create and maintain local measures; they rather do it at the source, but this slows down their time-to-market 

(e) finance users often have several versions of forecast & budget data, sometimes running into dozens. The efforts to create and manage these measures and their variances can add up very fast 

Inforiver Analytics+* has introduced a capability to create visual measures on the fly. In other words, you can decompose a single measure (such as Sales) into multiple visual measures (2022 Sales, 2021 Sales, etc.) based on a category (such as Year).  

Note that if you were do use a Product dimension instead of Year, you would build visual measures such as Product A Sales, Product B Sales, etc. Let us explore this in detail. 

Creating ‘n’ visual measures from a single measure 

The process to calculate and plot, say, YoY variance from a standardized star-schema data model is very straightforward with Inforiver. These are the steps involved. 

1. Drag Inforiver visual on to the canvas. 

Inforiver charts default view

2. Assign field values as follows. Place the category based on which we want to split the measures (in this case, Year) in the ‘Small Multiples / Stacked Group’ field. This gives the chart the ability to create visual measures (Sales 2022, Sales 2021 and Sales 2020) on the fly. 

Inforiver Charts - Mapping Data

Inforiver would create a small multiple visual by default, arranged by year in separate tiles. Internally, Inforiver creates these visual measures exclusively for use by this small multiple chart. These visual measures are not yet exposed to the report developer. 

Inforiver Small Multiple

3. Toggle between small multiple and stacked chart 

Note that the assignment of the Year field to the ‘Small Multiples/Stacked Group’ in Inforiver serves a dual purpose. You can use that field to display a small multiple or a stacked chart. Use the ‘Stack’ and ‘Trellis’ options from the toolbar to toggle between these charts.  

Stacked vs trellis

Note that stacking data for 3 years does not make sense, but it is useful when you use another dimension such as a Product. 

4. Create and manage visual measures 

So far, Inforiver has been using visual measures internally to render these charts. To make these visual measures available to the report developer, Inforiver provides a measure management pane (accessible from the ‘Manage’ button in the toolbar) 

Create and play around with variances

Once you create these visual measures, you can selectively show/hide them. For example, show 2022 and 2021 data and ignore 2020 data). You can then continue to change the chart type and perform other operations. The visual works as if we have made available three DAX measures (2022 Sales, 2021 Sales and 2020 Sales) for its use. 

The step-by-step instructions to create visual measures are given below. 

4a) At the end of step #3, you will have a small multiple chart. Click on Manage icon in the toolbar. A prompt will pop-up. 

Manage Measures

4b) Turn on the property ‘Break stacked group into measures’. This will create individual visual measures based on the field ‘Year’ (which we had mapped in the small multiples / stacked group field in step #2) 

Split measures

All three measures are now available to you and plotted separately in the above variance chart. Inforiver behaves is as if you created DAX measures for 2022 Sales, 2021 Sales and 2020 Sales and assigned all of them to the visual. This is automatically reflected on the chart title too (on the top left). 

4c) You may now change the chart type by accessing the menu. For example, we are here changing the chart type to an integrated variance chart. 

change chart type

4d) You will notice the integrated variance chart with the same three measures.

integrated variance with 3 measures

4e) Go back to the Manage pane now. Deselect 2020 Sales as we do not need it. 

show hide measures

4f) The final chart is shown below. 

final filtered variance chart

In a matter of seconds, we created a monthly chart with YoY variance details. We did this without resorting to DAX. The beauty of this approach is that we can visualize variances for any pair of visual measures. We could also create a waterfall chart that explicitly highlights absolute and percentage variances.  

And there’s more - this powerful capability is also available to users in the reading view too.  

And when we roll into a new year, the additional visual measure is automatically shown in the Manage Measure pane. You do not have to create DAX measures each year to keep your report updated. 


This is what we achieved using Inforiver Chart and mapping the three fields – Year, Month and Sales – to the visual. 

  1. We toggled between small multiple and stacked charts 
  1. We did a 1:3 measure split, and created 3 visual measures - 2022 Sales, 2021 Sales and 2020 Sales 
  1. We changed chart types after the creation of visual measures 
  1. We also selectively filtered out visual measures and retained only what we needed. 

This revolutionary user experience is a must for everyday reporting, as well as for advanced used cases such as planning, forecasting and budgeting. We are glad to be the first one to deliver this market-leading innovation. Reach out to us to learn more about other cutting edge capabilities of Inforiver. 


Download a free edition of Inforiver Analytics+* today and try visual measure management for free.  

*Inforiver Charts has been renamed to Inforiver Analytics+, a 3-in-1 visual for dashboards and storyboards. It offers 50+ charts, cards, and tables.

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Inforiver is the fastest way to do everything in Power BI. It enables citizen developer productivity and unleashes true self-service with our intuitive and interactive no-code data app suite for Microsoft Power BI. The product is developed by Lumel Technologies Inc, who are #1 Power BI Visuals AppSource Partner serving over 3,000+ customers worldwide with their xViz, Inforiver, and ValQ offerings.
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