External tooling is incredibly useful for extending capabilities in Power BI that might not be native to the application. As an example, the DAX editor in Power BI itself can be really cumbersome to develop larger DAX statements. DAX Studio negates this issue by giving you a dedicated environment to write and deploy DAX statements. Even better, the new “External Toolling” tab in Power BI gives you the ability to open DAX Studio directly from the desktop service and connect automatically to the model you have open.
That use case really highlights the main benefit of the “External Tools” tab in Power BI, being able to connect to all of your tooling and not have to manually connect them to the model. In this blog post, I’m going to be going through what External Tools I consider a necessity when developing Power BI reports and which are nice to have.
- DAX Studio – As mentioned above, Dax Studio is by far the best DAX editor available. It combines handy performance tools with a clean space to write DAX to create a very comprehensive solution.
- Power BI Helper – Power BI Helper can really do a lot for you, but where it excels in my opinion is allowing you to analyze your model and understand why performance may be slow. I also find the dependency list functionality invaluable, it’s difficult to know what columns your measures depend on and having it right front and center is very helpful.
- Tabular Editor – Tabular editor presents every piece of data in your model in an intuitive an easy to understand hierarchical manor. It’s really changed the way I look at my data model, and in addition it allows you to take advantage of cool functionality like calculation groups!
- PowerBI Tips Business Ops – The swiss army knife of Power BI tools, Power BI Business Ops makes installing external tools in Power BI desktop a breeze. Its useful to have links to DAX Guide, Theme Generators and other tools right at your fingertips.
- Monkey Tools – More for Power Query than Power BI specifically, it can still prove useful in situations where you need to dive deeper into your queries.
- ALM Toolkit – A must have for any enterprise Power BI developer, ALM Toolkit allows you to manage your datasets through tools like database comparison and source control. Having source control for data models is actually a really nice feature as well.
- Power BI Report Builder – This tool would be higher on my list if it supported more data sources. Essentially it can auto create a report based on the data you give it, or guide you through a wizard that asks you to input the correct data for visualizations. Really powerful tool and a fantastic concept, the fact that it doesn’t work for any data sources besides SQL is a bit of a drag.
Summary for External Tooling in Power BI
All of the tools listed above are good tools in the Power BI developer’s toolbox. When I go to build reports I find myself generating a theme via Power BI Business Ops beforehand and then relying on DAX Studio and Tabular Editor to get me through my development. After I complete the report I’ll use Power BI Helper and DAX Studio to improve the performance of the model. Download the tools and explore for yourselves!