A Look Ahead to MSBI in 2018

MSBI 2018 Feature List

This post identifies 11 MSBI features and enhancements that could be delivered later this year. Similar to the Power BI Feature Report, I’ve assigned a feature value from 1 to 10. Additionally, I’ve assigned a confidence value with a 10 meaning I believe the feature in 2018 is almost a certainty and a 5 suggesting I wouldn’t be surprised if the feature isn’t available until 2019 or scrapped altogether.

Without getting into the specific features, here are four themes or trends to consider:

  1. Symmetry
  2. Power BI Premium Maturity
  3. New Analytics Workloads
  4. Tool Rationalization


There should be basic parity between Azure and On-Premises deployments of MSBI.  Of course, there will always be additional features and services in Azure (e.g. dashboards, data alerts) but the basic experience with the three primary reporting tools (PBI Desktop, Excel Workbooks, Report Services reports) should be equivalent.

The Power BI Report Server has already made significant progress in this direction. However, currently you can’t fully utilize Excel workbooks (those with external data connections) and paginated Reporting Services reports (RDLs) in the Power BI service as you can on-premises.

Power BI Premium Maturity

New features such as incremental data refresh, Power BI reports based on datasets in external app workspaces, read-only query replicas, and other items on the Power BI Premium Roadmap would collectively make Power BI Premium a much more viable path for deploying Power BI at scale via large Power BI datasets.

In the current state, even with 10GB datasets now supported, there are significant obstacles to leverage a single (or a few) large datasets across multiple projects.

Note: As mentioned before, even with new Power BI Premium features there will still be strong reasons to use Analysis Services models either in Azure or on-premises to support large- scale MSBI deployments.

New Analytics Workloads

It appears likely that several common, important use cases for DirectQuery mode datasets (and Analysis Services models) will become realistic options in 2018. This could be due to more efficient source queries being generated by DirectQuery models or maybe new hybrid modes (Import and DirectQuery) as existed prior to SSAS 2016. The large performance gap between DirectQuery and Import (cached) mode will surely decrease in 2018.

In the current state, despite significant interest in DirectQuery, powerful source systems, and significant performance improvements made to DirectQuery in SSAS 2016, many organizations find that only import (cached) mode will meet their needs. See Kasper’s blog post for several examples of common pitfalls/limitations with DirectQuery.

Tool Rationalization

There’s tremendous value in simplifying the MSBI stack and avoiding duplication. The best example of this is Reporting Services 2017 offering only one installation mode (Native Mode) rather than both Native Mode and SharePoint-integrated mode like previous versions. I’m hopeful and somewhat optimistic that further rationalizations are announced in 2018.

For example, the SQL Server Mobile Report Publisher probably isn’t necessary given support for mobile reports created with Power BI Desktop and viewing those reports on the Power BI Report Server. Additionally, and I know this is controversial in some circles, but the time might be right to remove Multidimensional mode from new or future versions of Analysis Services.

In the current state we have two mobile report authoring tools and two very different data analysis modeling tools (Tabular vs Multidim). It’s obvious which of these tools don’t align well with Power BI so maybe we’ll have a slimmer, simpler stack in late 2018-2019.

11 MSBI Features in 2018

This list excludes new features and enhancements for the SQL Server Database Engine, Integration Services, MS Flow and PowerApps, Azure SQL Data Warehouse, and other Azure services that certainly contribute value to modern MSBI projects. Additionally, I’ve excluded any potential roadmap announcements (ie Mobile Report Publisher gone).

  1. Enhanced DirectQuery Mode
    • Performance improvements and/or hybrid modes.
    • Feature Value: 9.5, Confidence: 7.5
  2. Incremental Data Refresh
    • Only load new data (week, day, hour) to a Power BI dataset hosted in Premium capacity in the Power BI service.
    • Feature Value: 9.0, Confidence: 8.5
  3. External Workspace Datasets
    • Create a Power BI report based on a dataset hosted in a separate app workspace in the Power BI service.
    • Feature Value: 9.0, Confidence: 9.0
  4. Excel Workbooks in Power BI Service
    • Refresh of workbooks with external data connections supported.
    • Feature Value: 8.0, Confidence: 8.5
  5. Reporting Services Reports in Power BI Service
    • Reporting Services paginated reports (.RDLs) rendering in the Power BI service (including parameters).
    • Feature Value: 8.0, Confidence: 5.5
  6. Live Connection reports for Power BI Report Server
    • Similar to live connection reports based on datasets in the Power BI service, create a PBI report leveraging a Power BI dataset published to the Power BI Report Server.
    • Feature Value: 7.0, Confidence: 4.0
  7. Numeric Range Slicer Generally Available
    • Preview version in Power BI Desktop made available to published reports in the Power BI Service.
    • Feature Value: 6.5, Confidence: 8.5
  8. Create Email Subscriptions for Others
    • Define a security group or list of users in the Power BI service to receive emails of reports and/or dashboards.
    • Feature Value: 8.0, Confidence: 7.5
  9. Global Slicers
    • Configure a slicer in a Power BI report to impact multiple report pages.
    • Feature Value: 8.5, Confidence: 9.5
  10. M Query Development Support
    • Syntax highlighting, intellisense, auto-closing, and more in Analysis Services projects in SSDT, Power BI Desktop, and maybe Excel as well.
    • Feature Value: 7.0, Confidence: 5.0
  11. Sharing a Power BI Report
    • Similar experience to sharing a Power BI dashboard.
    • Feature Value: 7.0, Confidence 9.5

FYI: The following image reflects the external data connection limit for Excel (#4)

External Refresh Not Supported
External Refresh for Excel Workbook Not Supported

My guess is we’ll see 8 of the above 11 features (those with confidence of 7.5 or higher) but of course there will be many other great features and enhancements not listed.

Wrapping Up

I hope your 2018 is off to a good start. As always, feel welcome to comment below and to click ‘Follow’ to be advised of future blog posts. Next week’s post will likely feature the Power BI Report Server, possibly leveraging Analysis Services 2017.


  1. Another contender that I hope to see in 2018 is expansion of the M engine into more domains, e.g. SSIS, SSMS, SSRS (Riccardo confirmed this one for me in person for this year), web browser maturity via CDS etc.


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