External Tools In Power BI Desktop & Their Use Cases



There is a lot of buzz around External Tools in the analytics market these days. The market is very up & everyone who is learning one tool is moving to learn another one to get that edge in their career. But for that, one should have enough knowledge like which is the next tool in the list now. In this blog, we will learn everything about External Tools along with their use cases.

What are External Tools?

Since July 2020, External Tools have become better integrated with Power BI Desktop. Although these external tools are third-party tools and are not supported by Microsoft, they are based on Microsoft-supported .NET libraries that are provided by Microsoft. These .NET libraries can modify the Power BI model. After January 2021 Power BI update, external tools now have enough capability to deploy and edit models published on Power BI Premium through XMLA endpoints. These tools are more suited for large and complex enterprise-level projects.

How to get them?

Talking about Power BI Desktop Environment, apart from the 6 options available in the Power BI Desktop ribbon, one more interesting option we have is External Tools. External tools are the tools that are installed locally and registered with Power BI Desktop. These tools can be launched from the External Tools ribbon in the Power BI Desktop. The tool then automatically connects and provides a seamless connection experience.

List of External Tools

The list of these external tools is very long. Look at the list divided into some of the categories here.

a) Tools used for Semantic Modeling: DAX Studio, ALM Toolkit, Tabular Editor, Metadata Translator.

b) Tools used for Data Analysis: Power BI Report Builder, Excel, and tools that launch Python in Power BI Desktop.

c) Tools used for Miscellaneous purposes: PBI.tips tutorials, DAX Guide from sqlbi.com, and the PowerBI.tips Product Business Ops community tool.

d) Custom Tools: These include custom-made external tools and scripts which are integrated into Power BI Desktop.

Let’s Understand Important External Tools along with their use cases in Detail

1) Business Ops

There are a lot of challenges with respect to installing each external tool. So, you can download this installer and you can add all the best External Tools directly into Power BI Desktop. It enables you to have a one-stop shop for all the latest versions of External Tools.

2) DAX Studio

DAX Studio is a free tool which is used to write, execute, and analyze DAX queries in all the tools whichever are using DAX formula language. For example, Power BI Designer, Power Pivot for Excel, and Analysis Services Tabular. It helps with Object Browser, query editing and execution, formula and measures editing, syntax highlighting and formatting, integrated tracing, and query execution breakdowns. This tool was launched in December 2016. The use cases are as follows.

  • Learn DAX Language: DAX Studio not just helps you to write DAX queries and analyze the performance of your data models but also helps in learning the DAX language in a better manner.
  • Optimize the Model Performance: We have the VertiPaq Analyzer tool integrated with DAX Studio that allows us to easily optimize the model performance. It provides an immediate report for the data distribution and memory consumption and helps you resolve the issues. We can also run a measure in DAX studio and leverage the Server Timings tool to see how the formula is being interpreted.
  • Visualize the result of DAX “table” Functions: In DAX Studio, we can easily visualize the result of measures that contain a table function in DAX. This allows us to see the result of a table to check if the desired table is being produced or not. This feature is not available in Power BI Desktop & we can only see the final output of a measure. And it is very helpful if we could really see the in-between results of a measure to check the calculations step by step.
  • Extract the measures into a Spreadsheet: We can easily extract a list of the measures from the DAX Studio data model into a Spreadsheet, making it easy for you to document and reuse them.

3) ALM Toolkit

ALM (application lifecycle management) Toolkit is a free and open-source tool to manage Microsoft Power BI datasets as Database compares, Code merging, Easy deployment, Source-control integration, Reuse definitions, and Self-service to corporate BI. ALM is based on the source code of BISM Normalizer, which carries similar features to Tabular models. ALM tool was launched in December 2019.

Talking about the use cases, how do schema changes to the model without refreshing the entire model, have you ever thought about it? This is especially required for large models that are using the incremental refresh features of Power BI. Refreshing the entire data set puts a lot of load on the engine & takes a long time to process. The ALM toolkit really helps to solve this problem.

4) Power BI Report Builder

Power BI Report Builder is a free tool for creating paginated reports that you can publish to the Power BI cloud. Paginated reports are designed to be printed (hard copy) or shared. They fit well on a page, so they are called paginated reports. They display all the data in a table, even if a table is present across multiple pages. This tool was launched in July 2019.

5) Tabular Editor

The Tabular Editor is a paid tool that makes the work with the Power BI Desktop data model more effective. Using Tabular Editor, we can directly write to Power BI Desktop file. So if we change something in Tabular Editor, we can save it in Tabular Editor, and the change appears in Power BI. And vice versa.

We can easily manipulate and manage measures, calculated columns, display folders, perspectives, and translations in Analysis Services Tabular and Power BI Models using this tool. It was launched in 2016. Quickly understand the use cases below.

  1. Quick and friendly User Interface
  2. Calculation Groups
  3. Scripting
  4. Best Practices Analyzer
  5. Create Custom KPI
  6. Object Level Security

Final Words

These external tools help in one way or the other in enhancing the use of Power BI Desktop as a Business Intelligence development tool. So, all the learners who already know Power BI Desktop well, now can start with these external tools and enhance their skills. So quickly check your takeaways here:

1) If you know Power BI already then you know the next tool in the list now.

2) If you don’t know Power BI then you know that if you learn Power BI then how long that career ladder can be.

Happy Learning!

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A learner, dreamer, and passionate about modern tools and technology like Excel 365, Power BI, SQL, HR Analytics, Six Sigma, WordPress and Visuals to name a few. Total Experience 15+ years including more than a decade of experience in S&P Global and ongoing 4+ years of experience with fast-growing startups & few MNCs. Clients served: Startups, MSMEs to a few of the Big 4 Consulting firms. Trained more than 2500 professionals in the last 4 years on various skills (Analytics, Content, WordPress, Finance, Entrepreneurship, etc). Last but the most important - mother of an awesome kid!


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