The Power BI team releases many new features in every monthly release, which is an amazing achievement to make it happen every time. Having all this new functionality on your fingertips is a great experience, but not all functionality is production ready yet. Every now and then, functionality is in public preview, which means that there can occur bugs.
There is nothing worse than experiencing bugs in software you rely on. Experiencing issues, can influence the sentiment and adoption around software in a negative manner. Therefore, it is important, especially in large enterprise organizations, to properly test functionality before you release it to a wider audience to avoid a negative sentiment. But how does this work with Power BI? In this blog I will further elaborate on how you, as a Power BI service admin, can do a phased roll-out of new Power BI functionality in your organization.
Phased implementation of features
In large organizations often there is a BI competence center, expertise center, center of excellence (give it a name) or something similar. This group of people breath data & analytics and are always (or should be) on top of all new functionality that is released. Depending on the organizational structure, this team can also have a representative who is Power BI Service administrator. He or she is in charge of what functionality can be used in the organization and what might be disabled through Power BI tenant settings.
Once new functionality is released, you can either choose for a big bang and make it available for everyone in your organization or prefer a phased roll-out through the organization. Personally, I opt for the last option and keep everything in control!
Depending on the organization, you might define different phases. In general, I think a roll-out in three phases is sufficient. Below I describe the phases I advise to use.
In the first phase, only the members of the competence center can use a specific feature. In this phase the members of the competence center start playing around with the features, gain knowledge and try to match the features to the organizational processes and standards. In phase one there is also attention for impact on the current environment.
Audience in this phase: Members of the competence center
Output of this phase: The output can be either decide to move on to phase two or decide to disable the functionality tenant wide for various reasons. Output can also be an informational note where you introduce the feature to a wider audience in phase 2 and elaborate on how to use the feature.
The second phase includes both the competence center and a group of Power BI champions that are selected by the competence center. This group of champions are promoting the product, the features, eager to learn more and help others. As competence center, you should invest some decent time in your champions to keep aligning with them, so you know how you can support them most optimal.
Audience in this phase: Champions / key users
Output of this phase: As a result of phase two, best practices can be extended based on the experiences of the champions. Possible other outputs might be a one-pager with sample applications of the to be released feature or even video that can be shared to a wider audience when moving to phase three.
Output of phase one and two combined, will lead to the target audience for phase three. Possibly the audience will be limited to only content creators, premium capacity admins or any other specific group.
The audience for phase three can differ based on outputs of the previous phases. This can either be the entire organization or a limited group of users defined in earlier stages. The audience in phase three will be able to start leveraging the new features in their day-to-day work with Power BI. Users in phase three can take advantage of the outputs of phase one and two. They can match their own cases to sample applications, best practices and guidelines that are setup before.
It is not obvious that every feature reaches phase three. Some features might drop out in earlier phases or remain available for only a limited target group.
Audience in this phase: Audience can either be the entire organization or a limited group of people (only content creators for example) based on outputs and decisions in earlier phases.
Output of this phase: There is no output of this phase. This is the end of the phased implementation cycle.
Advantages of a phased roll-out
There are a multiple reasons to do a phased roll-out of new functionality within your organization. Below I describe a few of them briefly, but probably you can come up with many more reasons.
- As competence center, you are the point of contact in case of questions. Therefor the competence center must be on top of every new functionality. As team, it is important to gain knowledge yourself before the rest of the company starts using it. By building up this knowledge, the competence center is better capable of supporting other users in case of questions.
- Keep a positive sentiment, if the new functionality is instable, has a lot of bugs or does not match the processes in your organization, this might influence the sentiment of the tool in general. Therefor you might decide to either keep it disabled or only allow a specific group of people to use it.
- Drive adoption of new features by providing them with the learnings and best practices from the competence center.
- Based on testing in the first phase, the competence center might decide that the new feature does not match security standards of the organization and keep it disabled.
Manage audiences and features
Now, we have looked at the setup of a phased roll-out, we must properly manage the audiences for the different phases. This can be managed through security groups that are assigned to settings in the Power BI Admin portal.
Let’s have a closer look at what a security group actually is? There are many other types or groups to manage that can be created via the Microsoft 365 admin center. Since the Power BI Admin portal only accepts security groups, it is important to know what it is.
Security groups are used for granting access to Microsoft 365 resources, such as SharePoint. They can make administration easier because you need only administer the group rather than adding users to each resource individually.
Mail-enabled security groups function the same as regular security groups, except that they cannot be dynamically managed through Azure Active Directory and cannot contain devices.
This documentation describes all the differences in groups. Please take into account that the Power BI admin portal works with security groups only.
Feature management in the Power BI Admin portal
Many of the Power BI features, can be either enabled, disabled or partly disabled in the Power BI Admin portal. Overall, there are a few approaches you can choose:
- Enable for the entire organization
- Enable for the entire organization, except specific security groups
- Disable for the entire organization
- Disable for the entire organization, except specific security groups
All exceptions to fully enable or disable content, is managed through security groups. Each security group can contain a multiple users or other groups.
Group setup and phase handling
To manage the feature roll-out through the entire process chain, you create a security group for each phase. Below a summarization of what the audience a security group should contain.
- Security group 1: Members of the competence center.
- Security group 2: Champions / Key-users + Security group 1
- Security group 3: A limited audience if you want to enable the feature for a limited group of people. This is only applicable if you decide not to enable for the entire organization. In case the entire organization can the new features, no security group is needed.
For the phased roll-out, you disable a a new functionality in the Power BI admin portal directly after the release, except for the security group defining phase 1. After finalizing phase one, you can add phase two to the exceptions. Based on the decision taken after phase two and moving on to phase three, you can fully enable the functionality for the entire organization or define a limited group of people in a new security group.
Wrap up and remarks
A phased roll-out of new features in your organization, will really help you to better control and govern the functionality that can be leveraged inside your organization. Simply because if features are enabled and after a month you decide to disable them, this might have a negative effect on the sentiment around the tool in your organization.
At the same time, you need to be aware that a lot of users might see the announcements of new features online in Power BI blogs and other online sources as well. A clear communication about the governance and phased approach is key to make it successful. As competence center, you might also want to put a public roadmap out there, where you inform the end users about the current phase a new feature is in and expected timelines to move the feature to general availability inside your organization.
Though, I have to mention that this approach does not make sense to all features in Power BI. As a Power BI admin, you do have control over a lot of functionality in the Power BI Service, but there are very limited controls on what you can do in Power BI Desktop. In other words, it might happen that you disable functionality in the Service, that is still available in Desktop. This might also result in a negative sentiment if users build reports with functionality that is disabled for them in the Service. Once again, communication is key!
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