Microsoft has been making changes to its Power BI analysis and reporting environment but appears to have dropped Xero’s data connector from its portfolio.
Microsoft’s latest Power BI announcements heralded the arrival of shared and certified datasets in Power BI that will let IT administrators certify standard datasets for use within their organisations.
During the past week, however, Power BI users reported difficulties connecting to Xero accounting ledgers and the Xero Content Pack has disappeared from the app menu users see within the Power BI web interface.
An update note on Microsoft’s Power BI blog commented: “As of 28 May 2019 the Xero content pack is deprecated, users are advised to remove the content pack entirely.”
When AccountingWEB contacted Microsoft about the issue, a spokesperson explained: “The Power BI integration with Xero stopped working due to changes in Power BI. That said, Microsoft and Xero are working as quickly as possible on a fix and we will update as soon as this is resolved.”
Xero confirmed that Power BI was still a third-party integrator and indicated that it was working with Microsoft to restore data connections within the next week or two. Customers are being advised to raise a ticket in Xero Central help to keep abreast of the changes. [UPDATE 19 June 2019 - the Xero app is now visible and accessible from the Power BI web client via the Get data link. See further comments below.]
Microsoft has been doing internal housekeeping around its increasingly influential data analysis tool and part of this project involves switching from the previous “content pack” model to a new breed of connectors under the banner of “template apps”. While QuickBooks Online and Sage remain accessible to Power BI users, the Xero pack appears to have been left behind in the move.
“It is not a big job to convert your existing content pack to the new form of Power BI apps, so I can only conclude that Microsoft made a decision to abandon it,” commented AccountingWEB Power BI contributor Hugh Johnson. “It was Microsoft's product, so it was their decision to make.”
The rise of Power BI
Power BI originated nearly a decade ago in the form of beefed-up Power Query enhancements in Excel 2010, but over the past year has started to live up to expectations as an Excel-compatible window into large and varied datasets. Growing interest from AccountingWEB readers in Power BI tutorials from Hugh Johnson confirms that it is gaining a following among accountants.
Power BI comes in two forms: a web client app that lets users create and view personal workspaces from data and dashboards that are made available to them, and the desktop version that is used to build the underlying reports and queries. The web app has easy-to-use filters and widgets that let you select datasets and move them around on your screen, but using the modelling back end demands more sophisticated skills such as the ability to interrogate underlying data using the structured query language (SQL).
Sage, QuickBooks and Xero as well as the main enterprise accounting software vendors all pledged their allegiance to Power BI and are able to connect into Microsoft’s analysis tool through bespoke mapping apps within the web client.
For some observers, Power BI is the future of financial analysis and reporting, but alternative products such as Futrli, Spotlight Reporting, Float and Fathom are designed to plug directly into the big cloud accounting platforms. Those configuring Power BI have a bigger job on their hands to identify and hook up to the data tables they want to extract.
The temporary loss of the Xero connector highlights how users sometimes fall victim to the whims of software developers. A programming interface tweak here or new certification requirement there can disrupt normal service and force the customer to diagnose and adapt to the new set-up.
The content pack approach also imposes a standard reporting framework on Power BI users, who usually turn to the Excel-linked application for its flexibility.
Any disruption in the digital pipework underpinning Power BI will steer a few more prospects into the arms of specialist reporting software developers – even though they have their own dependencies on the cloud software application programming interfaces (APIs).
As managing director of Accounting Insights, Hugh Johnson lives in the hinterland between connected ecosystem apps and the free-range world of Power BI reporting.
“To my mind, the Microsoft content pack for Xero completely missed the point,” said Johnson.
“The main problem is that you cannot modify the model of a content pack, nor a Power BI app. No matter how good a Power BI app is, you probably want to modify it – even if just to add a budget spreadsheet. This is what Power BI Desktop does really well. The problem in general with Power BI apps is that they are designed to cut out Power BI Desktop.
“You can get around this by supporting Power BI apps and Power BI Desktop with a common data feed and (ideally) providing the source code Power BI template file. I might be wrong, but I don't ever expect Microsoft to deliver this. Xero could, but I suspect they are busy enough sticking to the knitting. Hold your breath though, since this is exactly what I am working on now with a couple of UK accounting firms and selected clients.”