Analyse Big Spatial Dataset using hex bin maps in PowerBI

Come across this blog post in Twitter and I thought this approach can be very useful in PowerBI to deal with Big GIS dataset.

The idea is simple, let’s say you have a big spatial dataset with million of coordinates, so instead of plotting all the individual points which is unfeasible for performance reason, you simply do this,

– First generate a grid for the area you want to analyse using something like QGIS.

– Then count how my point belong to every cell in the grid and color the results accordingly, you need a spatial Join for that, either using QGIS , SQL Server etc

– Drill down to individual points using WKT multi point

Publish to web here and pbix

Generate a Grid System

After a lot of googling as I did not even know what to look for, turn out QGIS can very easily generate a Grid, here is a good tutorial I found

and here is a results for Chicago area as I am using it as an example for this blog, Please notice, the grid should have less than 30K polygons which is the maximum number of rows that PowerBI can plot.

Spatial Join

I could have used QGIS to do the spatial join, but my data is from BigQuery public dataset (bigquery-public-data.chicago_crime.crime) and for convenience, it is easier to do the join there, the previous link show how to do the join in QGIS.

After loading the grid geometry to BigQuery, I am using this Query to join the two dataset, Grid and my current example, Crime data in Chicago

  crime AS (
      latitude) AS geo,
  XXXX.GIS.Grid AS Grid

The Query is checking every coordinates and looking up which polygons it belong to, so the Grid table is something like this

And the Query results is like this, we go the ID from the Grid Dataset, Any DB that support geometry can be used SQL Server, PostgreSQL etc


Let’s import those two table to PowerBI, the two tables are joined by the field ID

Luckily PowerBI support WKT format using Icon Map, show the grid with the count of number of coordinates is straightforward

Ok, it is great we have an aggregation of 4 Millions points and we can see the areas with the highest Number of recorded crime, you can filter by FBI code which classify the crime gravity (I have zero knowledge about this dataset, I just used as an example)

Drill Down to individual Cell

because we have the individual points, all I need to do is to generate Multi point geometry using DAX , that’s why I love Icon Map so flexible , The measure will simply detect if the cell ID is filtered or not and then switch between Polygons and Multi point

Geometry =
VAR polygon =
    MIN ( Grid_View[polygon] )
VAR concat =
    CONCATENATEX ( VALUES ( crime[geo] ), crime[geo], "," )
VAR Multi_point = "MULTIPOINT (" & concat & ")"
    IF ( ISFILTERED ( dummy_id[id] ), Multi_point, polygon )

Notice Here, as a PowerBI Visual can not filter itseelf, I had to add a dummy dimension

and here is the final result

Take Away

PowerBI Icon map and QGIS is a very powerful combination, and the fact that DAX can generate a geometry on the fly is very interesting Pattern.

Calculate route distance, Tableau vs PowerBI

My previous  blog turn out to be very popular but unfortunately it is still not good enough, the Visual Interaction was just a hack by combining two Maps together with a big compromise the Zoom does not work and that’s very annoying ( Icon map is amazing, but still has to operate inside PowerBI framework)

The Second issue PowerBI is very chatty and insteading of sending 1 SQL Query by selection, it sends two SQL Queries, so selecting two points start and finish will generate 4 SQL Queries, usually I don’t care much, but in this case, it is relatively heavy calculation, and 1 extra Query can change the experience from this is a nice demo to I can do that at Work.

This behavior is hard to fix because it is basically how PowerBI was designed in the first place, the assumption was; you create a visual and the values change based on external filter selection or cross filtering from other visual, but there are a class of User interaction where the visual itself is the filter , a typical scenario is updating a visual title based on rows selected.

Instead of theoretical talks let’s rebuild the same visual in Tableau using parameter actions

Define a Parameter

Define SQL Query

      initial_parameter AS (
        UNNEST(split(<Parameters.TagsList> , ', ')) AS element ),
      mynetwork AS (
        ARRAY_AGG(geometry) roads   FROM   `test-187010.gis_free.brisbane_Road_Network_cluster` ),
      calculation AS(
        `libjs4us.routing.geojson_path_finder`(roads, st_geogfromtext(a.element), st_geogfromtext(b.element)) AS tt
        mynetwork,    initial_parameter a,    initial_parameter b
        result as (
       1 as dummy,tt.weight    AS len,tt.path AS GEO
    FROM  calculation),
    points_extract as (
    SELECT ST_PointN(geo, idx) mypoint,len, dummy,idx
  FROM result,
  unnest(GENERATE_ARRAY(1,ST_NUMPOINTS(geo))) idx  )
  select len,  st_y(mypoint) as lat, st_x(mypoint) as lng, cast (idx as string) idx ,1 as type from points_extract
  union all
  select null as len,st_y(center_location) as lat, st_x(center_location) as lng, st_astext(center_location) as idx, 2 as type  from test-187010.gis_free.Brisbane_Bus_Stop

Define Parameter Action

in Tableau you can define exactly what happen when you select point either it will filter or update a parameter in this case we want Tableau to add the value selected to the previous selection , as for calculating distance you need Start and finish point, PowerBI by default will do that using icon map, so far so good both Product have the same behavior

Auto Update Behavior

Unlike PowerBI, Tableau auto update the Map if the data change, and because I am using only 1 visual, the zoom works and the experience is more pleasant, Tableau send only 1 SQL Query by selection.

See here another example, when you click on a suburb, the Map Auto update and change colors relative to the suburb selected, very simple yet very powerful

And please I have zero interest in this useless debate who is a better BI tool, I just want PowerBI to implement a similar behavior or giving us an alternative, Maybe make a Visual accept multiple datasets.

As a user all I can do is to show my displeasure in public and hope other users will vote

Calculate the shortest Path in a network in PowerBI

This blog is just another use case where we can leverage M parameter to perform calculation that can not be done in PowerBI, see example here for clustering and Area calculation

To be clear, it is always possible to precalculate outside PowerBI and just import the results, but in the current case, it can be tricky, let’s say you have 1000 points and you want to check the distance between two points using an existing route network, you will need to calculate 1000 X 1000 combination, instead the idea here, you select two points then M Parameter will send the selection to a Database using Direct Query to do the calculation and get the result back.

For this example I am using BigQuery, but you can use any Database that support M Parameter (Snowflake, Azure ADX etc)

Import all the bus stop location in a particular Area

Because of Covid situation, the Openstreetmap dataset is free to Query, here is the SQL Query, I am just using Brisbane as a reference

  test-187010.gis_free.Brisbane_Bus_Stop AS
  ST_CENTROID(geometry) AS center_location,
  UNNEST(all_tags) tags
  key = 'highway'
  AND value='bus_stop'
    -- Selecing Brisbane area
    ST_GEOGFROMtext("POLYGON((152.9432678222656 -27.33776203832722,153.2563781738281 -27.33776203832722,153.2563781738281 -27.594864493271448,152.9432678222656 -27.594864493271448,152.9432678222656 -27.33776203832722))"))

you can use this handy website to generate a polygon from a map

Import Road network

The same we will use a subset of Openstreetmap dataset , first we select Key= Highway and to improve performance we only the main values ( primary, secondary road etc)

  geometry AS
  UNNEST(all_tags) tags
  key = 'highway'
  AND value IN ("motorway",
    --Select you Area Here:
    ST_GEOGFROMtext("POLYGON((152.9432678222656 -27.33776203832722,153.2563781738281 -27.33776203832722,153.2563781738281 -27.594864493271448,152.9432678222656 -27.594864493271448,152.9432678222656 -27.33776203832722))"))

jut to get an idea he is how the road network looks

Time for calculation

Unfortunately as of this writing BigQuery GIS does not support the function to find the shortest path between two points in a network, luckily I find this user defined function written in Javascript, the good news it works as expected but javascript will always be slower compared to a native SQL function, anyway here is the SQL Query

  initial_parameter AS (
    UNNEST(['POINT(153.023194 -27.563979)','POINT(152.979212 -27.49549)'] ) AS element ),
  mynetwork AS (
    ARRAY_AGG(geometry) roads
    `test-187010.gis_free.brisbane_Road_Network_cluster` ),
  calculation AS(
      st_geogfromtext(b.element)) AS tt
    initial_parameter a,
    initial_parameter b
  ST_ASTEXT (tt.path) AS GEO,
  tt.weight AS len

And here’s the result, a linestring and the length in Km, the Query took 7 second, to be honest I have no idea about the calculation complexity, so not sure if it is fast or not 🙂

PowerBI M Parameter

After we make sure the Query works with two fixed points, now we need just to make it interactive, so the user can select any two points, and that exactly what M parameter do

The Table path is using Direct Query

The Table Bus_Stop is import mode, which is used to as the Parameter filter

The Parameter is Tag_Selection , for a very detailed explanation, Please read this blog first

and here is the M Query

TagsList = 
    //check to see if the parameter is a list
      ) then 
        //if it is a list
          //add single quotes around each value in the list
          AddSingleQuotes = List.Transform(
              each "'" & _ & "'"
          //then turn it into a comma-delimited list
          DelimitedList = "[" & Text.Combine(
            ) &"]"
      //if the parameter isn't a list
      //just add single quotes around the parameter value
      "['" & tag_selection & "']",
    Source = 
  initial_parameter AS (
    UNNEST("& TagsList &" ) AS element ),
  mynetwork AS (
    ARRAY_AGG(geometry) roads   FROM   `test-187010.gis_free.brisbane_Road_Network_cluster` ),
  calculation AS(
    `libjs4us.routing.geojson_path_finder`(roads, st_geogfromtext(a.element), st_geogfromtext(b.element)) AS tt
    mynetwork,    initial_parameter a,    initial_parameter b
  CASE    WHEN ARRAY_LENGTH("& TagsList &") =2 THEN tt.weight  ELSE  0 END   AS len
FROM  calculation"
       , null, [EnableFolding=true])

Notice I added this condition ARRAY_LENGTH(“& TagsList &”) =2 then 0, just to reduce the calculation when the user select only 1 point, Currently in PowerBI, there is no way to have Query reduction option for cross filtering

Icon Map

Icon map is the only visual that can render WKT geometry in PowerBI, this previous blog explain how we simulate multi layer interaction


The Performance unfortunately it is a bit disappointing, around 20 second, javascript UDF is slow and PowerBI is very chatty , which is a nice way to say, PowerBI send a lot of SQL Queries,everytime I select two points, PowerBI send 4 Queries

The first Query is when I select the first point, hopefully one day we will have an option to action cross filtering only after we finish the selection

Query 2 and 3 are identical and are used to check the field type of the Table, I wonder why PowerQuery is sending the same Query twice

Query 4 is the real Query that bring the result

you can download the pbix here

Edit : Carto which is the same company that released the javascript function is now offering a native SQL functions which should be substantially faster, I have not used it as it is commercial, but if you have a massive network, maybe it is worth it, just to be clear I have no affiliation with them.

Edit : added the same report but now using Tableau

Filtering by Dynamic Distance in PowerBI

TL:DR , the blog show some tricks using DAX and Icon Map, pattern like dynamic filtering by distance and showing a Buffer when selecting a point, The Publish to web report and pbix are here

before you get too excited Currently to make it works you have to block the Zoom Functionality.

The Formula for calculating distance in PowerBI is very well known I think it was first mentioned here , I had used it already for building this report a couple of years ago.

what changed is Icon Map, with the 3.0 release basically nearly everything can be customized which make some new scenario Possible.

you need only 1 table with coordinates

Draw a Line Between Two Points and show Distance

1- You Build first an Icon map just using point

2-Create the second Layer by creating a new Map Visual

This Map will show the line based on the Point selected

we need first a dummy table with one row

Build a measure that capture the selection

linestring = var Geo="LINESTRING("&CONCATENATEX(reference,[longitude]&" "&[latitude],",")&")"

add the Line String Measure here

and Voila now you have two Map, The Point Selected in the first Map will be shown as a line in the second Map, CONCATENATEX does not respect the Order of Selection, so currently it is useful only for two Points ( M parameter respect the selection but that will be another Blog)

3- Merge the Two Map together

I guess this is the trick of the Blog, if you want this behavior

Stack the two layers on top of each other; Make the Point layer background transparent, Remove Background, Lock the Map, keep both layer having the same Dimension , Layer Layout and zoom Value

You have to remove the Zoom otherwise the two layers will not be synchronized, Technically speaking we need only 1 Map, but unfortunately DAX table can not filter itself, feel free to vote on this idea and complain on Linkedin and Twitter 🙂

Select a Buffer Selection

When you Select a Point, the Map will draw a Circle and filter only the Point inside the Circle, it is a very Powerful GIS pattern.

The Same approach, but now we create three Layers

The Selection Layer we use this option ( the point not selected will be hidden, I love Icon map )

The Circle Layer

we use this Option

to get the Radius of the Circle we use this Measure

diam_M = if(ISFILTERED(reference[city]),SELECTEDVALUE(Dis_Parameter[Dis])*1000)

The Parameter is used to control the Size and the measure Works only when a point is selected

The Calculation Layer is where we show the Point filtered , we will use a bit of DAX, we create a new disconnected Table , make sure there is no relationship between the two Tables

to reduce data duplication we need only ID from the first table, I am using a measure to get the coordinates ( Probably LookupValue is no the most performant Option)

Target_Lat = LOOKUPVALUE(reference[latitude],reference[city],min(Target[Target City]))
Target_Lng = LOOKUPVALUE(reference[longitude],reference[city],min(Target[Target City]))

The Measure to calculate the Distance is

Target Distance = 
-- see
var Lat1 = min(reference[latitude])
var Lng1 = min(reference[longitude])

var Lat2 = [Target_Lat]
var Lng2 = [Target_Lng]
---- Algorithm here -----
var P = DIVIDE( PI(), 180 )
var A = 0.5 - COS((Lat2-Lat1) * p)/2 + 
    COS(Lat1 * p) * COS(lat2 * P) * (1-COS((Lng2- Lng1) * p))/2
var final = 12742 * ASIN((SQRT(A)))
return if(ISFILTERED(reference[city]),final)

And then another Measure to filter the Result

Filter_by_Distance = if(ISFILTERED(reference[city]),if([Target Distance]<=SELECTEDVALUE(Dis_Parameter[Dis]),1,BLANK()),BLANK()) 

Then add the measure filter to the Viz

Icon Map is a fantastic Tool, and there are plenty of possibilities, hopefully the author keep adding more options and customisation

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