Tableau to Power BI: Highlighting with Set Actions

A few months ago, I started a series of posts about “translating” Tableau functionality to Power BI functionality and terminology (FIXED LOD example). Continuing that series, one of the new features in Tableau 2018.3 is the concept of Set Actions, which allows users to build interactivity between sheets on a dashboard. Andy Cotgreave wrote a post on the Tableau blog during the beta period that detailed how to setup what he termed proportional highlighting. You will also see it referred to as proportional brushingWhile there are a number of additional creative uses that the Tableau community has found for set actions, proportional highlighting provides good common ground for translating the idea of set actions for people learning or already knowledgeable in Power BI.

Power BI users will recognize Tableau’s concept of proportional highlighting as Highlighting or Cross-highlighting, which is Power BI’s default interactivity between a variety of visuals. In Power BI, when you click or Ctrl+click on bars in a bar chart, for example, other applicable visuals will keep the contributing “Highlighted” portion opaque while the remainder becomes semi-transparent. This allows users to view the original totals for context while also seeing the contribution from whatever the user selects.

Set Actions in Tableau ultimately allow more control than Power BI’s default cross-highlighting, but Power BI users will find Set Actions comparatively cumbersome to setup. It takes work to setup proportional highlighting in Tableau. In Power BI, you need to do work to turn it off. Users can edit visual interactions on the appropriate charts to change the default highlighting to the alternative options of filtering or disabled.

Here’s a comparable dashboard in Tableau to the Power BI report above with a set action setup for markets. Selecting markets in the top chart will highlight the bottom chart’s contributions for those markets.

To set up the behavior in Tableau, you need to first create a Set based on what you want to highlight and then add it to the color shelf on all of the sheets that you ultimately want to interact.

Where this could get cumbersome in Tableau compared to Power BI’s default highlighting is that a set and corresponding action is needed for every interaction. For example, if I create a set for Markets, I can use that to proportionally highlight a separate Sales by Segment visual. If I want to highlight in reverse, I would need to create a second set for Segments and configure the action so that I could highlight the Sales by Market visual. Without that separate set for Segments, you can see in the example below that clicking on a bar in the Sales by Segment chart does not highlight the Sales by Market chart. This need for detailed configuration will seem foreign to Power BI users who are used to something that “just works”.

The ability to configure set actions takes additional time in Tableau, but it does offer more control than Power BI. Highlighting is only one of the many uses for set actions. Comparable highlighting in Power BI would correspond to designating Tableau’s “Select” option to trigger the action. Tableau also can trigger the same action with the “Hover” or “Menu” options, where there is nothing comparable in Power BI. Power BI also does not have the explicit concept of sets, so the clearing options “keep set values” and “remove all values from set” are not applicable. Clearing a selection in Power BI simply corresponds to the “add all values to set” option in Tableau.

Hopefully this was a helpful introduction for anyone used to Tableau and wanting to know the comparable functionality in Power BI. On the other hand, this should help Power BI users understand some of what Tableau users are talking about when they mention Set Actions.




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  1. Pingback: Power BI visuals, Dataflows, AS Birthday and more... (November 19, 2018) | Guy in a Cube

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