10 Ways to Create Maps in Microsoft Power BI

Last year, I wrote a post entitled 5 Ways to Create Maps in Microsoft Power BI. With the introduction of numerous mapping changes in Power BI since then, I felt it best to provide an update as of June 2017.

As I mentioned in last year’s post, each mapping method could have advantages in different circumstances. The following list is not a ranking, but I have included the newer maps toward the top. Like last year, I have intentionally left out methods such as plotting latitude and longitude on a scatterplot with or without an image background, or using SandDance. Alternatives like that can sometimes work, but distortion often comes into play, or it requires a large number of points to make the geography recognizable.

With the introduction of the ArcGIS Map and Shape Map, there are now four native maps that you can access directly in Power BI Desktop without having to import them. There are also four custom visuals available to import alongside two “develop your own” options.

1. Native – ESRI ArcGIS Map

ArcGIS Maps for Power BI was released in Preview back in September 2016. Its developer, ESRI, is a leader in geospatial software and spatial data with its ArcGIS family of products. There are several unique features such as drivetime radius and clustering that you currently cannot get with any other Power BI map. Since its introduction, there have been several improvements.

  • Pros
    • Created and maintained by ESRI, a leader in GIS software
    • Various backgrounds / basemaps such as Dark, Light, OpenStreetMap, and Streets
    • Options for drivetime and distance radii
    • Option for clustering as you zoom in or out
    • Option for heatmap
    • Option for reference layers from ArcGIS Online
    • Option for built-in infographics with data that updates as you move around the map
  • Cons
    • No ability to add custom shapes unless they are first added to ArcGIS Online and shared publicly, then used as a Reference Layer in Power BI
    • Not available for embedding or Publish to Web

esri-visual-pbi

2. Native – Shape Map

The Shape Map for Power BI was released in July 2016. It displays polygon shapes on a blank background.

  • Pros
    • Brings custom polygons to Power BI — the only map to easily do so
    • Can use with any type of 2D shape, not necessarily geographical
  • Cons
    • Still in Preview (you must enable it in Power BI Desktop’s Options)
    • No option for a background / basemap to provide geographic context for the shapes
    • No labels on the map itself — you must hover over a shape and view the tooltip for details
    • Only supports the TopoJSON format and not more popular or readily available formats like GeoJSON or Shapefiles
    • Only draws polygons and not points or linestrings
    • Slow to load large, detailed TopoJSON files (~ > 1 MB)

us-cartogram-2014-est-population

3. Custom Visual – Route Map

The Route Map custom visual was created by Weiwei Cui, an independent developer. It displays paths as lines on a map and is a great visual for showing movement along a route over time.

  • Pros
    • Someone in the Power BI Community creates a map that fills a gap in Power BI’s functionality. What’s not to like about that?
    • Currently the only way to display a route over time as a line in Power BI
  • Cons
    • Bing map is the only background with no alternative basemaps

RouteMap

4. Custom Visual – Flow Map

The Flow Map custom visual was also created by Weiwei Cui. Like the Route Map, it is also a good way to show movement, or flow. Unlike the Route Map, it can display a complete network of points, or nodes, and show how movement converges to or diverges from these nodes.

  • Pros
    • Currently the only way to view a geographic network in Power BI
  • Cons
    • Bing map is the only background with no alternative basemaps
    • Format options have a few bugs

FlowMap

5. Native – Map

The Map visual displays points, which can optionally be sized as area bubbles. This is a good map for basic display but falls short when it comes to more advanced customization.

  • Pros
    • Now includes an Aerial basemap in addition to the default Roads
    • Point size was adjusted this past year with a “Bubble” format option that allows much smaller points
    • Accessible, easy to use, and fully supported by the Microsoft Power BI team
    • Flexible in that it can geocode location data addresses or work with stored latitude and longitude coordinates
    • Good basic map for common uses
  • Cons
    • Basemap tiles – still no LightDark, or Grayscale options, which reduces the color selections for data (points more difficult to distinguish from the Road or Aerial background if they blend in)
    • Occasional Bing geocoding issues where points end up in the wrong location
    • No current support for standard geographic formats or custom layers (GeoJSON, ESRI Shapefiles, etc.)
    • Pie charts are used as points when displaying locations by category

PBIMap

6. Native – Filled Map

The Filled Map visual displays shaded geographic areas. This is another good map for basic display but also falls short when it comes to more advanced customization.

  • Pros
    • Accessible, easy to use, and fully supported by the Microsoft Power BI team
    • Flexible in that it can geocode location data addresses or work with stored latitude and longitude coordinates
    • Good basic map for common uses
  • Cons
    • Basemap tiles – still no Light or Dark option, which reduces the color selections for data and may make polygons more difficult to distinguish from the Road or Aerial background
    • Basemap tiles – oddly did not receive the Aerial update that the standard Map did
    • Occasional Bing geocoding issues where polygons end up in the wrong location
    • No current support for standard geographic formats or custom layers (GeoJSON, ESRI Shapefiles, etc.)

FilledMap

7. Custom Visual – Synoptic Panel

The Synoptic Panel can be found in the Office Store and has a companion website (Synoptic.Design) that contains an editor and templates. For the latest version, always check the Synoptic Design website. While the Synoptic Panel allows for a broad and powerful range of different visualizations, it can be used for cartography. For example, my BlueGranite colleague Jason Thomas (b/t) published a post detailing his use of the Synoptic Panel for a hex tile map of the United States.

  • Pros
    • Some templates available for common geographies in the Synoptic gallery
    • Fully customized areas for any image
  • Cons
    • No support for standard geographic formats, i.e. cannot import an existing GeoJSON file
    • Time-intensive compared to other Power BI map options (but end result is worth the effort)

SynopticMaps

8. Custom Visual – Globe Map

Another option from the Office Store is the Globe Map.

  • Pros
    • Whoever created this employed ThreeJS in a Power BI visual, which is a solid technical achievement
    • Provides small level of continuity for anyone who used Power Map for Excel (and also does not mind a reduced feature set)
  • Cons
    • 3D vantage point makes it difficult to simultaneously view and compare areas across the globe and may also cause perception issues
    • Has difficulty clearly rendering base tiles at low-level zoom
    • Lack of formatting options for bar and heatmap

GlobeMap

9. Custom Visual – Create your own

For anyone who is truly ambitious, they can create their own custom visualization for Power BI. I went down this path to some extent in 2015, and I know of separate Leaflet visuals from various vendors that have not been publicly released. If any of the prior methods to map data in Power BI did not suit you, and if you have the time and expertise, a custom visual can be a great way to display your geographic data.

  • Pros
    • Extensive control over output
    • Can incorporate custom geography, GeoJSON, Shapefiles, etc.
  • Cons
    • The most time-intensive option of all
    • Difficult to use for anyone unfamiliar with TypeScript and JavaScript visualization libraries such as D3 or mapping libraries like Leaflet

PBICustomGeo

10. R Visual – Create your own

For anyone who wants to go beyond the basics, Power BI also provides the ability to create visualizations with R.

  • Pros
    • Extensive and detailed control over output
    • Can incorporate custom geography, GeoJSON, Shapefiles, etc.
  • Cons
    • R visuals currently require static images as output, which does not take advantage of R’s full capabilities
    • Difficult to use for anyone unfamiliar with R
    • Not available for embedding or Publish to Web

RVisualMap

 

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