This week OKViz released Smart Filter Pro 2.0.5, which is the first commercial version of a custom visual for Power BI produced by OKViz. This is the first of other rich and advanced visuals that will be released in the future, using a sustainable business model that will guarantee the development and maintenance of free and commercial custom visuals.

You can read a description of the features of Smart Filter Pro; the best way to familiarize yourself with it is to register for a free trial. The topic of this blog post is the licensing system we chose.

Based on the feedback received on the preview versions of Smart Filter Pro and on our experience developing free custom visuals for more than 3 years, we needed several features for the licensing and the version control of the custom visuals, which could be deployed in different environments. Several months ago, we started the development of a back-end platform that provides a range of different users with all the features needed. If everything works well, you will never realize the complexity behind deploying a custom visual to all the users of your company without worrying about licensing. The Organizational Custom Visuals is a key player in this scenario.

We chose not to use the recently released ability to publish Power BI custom visuals on AppSource with in-app purchase (IAP). I think it is a good idea to share the reasons behind this choice, providing constructive feedback to Microsoft and useful information to Power BI customers and other vendors.

  • No marketplace: Currently, AppSource does not provide a marketplace where users can purchase the commercial version of a custom visual. The payment transaction must be executed on the vendor website. For this reason, OKViz needed a platform to manage the purchasing process.
  • Lack of API: Power BI does not provide any API to support licensing management. This lack of API requires custom visual developers to create their own licensing system, within the constraints described in the following point.
  • License key: The guidelines allow the custom visual to show properties where the user must insert the licensing information. This implies that every user must copy the licensing information in every instance of the custom visual included in every report. This raises several issues in companies where many users can build reports, colliding with internal security policies for distributing licensing keys, which are considered confidential information.
  • Certification: Custom visuals published on AppSource can be certified. Officially, this is not possible for private custom visuals published on Organizational Custom Visuals. While the certification is not critical for components like Smart Filter Pro, it is certainly important for other components that should be rendered in email and PDF.

The platform we have built at OKViz provides the following features:

  • The user can download and install a custom visual without having to enter any licensing information.
  • If a custom visual is installed in the Organizational Custom Visuals repository, every user within the company can immediately create reports using that custom visual.
  • When a new version of a custom visual is released, the user who subscribed for the license receives a notification email with a link to download the new version.
    • Most users will simply download the file and install it in the Organizational Custom Visuals repository.
    • Companies who need to test any new release to check compatibility and regression will be able to do so without touching any report in production, by publishing the updated custom visual in the Organizational Custom Visuals repository after validation.
  • All previous versions of a custom visual are available in a private area available to the user who subscribed for the license. This way, in case of any regression it is always possible to switch back to a previous version of the custom visual.

Yes, the high price to pay is the lack of certification in Power BI, which makes the custom visual invisible if you print the report or send an email notification including it. There is also another commercial price for OKViz, which is the lack of visibility provided by AppSource. For these reasons, we would like to see these features in Power BI, in decreasing order of importance:

  • A “private certification” enabled for components published in the Organizational Custom Visuals repository. This would be useful to any company creating custom visuals that should support email notification and print.
  • A licensing API that would allow a certified component published on the AppStore to not rely on a license key inserted in the properties of each report. The API should support licensing policies based on both lifetime license and monthly/yearly subscriptions, so that each vendor can choose their licensing model.
  • A marketplace supporting both lifetime licenses and monthly/yearly subscriptions.

Feel free to write your feedback in the comments and have fun with Smart Filter Pro!