Getting the Right Context – Part 2


Last time, I introduced the concept of context within DAX expressions using by PowerPivot to calculate columns and measures. We saw that the default context for column calculations was row context while the default context for measures was filtered context. However, I ended the discussion by showing that within a measure calculation, I could use column context with certain aggregate functions like SUMX which can be used to apply an expression across all the rows of a table. However, before that expression is evaluated, that table is automatically filtered since I used it in a measure which begins by applying the filtered context of the pivot table to the rows used by the expression.

So this time, let’s dive a little deeper. Let me begin by going to the FactSales table of my Contoso data model and calculate a measure for total sales. This is not difficult and can be achieved by using the SUM() function as shown in the following figure.

Now let’s assume that I want a measure that shows only the sales made through the store channel. At first, I might try to use the SUMX() function along with the FILTER() function. The FILTER() function also has two parameters. The first parameter is the name of the table that I want to apply a filter on. The second parameter is a filter expression. I may at first assume that because I created a relationship between the FactSales table and the DimChannel table, that I can simply reference the column [ChannelName] and compare it to the string “Store” to filter the FactSales table. However, as you can see in the following figure, this expression would result in an error.

The reason for the error is that while the FILTER() function references the table FactSales, there is no context to link records in FactSales to DimChannel. I know you might ask, “Doesn’t the relation between these two tables define that context?” The answer is that the relationship between tables while defining the ‘mechanism’ of how to connect the two tables, it does not activate a context between the rows in FactSales with a row in DimChannel. When pointing from the many side of a relationship to the one side of the relationship, we must use the RELATED() function to activate the context within the expression. I show this in the following figure.

You can see that now I have a total sales for the just the stores as a measure. If I use this measure in a pivot table that displays sales by month and by product category, I will have the additional filter of sales by store in each of the pivot table cells.

What if, however, I wanted to create a calculated column in the table DimChannel that displayed the total sales for that channel? Again you might start with the SUMX() function because you want to calculate an expression from another table. In this case, the first parameter of the SUMX() function would be the FactSales table and the column that we want to sum would be the [SalesAmount] column. However, if we were to create this column, we might be surprised by the result, shown in the following figure.

All of the values in the column are exactly the same. Furthermore, if I refer to the image earlier in this blog for the total sales across all channels, I would see that the value displayed here in each cell of the column is actually the total sales. Again the problem is context. There is no context to refer back to FactSales from DimChannel. Therefore, when SUMX() evaluates the [SalesAmount] in table FactSales, it pulls values from all the sales records, not just the sales from the channel represented by the current row in DimChannel.

In this case, because I am going from the one side of the DimChannel relationship to the many side of FactSales, I need to return a table that contains just the rows from FactSales that represent sales from the channel in the context of the current row. I can do this by using the RELATEDTABLE() function which uses a single parameter, the name of the table on the many side of the relationship. I must also have the relationship explicitly defined between DimChannel and FactSales. I have already done this. So Power Pivot can use the relationship to create a subset of rows from FactSales for the current channel. I can then use this resulting table in the SUMX() function to sum the [SalesAmount] column as shown in the following figure.

As you can see in the figure, the first row which represents the store channel displays the same sales total as we calculated from the measure in FactSales earlier.

So again, you can see that there are many different ways to define the context of an expression. When dealing with multiple tables, it is important to understand whether you can perform a row context calculation by using the RELATED() function to extend the row context to the related table on the lookup side of the relationship or whether you need to use the RELATEDTABLE() function to filter the rows used in an aggregate function like SUMX() to calculate values for a column which uses the row context to define the link to the many side table.

Next time, I’ll look at some functions that let you turn off a filtered context and show where you might use it.

C’ya next time.

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