Using Power BI to replace a legacy desktop application

Over a decade ago I had the pleasure to create a small desktop application for Chammas Cutters, this was the Grain Selector tool pictured above, and it helped their clients quickly determine how much gas-generating grain to use in the application of their chemical cutter tool.

While pretty basic (and written in it) the desktop application served a good purpose for the past 10 or so years. Prior to the desktop application, clients would have to resort to a rather bulky and complicated spreadsheet-type catalog tables, which can be more time confusing and can lead to human error.

Now that it needed to be improved or rewritten, I decided to replace it with a Power BI report that took just a few hours to create. Here’s why I chose that path:

  • I was able to make all the needed improvements without writing any code
  • I turned a legacy desktop app into a web app that works on any device
  • Catalog revisions can now be performed by the client by updating a spreadsheet
  • And it only took a few hours to do it soup to nuts!

The old application was long overdue for an update, more selections and combinations are now available, some of the selection logic has been revised recently, and the end users have been requesting some additional functionality to be built into it, which means the old application code is pretty obsolete and needs to be completely rewritten, preferably as a web app that’s compatible with most devices.

Rewriting meant it was going to take at least a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, considering other factors and prior commitments…so I decided to turn to Power BI, and see if I can create an alternative solution in under a day.

Using Power BI it was very straightforward to turn the product catalog (with a few tweaks) into a single spreadsheet that contained all the logic needed for the selection process. This allowed me to use slicers (heavily) to narrow down the possible combinations that can be selected until it was down to a single Grain size that can be used.

This is a screenshot of the end result and there’s a live link to the working dashboard at the end of the article.

I decided not to follow the same UI guidelines and instead tried to keep it as spartan as possible to minimize clutter. So instead of using graphics to depict the chemical cylinders, or a radial gauge to indicate pressure, I kept it simple and used slicers, specifically I used the Chiclet Slicer custom visual almost exclusively for selection.

I did keep the linear gauge from the old application and used the Linear Gauge by MAQ Software for that.

All in all this was a big hit, the clients and end users really liked the embedded Power BI report being available directly in the browser rather than having to download a Windows application, especially if they use a non Windows device!

The resulting selection tool is now live on ChammasCutters.com if you’d like to give a try!