Get in charge of Power BI

At first, Power BI may seem like a daunting task to take on, what with its many options for collaboration and the never-ending customization of data offered, but once you start exploring the program, you will find out that despite the complexity of it all, you can master it with ease and start using it to analyze your data in no time. What I tried to do in this article is to gather all of Power BI’s basic features and give you a quick description and a brief tutorial on setting each of them up. It goes without saying that this topic is far deeper than what I can cover in a single blog post, but I hope this article helps you get the hang of using Power BI. After reading the article, the goal is for you to feel less overwhelmed by all that Power BI has to offer and more in control of your way of using the program.

Workspaces

To start off our foray into the world of Power BI, I feel the first basic concept we should cover is Power BI’s Workspaces. A Power BI workspace is essentially a place which lets you collaborate with your colleagues by storing all the datasets, reports and dashboards relevant to the group using the workspace. The workspace offers unlimited storage for all your content, allowing you to easily share it with your coworkers. Power BI even gives you the possibility to integrate your workspace with pre-existing Microsoft Office 365 groups, thus allowing seamless transition between data and communication. Join me in covering the beginning steps in creating, sharing and using the Power BI Workspaces!

According to Microsoft, the keyword to be used when speaking about Workspaces is collaboration. Your workspace gathers your dashboards, reports, workbooks, and datasets and is the first step you take when opening Power BI, making it a hub for all your projects. There are endless possibilities to be discovered while using Workspaces in terms of collaboration. Let me guide you through some basic steps in using this feature.

Step 1. Creating workspaces

When you open Workspaces, the first tab automatically generated by Power BI is titled My Workspace. While useful in its own terms, ‘My workspace’ is not meant to be used for collaboration and should only be used for individual projects instead. In order to use Workspaces to collaborate with your coworkers, you should create separate designated Workspaces for them to use when sharing content.  The way to do this is to expand the Workspaces section and then click on ‘Create app workspace’. This gives you the option to name your workspace, choose whether the workspace is going to be private or public, and allow or deny members the option to edit content. Workspace members are added via their emails, and each member can be made admin. Another way of creating a workspace is offered in Power BI desktop, where publishing a report requires placing the report in a designated workspace. Now that you have a workspace, it is time to explore the options it offers.

Step 2. Editing the workspace

In order to edit your workspace, you need to find the Workspaces tab in the far left navigation bar. After expanding it by clicking the arrow next to it, select the ellipsis which offers you a drop-down menu in which you can check on your files, members, calendars, and conversations, or edit the workspace. When editing the workspace, you can not only change its name and privacy settings but also add or remove members as well as change their status from view only to giving them the option to edit the workspace and vice versa.

If you decide to venture into the Advanced section, you will also be offered the option to make the workspace a part of something called a dedicated capacity. What exactly does this entail? A capacity is a group of resources created by the primary user – you. You are the admin of your capacity, meaning that you are free to publish dashboards, reports, and datasets to all the users in your organization without the need to purchase individual licenses. It is important to note that while most of the features are available for viewing to users of the free version of Power BI, users do need a Pro license in order to access app workspaces, publish apps and share content.

Once you are ready to confidently create, edit and use your workspace, it is time to dive into Dashboards.

            Dashboards

I feel the best way to describe Power BI’s dashboard would be to define it as a living visual embodiment of Power BI’s purpose. By offering live, interactive and visually appealing representations of data analytics, it deservingly gets the praise of sometimes being called a canvas. Still, a dashboard is only a single page, meaning it only shows you the most important data gathered from reports and datasets. The tools used to visualize the data are called tiles – which can are pinned to the dashboard from reports. By entering individual tiles, you are led into reports and from there to the datasets used to create said reports, which by default makes the dashboard a gateway into your data. What the dashboard offers is a quick and direct look at your research, but more than just looking appealing, it allows you to interact and shows you real-time data changes. Learning to use it saves you valuable time and allows you to create a not only beautiful but also highly effective and useful work environment. So without further ado, let’s get started with creating and using dashboards!

Step 1. Creating dashboards

You can create a dashboard in a number of ways, but in order to draw a greater picture and show you the cohesive features of Power BI, I will concentrate on creating a dashboard by using a report. I will talk more about reports and creating them later on, so, for now, we shall imagine a finished report which we will use to create our first dashboard. Firstly, only creators can create and manage dashboards, meaning that you can create dashboards in workspaces where you are either an admin or are allowed editing privileges. Members with view-only access to shared workspaces cannot create or edit dashboards. So assuming you are a workspace creator, you first need to drop down the My Workspaces section in your left side navigation bar and then find the Get Data option at the bottom of the navigation bar. This will offer you multiple options from which you can import your data, but for the purposes of this tutorial, we will choose the Files tile. Once you have found and selected your file either from your local setting or OneDrive and SharePoint, choose the Connect option on your right. Again, at this point Power BI offers you two options, but in order to create a dashboard, you need to choose the Import button. Once Power BI is finished importing your file, go to the Reports section of your chosen workplace and select the report name to open it. Voila! Power BI has created a visual analysis of your file. Depending on the number of pages in your file, the report generates pages represented as tabs at the bottom of the page. By default, the report opens in reading mode. To open the report in editing mode, select Edit report. Hovering over visualizations allows you to explore your options and edit all of their aspects. By choosing to pin a visualization, you are offered the options to either add it to an existing dashboard or create a new one. Presuming this is your first dashboard, you will choose to create a new one and give it a name. Power BI also gives you the choice of keeping the current theme of your report or switching to the destination theme, allowing you more cohesiveness when adding new reports to the dashboard. And there you have it! Your first dashboard is ready to see the light of day.

            Step 2. Creating a live tile

While the dashboard’s primary use is to display only the most important data of each report, Power BI also gives you the option to pin an entire report onto a dashboard, creating a live tile. The difference between a regular and a live tile is that you can edit and interact with live tiles on the dashboard instead of entering its original report. You can create a live tile by opening a report in editing mode and, without selecting any of the visualizations, selecting the Pin Live Page button. Pin it to your existing dashboard and you now have a live, interactive tile on your dashboard.

These are the basics of creating a Power BI dashboard. Keep in mind there are numerous ways you can create a dashboard: duplicating an existing one, creating it from Excel or a Q&A, pinning it from another dashboard, etc. Of course, you are free to share your dashboard so you can easily collaborate with your partners and co-workers. The possibilities are endless and hard to cover in a single article.

            Reports

It may feel like we are working backward with so much previous mention of reports while explaining the basic concepts of workspaces and dashboards, but there is a simple explanation for this (and no, it’s not that I miscalculated my layout in this text). Workspaces and dashboards are collaborative: sure, you can use them all by yourself, but their point is to be shared between coworkers. Technically, you could be a member of a team with read only privileges and never create a single report or a dataset. For this reason, I decided to first cover the casual user’s Power BI experience before tackling the underlying foundations. Since I started this journey from the top of the hierarchy, we shall first delve into reports before talking about datasets. You already know reports are the basic building material behind dashboards, but there is still a lot to say.

            Step 1. The basics

Each report is created from a single dataset which Power BI turns into visualizations. Each visualization represents a part of the findings found in a dataset. There is no limit on the number of visualizations present in a single report, meaning you can create countless pages or settle on a couple of visualizations per report. Does all this sound familiar? Yes, reports are similar to and are often confused with dashboards, but there is a stark difference: reports are a collection of all of your data on a certain project, and dashboards should be used to gather multiple reports with tiles representing only the most important data from each report. So if you are having trouble differentiating reports from dashboards in your own workspace, consider cutting down to only the most important visualizations when creating and editing your dashboards. Another important thing to note is that reports obviously offer much more customization and editing than dashboards, even when using live tiles. Dashboards should not be used to create data, but rather to display it in an organized manner.

We have already covered one way of creating reports earlier, so I will start by saying that another way of creating a report is to import an Excel workbook. This allows you to work on your report in Excel and share them with your coworkers. If you choose to import your data, you are offered an array of custom choices in creating your own visualizations, which are best explored on your own. Keep in mind that the best reports combine different charts and visualizations in order to keep the consumer engaged!

Datasets

And finally, descending from the workspace through dashboards and reports, we have arrived at the core of Power BI creation: the datasets. Datasets are of course already created by the user and only need to be uploaded to Power BI, but they provide the foundation by which we build all of the aforementioned features found in the program.  There are four different types of getting data in Power BI, and they are divided into two groups: Content Pack Library and data you can import or connect to. In the content pack library, you can either use the data published by your organization or from the online services you use. This means the already existing data you import can come from your coworkers or from services such as Office 365, Microsoft Azure or Bing. If you choose to import or connect to your data instead, you can reach it from OneDrive, SharePoint, or your local computer. On the other hand, you can connect to Azure, SQL, and Spark to import your data as well. Whatever way you choose, you can only import Excel (.xlxs/.xlxm), Power BI (.pbix), and Comma Separated Values (.csv) files into Power BI. Of course, through online services, you can also import content packs and databases. Note that Power BI Desktop and Microsoft Office’s Excel are highly helpful and extremely useful in creating datasets. You can use hundreds of sources to import data to Power BI, but the data still needs to be in a format previously listed in order for the program to recognize it. Also, remember that each dataset has a 1 GB limit.

That’s all folks!

Of course this isn’t all. There are countless options to be explored within Power BI, and the tips listed in this article are just the very basics of navigating the program. Whether you use it only to view content relevant to your work or dabble in creating said content, there are limitless options and surprises to be found while using Power BI. The best advice I can give you is to explore those options yourself: you’ll find that the best way to learn is to try every feature Power BI has to offer. If you have any additional inquiries about Power BI, feel free to leave a comment and I will try my best to help you.