Basic concepts for Power BI service consumers

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Power BI consumers and designers

This article assumes that you've already read Power BI overview and have identified yourself as a Power BI consumer. Consumers receive Power BI content, like dashboards and reports, from colleagues. Consumers use Power BI service, which is the website-based version of Power BI.

You'll undoubtedly hear the term "Power BI Desktop" or just "Desktop", and this is a stand-alone tool used by designers who build and share dashboards and reports with you. It's important to know that there are other Power BI tools out there, but as long as you're a consumer, you'll only work with Power BI service. And this article applies only to Power BI service.

Terminology and concepts

This article isn't a visual tour of Power BI, nor is it a hands-on tutorial. Instead it's an overview article that we hope will get you comfortable with Power BI terminology and concepts. Kind of teach you the lingo and lay of the land. For a tour of Power BI service and its navigation, visit Take a tour.

Open Power BI service for the first time

Most Power BI consumers get Power BI service because 1) their company buys licenses and 2) an administrator assigns those license to employees like you.

To get started, simply open a browser and type The very first time you open Power BI service, you'll see something like this.

Welcome screen for Power BI service

As you use Power BI, you'll personalize what you see when you open the website each time. For example, some people like Power BI to open to the Home page while others have a favorite dashboard they want to see first. Don't worry, we'll teach you how to do this.

shows Home page view and dashboard view

But before we get much further, let's back up and talk about the building blocks that make up Power BI service.

Power BI content

Introduction to building blocks

For a Power BI consumer, the 5 building blocks are: visualizations, dashboards, reports, apps, and datasets. These are sometimes referred to as Power BI content. And content exists in workspaces. A typical workflow involves all of these building blocks: A Power BI designer (yellow in diagram below) collects data from datasets, brings it into Power BI for analysis, creates reports full of visualizations that highlight interesting facts and insights, pins visualizations from reports to a dashboard and shares the reports and dashboards with consumers, like you, (black in diagram below) in the form of apps or other types of shared content.

flow chart, basic

At its most basic.

  • visualization icon a visualization (or visual), is a type of chart built by Power BI designers using the data in reports and datasets. Typically, designers build the visuals in Power BI Desktop.

    For more information, see Visualizations for Power BI consumers

  • database icon A dataset is container of data. For example, it might be an Excel file from the World Health Organization or it might be a company-owned database of customers or it might be a Salesforce file.

  • dashboard icon A dashboard is a single screen with interactive visuals, text, and graphics. A dashboard collects your most important metrics, on one screen, to tell a story or answer a question. The dashboard content comes from one or more reports and one or more datasets.

    For more information, see Dashboards for Power BI consumers

  • report icon A report is one or more pages of interactive visuals, text, and graphics that together make up a single report. A report is based on a single dataset. Often report pages are organized to each address a central area of interest or answer a single question.

    For more information, see Reports for Power BI consumers

  • app icon An app is a way for designers to bundle and share related dashboards and reports together. Consumers receive some apps automatically but can go search for other apps created by colleagues or by the community. For example, external services you may already use, such as Google Analytics and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, offer Power BI apps.

To be clear, if you're a brand new user; and you've logged in to Power BI for the first time, you have no dashboards, apps, or reports yet.


A dataset is a collection of data that designers import or connect to and then use to build reports and dashboards. As a consumer, you won't interact directly with datasets, but it's still nice to understand how they fit into the bigger picture.

Each dataset represents a single source of data, for example, an Excel workbook on OneDrive, or an on-premises SSAS tabular dataset, or a Salesforce dataset. There are many different data sources supported.

When a designer shares an app with you, you can see which datasets are included with the app.

Apps selected and arrow pointing to the Datasets section on canvas

ONE dataset...

  • can be used over and over

  • can be used in many different reports

  • Visualizations from that one dataset can display on many different dashboards

    dataset M:1 relationships

Additionally, datasets from other workspaces can be used to create content (reports, dashboards) in your workspace. These datasets are shown using the referenced dataset icon:

database with link icon

On to the next building block -- visualizations.


Visualizations (aka visuals) display insights that have been discovered in the data. Visualizations make it easier to interpret the insight, because your brain can comprehend a picture faster than a spreadsheet of numbers, for example.

Just some of the visualizations you'll encounter in Power BI are: waterfall, ribbon, treemap, pie, funnel, card, scatter, and gauge. See the full list of visualizations included with Power BI.

8 sample visuals

Visualizations are also available from the community and these are called custom visuals. If you receive a report with a visual you don't recognize, likely it's a custom visual. If you need help interpreting the custom visual, look up the name of the report or dashboard designer and contact him or her.

ONE visualization in a report...

  • can be used over and over in the same report using copy/paste.
  • can be used on many different dashboards


A Power BI report is one or more pages of visualizations, graphics, and text. All of the visualizations in a report come from a single dataset. Designers share reports with consumers who interact with the reports in Reading view.

report with tabs

ONE report...

  • can be associated with multiple dashboards (tiles pinned from that one report can appear on multiple dashboards).

  • are created using data from only one dataset.

  • can be part of multiple apps

    relationship drawing for a report


A dashboard represents a customized view of some subset of the underlying dataset(s). Designers build dashboards and share them with consumers; either individually or as part of an app. A dashboard is a single canvas that contains tiles, graphics, and text.

sample dashboard

A tile is a rendering of a visual that a designer pins, for example, from a report to a dashboard. Each pinned tile displays a visualization that was created from a dataset and pinned to that dashboard. A tile can also contain an entire report page and can contain live streaming data or a video. There are many ways that designers add tiles to dashboards; too many to be covered in this overview topic. To learn more, see Dashboard tiles in Power BI.

From a consumer standpoint, dashboards cannot be edited. You can however add comments, view related data, set it as favorite, subscribe, and more.

What are some purposes for dashboards? Here are just a few:

  • to see, in one glance, all the information needed to make decisions
  • to monitor the most-important information about your business
  • to ensure all colleagues are on the same page, viewing and using the same information
  • to monitor the health of a business or product or business unit or marketing campaign, etc.
  • to create a personalized view of a larger dashboard -- all the metrics that matter to you

ONE dashboard...

  • can display visualizations from many different datasets

  • can display visualizations from many different reports

  • can display visualizations pinned from other tools (e.g., Excel)

    relationship drawing for a dashboard


These collections of dashboards and reports organize related content together into a single package. Power BI designers build them and share them with individuals, groups, an entire organization, or the public. As a consumer, you can be confident that you and your colleagues are working with the same data; a single trusted version of the truth.

Apps selected in leftnav

Apps are easy to find and install in the Power BI service ( and on your mobile device. After you install an app, you don't have to remember the names of a lot of different dashboards because they're all together in one app, in your browser or on your mobile device.

This app has three related dashboards and three related reports that make up a single app.

related content for the selected app

With apps, whenever the app author releases updates, you automatically see the changes. The author also controls how often the data is scheduled to refresh, so you don't need to worry about keeping it up to date.

You can get apps in a few different ways. The app designer can install the app automatically in your Power BI account, or send you a direct link to an app, or you can search for it in Microsoft AppSource, where you see all the apps that you can access. In Power BI on your mobile device, you can only install apps from a direct link, and not from AppSource. If the app designer installs the app automatically, you'll see it in your list of apps.

Once the app is installed, just select it from your Apps list and select which dashboard or report to open and explore first.

I hope this article gave you an understanding of the building blocks that make up Power BI service for consumers.

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