Exploring data

Welcome to the exploring data tutorial. Here you'll learn how to find, connect to, and interact with data in Power BI.

You will learn how to...

Introduction to the Power BI service

Welcome to the Exploring Data section of the Guided Learning course for Power BI. Now that you know about Power BI Desktop, and how to get and visualize data, you're ready to explore data in the Power BI service.

There are all sorts of things to learn in this section, and the compelling interactivity and sharing of Power BI really shines here. So get ready for an engaging and interesting section.

Introduction to the Power BI service

See what the Power BI service can do for your organization

The Power BI service is the natural extension of Power BI Desktop, and its features include uploading reports, creating dashboards, and asking questions of your data using natural language. You can use the service to set data refresh times, share data with your organization, and create customized service packs.

In the following topics, we'll explore the Power BI service, and show you how it can turn your business intelligence data into data insights and a collaborative decision-driving envrionment.

Quick insights in Power BI

When you're working with a dashboard, report, or dataset in the Power BI service, you can have Power BI look for quick insights into the data. In Power BI, from the Datasets section in the left pane, select the ellipses (the three dots) beside the dataset you're interested in. A menu of options appears, and on the far right you'll see an option called Quick Insights.

When you select Quick Insights, Power BI performs some machine learning and searches the data, analyzing it to find quick insights. You'll see a notification in the upper-right side of the service that indicated Power BI is working on finding insights.

After fifteen seconds or so, the notification changes to let you know that Power BI found some insights.

When you select the View insights button on the notification, you're presented with a page of visuals that show the insights that Power BI found, similar to what you see in the following image. There are a bunch of insights, which you can scroll down through the page to view and consider.

Like any other visual, you can interact with the visuals in the Quick Insights page, and you can also pin any of them to a dashboard that you might have, or further filter one or more of them (or as many as you like), to search for additional insights that might be waiting on your curiosity to uncover.

With Quick Insights, you can let Power BI do the work to spot outliers and trends in your data, then use those findings in your dashboards, or further refine and filter them to get to the insights that are most important to you.

Create and configure a dashboard

Dashboards in Power BI are one-page collections of visualizations that are created from within the Power BI service. You create dashboards by pinning visualizations from reports that you authored and published using Power BI Desktop, or visualizations you created within the Power BI service itself. Pinning a visual to a dashboard is a lot like pinning a picture to a corkboard on a wall - it sticks the visual there, in a particular spot, for others to see. To pin a visual, open its report on the Power BI service. Hover over the visual you want to pin and select the pin icon.

A dialog appears, where you select a destination dashboard for the visual from the drop-down menu, or you can create a new dashboard. You also get a preview of what the pinned visual will look like in the dashboard. You can pin visualizations from multiple reports and pages to a single dashboard, allowing you to combine different datasets and sources into a single page of insights.

On Dashboards, you can add any sort of visualization including graphs, maps, images, and shapes, by "pinning" them. Once a visual is pinned to a dashboard, it's called a tile.

Your dashboards, including any new ones, appear in the Dashboards section on the left side of the Power BI service. Select a dashboard from the list to view it.

You can change the layout of visuals on a dashboard however you'd like. To resize a tile, drag its handles in or out. To move a tile, simply click and drag it to a different location on the dashboard. Hover over a tile and click the pencil icon to open the Tile Details, where you can change the Title or Subtitle.

Click on a dashboard tile to view the report from which it originated. This lets you quickly view the underlying data beneath a visual. You can also change that link by using the Set custom link field in Tile Details.

You can pin tiles from one dashboard to another, for example if you have a collection of dashboards and want to create one summary board. The process is the same: hover over the tile and select the pin icon. Dashboards are easy to create, and to change. And you can customize them to make your one-page dashboard show exactly what it should.

Ask questions of your data with natural language

Power BI comes with a powerful language recognition engine that lets you ask questions of your data using conversational phrases and questions. So along with building reports and visualizations with Power BI, you can create charts and graphs just by asking simple questions.

To ask a question of your data, open a dashboard in Power BI and the top of the screen you'll see an input box, where you can ask questions about the displayed data. This feature is sometimes referred to as Questions & Answers, or more often, this feature is just referred to as Q&A.

When you click in the box, Power BI displays prompts with some suggested terms based on your data, such as "YTD revenue". You can click on a suggested term to see the result, often displayed as a simple table or card. When you select one of the suggested phrases, Power BI automatically creates a visual based on your selection, in real time.

You can also ask questions using natural language, such as "What was our revenue last year?" or "What product had the highest sales in March 2014?". Power BI displays its interpretation of your question, and chooses the best type of visual to represent the answer. And just like any other visual in Power BI, you can pin it to the dashboard of your choice by selecting the pin icon.

At any point along the way, you can edit the visual created by your natural language question or phrase. Just use the Visualizations and Fields panes on the right side of the screen. Like any other visual in Power BI, you can alter the layout, adjust filters, and change the field inputs.

To save the visualization to a dashboard once you've created the perfect visual, just select the pin icon next to the question input box.

Create custom Q&A suggestions

With Power BI, you can add your own suggested questions for other users who use the natural language query box for a dashboard, frequently referred to as the Q&A box. These suggested questions are what users will see when they click on the input box at the top of a dashboard.

To add your own questions, select the ellipses (the three dots ...) next to the name of the dashboard you want to use, and select Settings from the menu.

This opens the Settings page for the dashboard and underlying datasets or workbooks. You can disable the Q&A search input box completely from the Dashboards section of the Settings page, but we want to add questions, so we select the Datasets section.

In the Datasets section, all datasets associated with the Dashboard are displayed. Select the dataset associated with your dashboard from the list, select Featured Q&A Questions, then select the Add a question link. Enter your question or prompt into the input box and select Apply.

Now any time someone clicks on the search input box on the selected dashboard, they'll see your suggested entries at the top of the prompt list, and selecting that question will take them right through to the Q&A answer. This is a valuable way to get dashboard users thinking about the type of data available, and how they can best use it.

Share dashboards with your organization

We've already seen how Power BI helps you find data, collect it in a data model, and build reports and visualizations on using that data. We've also seen how you can publish those reports to the Power BI service, and create dashboards that help you monitor your information over time. All these features are even more powerful when you share your insights with others in your organization. Fortunately, sharing your dashboards is easy.

To share a dashboard, open it in the Power BI service and select the Share link in the top right-hand corner.

The Share Dashboard page appears, where you can select the Invite section, then fill in the Email address input box with people you'd like to grant access to your dashboard. Power BI checks the email addresses as you type them with accounts in your domain and Office 365 domain, and auto-complete when possible. You can also copy and paste email addresses into this box, or use a distribution list, security group, or Office 365 group to reach multiple people at once.

If you selected the checkbox (near the bottom) to send email notification to recipients, then your recipients will receive an email letting them know that you shared a dashboard with them, including a link with the dashboard. You can add a note to the email they will receive, or send the note that Power BI created for you (it's in the box directly below where you enter their email addresses).


Recipients without an existing Power BI account will be taken through the sign-up process before viewing your dashboard.

Anyone with whom you share a dashboard can see and interact with it exactly as you do. However, they have read-only access to the underlying reports, and they have no access to the underlying datasets.

You can also select the Shared With tab on the Share Dashboard page to see the people with whom you have previously shared this dashboard.

Display visuals and tiles full-screen

When you're looking at Power BI dashboards or reports in the service, it can sometimes be helpful to focus on an individual chart or visualization. You can do that in two different ways.

When you're on a dashboard, hover over a tile to see a few different icon options in the top right-hand corner. When you select the ellipses (the three dots) you see a collection of icons that represent actions you can take on the tile.

The left-most icon is labeled Focus mode. Select that icon to expand the tile to encompass the full dashboard space.

Focus mode allows you to see a lot more detail on your visuals and legends. For example, when you resize a tile in Power BI, some of the columns may not be shown because of the space available in the tile.

In Focus mode, you can see all the data. You can also pin the visual directly from Focus mode to a different dashboard by selecting the Pin icon. To exit Focus mode, select the Back to... icon in the top-left corner of Focus mode.

The process is similar when viewing a report. Hover over a visual to see the three icons in the top-right corner, and select the Focus mode icon. Selecting this expands your visualization to encompass the full report canvas. The visual is still interactive in this mode, although you temporarily lose any cross-filter effect between visualizations.

Hover over an expanded tile or report and select the Back to... left-caret icon in the top-left corner to return to the previous view.

Edit tile details and add widgets

Once you've built a dashboard, you can edit its *Tiles in the Power BI service to make a few formatting changes.

To make changes to a tile, hover over the tile and select the ellipses (three dots) to show a collection of icons that allow you to make changes to the tile.

Select the pen icon to open the Tile Details pane. From here you can change the tile's Title, Subtitle, include its last refresh time and date, and other details such as creating a custom link.

By default, when you click on a dashboard tile you are taken to the report from which it originated. To change this behavior, use the Set custom link field in the Tile Details pane. One popular use of this feature is to take users to the organization homepage when clicking on a logo image.

Add widgets to your dashboard

You can also add widgets to your dashboard. A widget is a special dashboard tile that, instead of containing a visualization, contains other items such as an image, an online video, a text box, or rich web content.

When you select the Add Widget link in the upper-right corner of a Dashboard, the Add a widget dialog appears.

When you add a text box, for example, a Tile details pane appears on the right side, where you can edit details similar what is available when editing the details of any tile. But with widgets, there's also a section to define or modify the widget content, such as a rich text editor for a text box.

With widgets and the ability to edit tile details, you can customize your dashboard and make it look just how you want it to be.

Get more space on your dashboard

You may find that occasionally when you create your dashboards, you have more content than what can fit on your canvas. There are a few solutions that help you manage how your dashboard space is displayed, so you can get a full view of your dashboard content.

The easiest method to display your entire dashboard in one screen is selecting the Full Screen Mode button in the top right-hand corner of the dashboard.

Selecting the Full Screen Mode button puts your browser into full screen mode, removing all chrome elements from around the dashboard, and thereby increasing the amount of viewable space.

From within Full-Screen Mode, you can select the Fit to Screen option to shrink all of your tiles so they fit on a single screen, without the need for scrollbars. This is commonly called TV mode, and is useful for giving presentations with dashboards, or displaying a dashboard on hallway monitors.

Another way to manage dashboard space is collapsing the Navigation pane on the left-hand side of the page, by selecting the hamburger icon. To expand the navigation pane, click the icon again.

You can ensure that a dashboard will always have a collapsed navigation bar by appending the following to the end of the URL:


Users who follow that link will open the dashboard with a collapsed navigation bar.

Install and configure a personal gateway

In previous topics we've looked at how you can use Power BI to connect to data sources, and how to manually refresh your datasets on the Power BI service. However, you're not going to want to manually refresh things every time your data changes, so you can use Power BI to set up a scheduled refresh that will connect to your data sources and publish them into the Power BI Service automatically. This also gives you a way to connect the service with any on-premises data sources, including Excel files, Access databases, SQL databases, and more.

The system that lets you connect your on-premises data sources to the Power BI service is called the data gateway. It's a small application that runs on your computer, and uses a pre-arranged schedule to connect to your data, gather any updates, and push them up to the Power BI service. The personal gateway is a version of the data gateway that can be used without any administrator configuration.


The computer that is running the Power BI personal gateway must be on and connected to the Internet for personal gateway to work properly.

To set up your personal gateway, first login to the Power BI service. Select the Download icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen, and then select Data Gateways from the menu.

From there you'll be taken to a web page where you can select the Power BI Gateway - Personal, as shown below.

Run the application once it finishes downloading, and complete the installation wizard.

You'll then be prompted to launch the configuration wizard to set up your gateway.

You'll be asked first to log in to your Power BI service account, and then to log in to the machine's Windows account, since the gateway service runs under your account.

Return to the Power BI service. Select the ellipsis (three dots) menu next to the dataset you want to refresh, and then select Schedule Refresh. This opens the Refresh Settings page. Power BI detects that you've installed a personal gateway, and lets you know its status.

Select Edit credentials next to each applicable data source and set up authentication.

Finally, set the options under Schedule Refresh to activate automatic updates and set when and how frequently they occur.

And that's it. On the scheduled times, Power BI will go out to those data sources, using the credentials you provided and the connection to the computer that has your personal gateway running, and update the reports and datasets according to your schedule. The next time you go to Power BI, those dashboards, reports, and datasets will reflect data as of the most recent scheduled refresh.

Next steps

Congratulations! You've completed this Exploring Data section of the Guided Learning course for Power BI. The Power BI service is full of interesting ways to explore data, share insights, and interact with visuals. And it's all accessible from a browser, from a service that you can connect to wherever you are.

One powerful and well-known partner of Power BI is Excel. Power BI and Excel are designed to work well together; your workbooks will feel at home in Power BI, and it's easy to get them there.

How easy? In the next section, Power BI and Excel you learn exactly that.

See you in the next section!


This exploring data section of Guided Learning has prepared you to work with all sorts of different data types. In the next tutorial, you learn how to use a common data source - Excel.

You learned how to...

Next Tutorial

Power BI and Excel


  • Davidiseminger
  • Maggie Sparkman
  • Adam Saxton