Basic concepts for designers in the Power BI service

The aim of this article is to orient you to the Power BI service: what the different elements are, how they work together, and how you can work with them. You may get more out of it if you've already signed up for the Power BI service and added some data. As a designer, your typical workflow is usually to start by creating reports in Power BI Desktop. Then you publish them to the Power BI service, where you can continue modifying them. You also create the dashboards based on your reports in the Power BI service.

For this article, if you don't have your own reports yet try installing a Power BI sample content pack.

Power BI service Home screen in a browser

When you open the Power BI service in a browser, you start at your Home screen. Here are the elements you may see:

  1. Navigation pane
  2. Office 365 app launcher
  3. Power BI home button
  4. Icon buttons, including settings, help, and feedback
  5. Search box
  6. Favorite and frequent dashboards, reports, and workspaces
  7. Recent dashboards, reports, and workspaces
  8. Your workspaces

You and the end users for your reports and dashboards have the same start experience in the Power BI service in a browser.

We'll dig into these features later, but first let's review some Power BI concepts. Or you might want to watch this video first. In the video, Will reviews the basic concepts and gives a tour of the Power BI service.

Power BI concepts

The five major building blocks of Power BI are: dashboards, reports, workbooks, datasets, and dataflows. They're all organized into workspaces, and they're created on capacities. It's important to understand capacities and workspaces before we dig into the five building blocks, so let's start there.

Capacities

Capacities are a core Power BI concept representing a set of resources (storage, processor, and memory) used to host and deliver your Power BI content. Capacities are either shared or dedicated. A shared capacity is shared with other Microsoft customers, while a dedicated capacity is fully committed to a single customer. Dedicated capacities require a subscription, and are fully described in the Managing Premium capacities article.

By default, workspaces are created on a shared capacity. In shared capacity, workloads run on computational resources shared with other customers. As the capacity must share resources, limitations are imposed to ensure "fair play", such as the maximum model size (1 GB) and maximum daily refresh frequency (eight times per day).

Workspaces

Workspaces are created on capacities. Essentially, they are containers for dashboards, reports, workbooks, datasets, and dataflows in Power BI.

There are two types of workspaces: My workspace and workspaces.

  • My workspace is the personal workspace for any Power BI customer to work with your own content. Only you have access to your My workspace. You can share dashboards and reports from your My Workspace. If you want to collaborate on dashboards and reports, or create an app, then you want to work in a workspace.

  • Workspaces are used to collaborate and share content with colleagues. You can add colleagues to your workspaces and collaborate on dashboards, reports, workbooks, and datasets. With one exception, all workspace members need Power BI Pro licenses. Read more about the new workspaces.

    Workspaces are also the places where you create, publish, and manage apps for your organization. Think of workspaces as staging areas and containers for the content that will make up a Power BI app. So what is an app? It's a collection of dashboards and reports built to deliver key metrics to the Power BI consumers in your organization. Apps are interactive, but consumers can't edit them. App consumers, the colleagues who have access to the apps, don't necessarily need Pro licenses.

To learn more about sharing in general, start with Ways to share dashboards your work.

Now, on to the five Power BI building blocks.

Dataflows

A dataflow helps organizations to unify data from disparate sources. They are optional, and are often used in complex or larger projects. They represent data prepared and staged for use by datasets. However, they can't be used directly as a source for reporting. They leverage the extensive collection of Microsoft data connectors, enabling the ingestion of data from on-premises and cloud-based data sources.

Dataflows are only created and managed in workspaces (but not My Workspace), and they are stored as entities in the Common Data Model (CDM) in Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2. Typically, they're scheduled to refresh on a recurring basis to store up-to-date data. They're great for preparing data for use—and potential re-use—by your datasets. For more information, see the Self-service data prep in Power BI article.

You can't have dashboards or reports without data (well, you can have empty dashboards and empty reports, but they're not useful until they have data), so let's now introduce datasets.

Datasets

A dataset is a collection of data that you import or connect to. Power BI lets you connect to and import all sorts of datasets and bring all of it together in one place. Datasets can also source data from dataflows.

Datasets are associated with workspaces and a single dataset can be part of many workspaces. When you open a workspace, the associated datasets are listed under the Datasets tab. Each listed 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, and we’re adding new ones all the time. See the list of dataset types that you can use with Power BI.

In the example below, I've selected the "Sales and marketing" workspace and clicked the tab for Datasets.

Datasets are selected

ONE dataset...

  • can be used over and over in one or in many workspaces.

  • can be used in many different reports.

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

    Dataset diagram

To connect to or import a dataset, select Get Data at the bottom of the nav pane. Follow the instructions to connect to or import the specific source and add the dataset to the active workspace. New datasets are marked with a yellow asterisk. The work you do in Power BI doesn't change the underlying dataset.

Datasets added by one workspace member are available to the other workspace members with an admin, member, or contributor role.

Datasets can be refreshed, renamed, explored, and removed. Use a dataset to create a report from scratch or by running quick insights. To see which reports and dashboards are already using a dataset, select View related. To explore a dataset, select it. What you're actually doing is opening the dataset in the report editor where you can really start exploring into the data by creating visualizations.

Now, let's move on to the next topic—reports.

Dig deeper

Reports

A Power BI report is one or more pages of visualizations such as line charts, maps, and treemaps. Visualizations are also called visuals. All of the visualizations in a report come from a single dataset. You can create reports from scratch within Power BI, import them with dashboards that colleagues share with you, or Power BI can create them when you connect to datasets from Excel, Power BI Desktop, databases, and SaaS applications. For example, when you connect to an Excel workbook that contains Power View sheets, Power BI creates a report based on those sheets. And when you connect to an SaaS application, Power BI imports a pre-built report.

There are two modes to view and interact with reports: Reading view and Editing view. When you open a report, it opens in Reading view. If you have edit permissions, then you see Edit report in the upper-left corner, and you can view the report in Editing view. If a report is in a workspace, everyone with an admin, member, or contributor role can edit it. They have access to all the exploring, designing, building, and sharing capabilities of Editing view for that report. The people they share the report with can explore and interact with the report in Reading view.

When you open a workspace, the associated reports are listed under the Reports tab. Each listed report represents one or more pages of visualizations based on only one of the underlying datasets. To open a report, select it.

When you open an app, you're presented with a dashboard. To access an underlying report, select a dashboard tile (more on tiles later) that was pinned from a report. Keep in mind that not all tiles are pinned from reports, so you may have to click a few tiles to find a report.

By default, the report opens in Reading view. Just select Edit report to open it in Editing view (if you have the necessary permissions).

In the example below, I selected the "Sales and marketing" workspace and clicked the tab for Reports.

Reports selected

ONE report...

  • is contained in a single workspace.

  • can be associated with multiple dashboards within that workspace. Tiles pinned from that one report can appear on multiple dashboards.

  • can be created using data from one dataset. Power BI Desktop can combine more than one data source into a single dataset in a report, and that report can be imported into Power BI.

    Reports diagram

Dig deeper

Dashboards

A dashboard is something you create in the Power BI service or something a colleague creates in the Power BI service and shares with you. It is a single canvas that contains zero or more tiles and widgets. Each tile pinned from a report or from Q&A displays a single visualization that was created from a dataset and pinned to the dashboard. Entire report pages can also be pinned to a dashboard as a single tile. There are many ways to add tiles to your dashboard; too many to be covered in this overview topic. To learn more, see Dashboard tiles in Power BI.

Why do people create dashboards? Here are just some of the reasons:

  • 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.

When you open a workspace, the associated dashboards are listed under the Dashboards tab. To open a dashboard, select it. When you open an app, you'll be presented with a dashboard. Each dashboard represents a customized view of some subset of the underlying dataset(s). If you own the dashboard, you'll also have edit access to the underlying dataset(s) and reports. If the dashboard was shared with you, you'll be able to interact with the dashboard and any underlying reports, but will not be able to save any changes.

There are many different ways that you, or a colleague, can share a dashboard. Power BI Pro is required for sharing a dashboard and may be required for viewing a shared dashboard.

ONE dashboard...

  • is associated with a single workspace

  • can display visualizations from many different datasets

  • can display visualizations from many different reports

  • can display visualizations pinned from other tools (for example, Excel)

    Dashboard selected

Dig deeper

Workbooks

Workbooks are a special type of dataset. If you've read the Datasets section above, you know almost all you need to know about workbooks. But you may be wondering why sometimes Power BI classifies an Excel workbook as a Dataset and other times as a Workbook.

When you use Get data with Excel files, you have the option to Import or Connect to the file. When you choose Connect, your workbook will appear in Power BI just like it would in Excel Online. But, unlike Excel Online, you’ll have some great features to help you pin elements from your worksheets right to your dashboards.

You can’t edit your workbook in Power BI. But if you need to make some changes, you can click Edit, and then choose to edit your workbook in Excel Online or open it in Excel on your computer. Any changes you make are saved to the workbook on OneDrive.

Dig deeper

A dashboard in My Workspace

We've covered workspaces and building blocks. Let's bring it together and review the pieces that make up the dashboard experience in the Power BI service.

Power BI service in a browser

1. Navigation pane

Use the nav pane to locate and move between your workspaces and the Power BI building blocks: dashboards, reports, workbooks, and datasets.

Nav pane

  • Select Get Data to add datasets, reports, and dashboards to Power BI.
  • Expand and collapse the nav pane with this icon nav pane icon.
  • Open or manage your favorite content by selecting Favorites.
  • View and open your most-recently visited content by selecting Recent
  • View, open, or delete an app by selecting Apps.
  • Did a colleague share content with you? Select Shared with me to search and sort that content to find what you need.
  • Display and open your workspaces by selecting Workspaces.

Single-click these elements:

  • an icon or heading to open in content view
  • a right arrow (>) to open a flyout menu for Favorites, Recent, and Workspaces.
  • a chevron icon to display the My Workspace scrollable list of dashboards, reports, workbooks, and datasets.

2. Canvas

Because we've opened a dashboard, the canvas area displays visualization tiles. If for example, we had opened the report editor, the canvas area would display a report page.

Dashboards are composed of tiles. Tiles are created in report Editing view, Q&A, other dashboards, and can be pinned from Excel, SSRS, and more. A special type of tile called a widget is added directly onto the dashboard. The tiles that appear on a dashboard were specifically put there by a report creator/owner. The act of adding a tile to a dashboard is called pinning.

Power BI dashboard canvas

For more information, see Dashboards (above).

3. Q&A question box

One way to explore your data is to ask a question and let Power BI Q&A give you an answer, in the form of a visualization. Q&A can be used to add content to a dashboard or report.

Q&A looks for an answer in the dataset(s) connected to the dashboard. A connected dataset is one that has at least one tile pinned to that dashboard.

Q&A question box

As soon as you start to type your question, Q&A takes you to the Q&A page. As you type, Q&A helps you ask the right question and find the best answer with rephrasings, autofill, suggestions, and more. When you have a visualization (answer) you like, pin it to your dashboard. For more information, see Q&A in Power BI.

4. Icons in the black header bar

The icons in the upper right corner are your resource for settings, notifications, downloads, getting help, turning the New look on or off, and providing feedback to the Power BI team.

icon buttons

5. Dashboard title (navigation path, or breadcrumbs)

It's not always easy to figure out which workspace and dashboard are active, so Power BI creates a navigation path for you. In this example, we see the workspace (My workspace) and the dashboard title (Retail Analysis Sample). If we opened a report, the name of the report would be appended to the end of the navigation path. Each section of the path is an active hyperlink.

Notice the "C" icon after the dashboard title. This dashboard has a data classification tag of "confidential." The tag identifies the sensitivity and security level of the data. If your Admin has turned on data classification, every dashboard will have a default tag set. Dashboard owners should change the tag to match their dashboard's proper security level.

Data classification icon

6. Office 365 app launcher

With the app launcher, all your Office 365 apps are easily available with one click. From here, you can quickly launch your email, documents, calendar, and more.

Office app launcher

7. Power BI home

Selecting Power BI brings you back to your Power BI home.

"Power BI" in the service

8. Labeled icons in the gray menu bar

This area of the screen contains additional options for interacting with the content (in this case, with the dashboard). Besides the labeled icons you can see, selecting the More options (…) reveals options for duplicating, printing, refreshing the dashboard and more.

Labeled icon buttons

Next steps