Creating dashboards and reports using Power BI A view into Microsoft Power BI
  • Business Intelligence
  • Power BI
4 min read
19 March, 2018

A view into Microsoft Power BI

Power BI is a fast-developing business intelligence (BI) platform with a lot of strengths and visions, but in one area we still encounter challenges and Microsoft is struggling to find and create the best solution. When it comes to sharing, cooperating and “self-servicing”, Power BI has most of the features but is missing some flexibility to tie it all together.

The tool
As a single-user, Power BI is a very powerful BI tool that allows the user to perform and connect all tasks from data sources, transforming and modelling the data with beautiful interactive. Getting this truly self-service BI tool for free (for personal use) is impressive. All sharing, collaboration and frequent automatic data refresh requires a Pro license, which is a very fair deal considering the powerful features and frequent updates. It is very fast to get from raw data to sharing the finished reports and dashboards with your colleagues.

The vision
Microsoft takes it even further and has a vision that Power BI is not only a great end-to-end BI tool, but also an enterprise BI platform – which leads to the transformation of organizational culture being more data-driven and the employees being empowered by data ( I believe in this vision and Microsoft has come a long way. However, there are still gaps between how most organizations, on one side, need to govern data and have centralized BI competencies; while on the other side, business users are eager for not only seeing great reports, but also exploring the underlying data.

The main gap
Let's explore an example of this gap, with a fictive character; "Carl" the project manager. Carl has just gotten access to the portfolio report showing all active projects in the different project phases by project type and manager. Carl has never had this overview before and is thrilled for the first few weeks. Now he starts getting hungry for more reports and he has learned that it is easy to build reports in Power BI or even just his own dashboard based on the existing reports.

Carl accesses the report with Power BI Apps, therefore he can’t create new reports right away, but there are several options for Carl to start creating his own reports and dashboards:

  1. He can request to join the App Workspace that the App was created from. Carl must be an admin or a member with permission to edit content (this setting is on/off for all members). This means that Carl would be able to create new reports, but those reports would be visible to all workspace members. If all members created personal reports, the list of reports would quickly become very long. Besides creating new reports, Carl is also able to edit and delete current reports. If the report was created online and Carl accidentally deletes it, there would be no way to restore it.
  2. He can get read-only access to the workspace and learns how to connect to the online dataset with Power BI Desktop. He can then create new reports (but not dashboards) on his local pc, enjoy updates to the dataset online (new fields etc.), and then schedule the refreshes of data. But he can’t access them from his tablet (the report is only on his local pc), nor can he share it online with his colleagues, because he can only publish the report to the workspace where the dataset resides - which then we are back to option 1.
  3. He can request the original Power BI Desktop file and deploy that to his “my workspace”. Here he will be alone and can’t cause trouble for others. To be able to refresh the model and reports, Carl would need access to the data sources (not something most IT departments would love to hand out) and he would miss out on any changes to the model (ex. new fields or calculations). He would also have to recreate any reports created separately from this report.
  4. The final option is for the nice Power BI administrator/moderator/superuser - to create a new “Carl's Workspace” to where the same version of the dataset and reports (only the reports in the original Power BI Desktop file) are published. Here Carl can create reports and dashboards, and he can share and access from his tablet – Carl is happy. The nice admin is not too happy with the solution, because he/she now has extra work maintaining Carl’s workspace and controlling who Carl invites and shares his reports with.

This is an example of a great vision of self-service BI that struggles in the current sharing & collaboration setup in Power BI. As Option 4 shows, it can be done but not in an optimal way. I think the main problem is the way that Microsoft implements workspaces (and Apps) as isolated entities. It’s not possible to link across workspaces.

I think a great Option 5 would be to enable Carl to connect to the dataset in the workspace, to create new reports/dashboards and to modify the existing reports in his own version in his “My Workspace”. If Carl creates a brilliant report, it should be possible to copy this report to the shared workspace. In this way, it would be possible to govern the dataset from a central position, and it allows Carl to explore the data, be creative and share his findings.

This could be achieved with Power BI Organizational Content packs but apparently, they are being discontinued at some point in the future. I guess the reason is that the content pack isn’t the optimal solution either.

This post
Currently, sharing and collaboration in Power BI range from super easy to complex. My advice is to make a plan and to consult a professional to take it to the next level. This is something that we in Projectum can help you with, so if you want to learn more about how we can take your Business Intelligence to the next level you can read more here.

Also, I know that the Microsoft product group pays great attention and are listening to the Power BI community, so please give them your feedback and help them improve in the best direction by posting new ideas and voting for the ones that fit your needs.


About Jeppe:

Senior BI Consultant at Projectum ApS


Through intensive work with several large installations in Denmark i have gained professional experience with both Microsoft SQL Server 2000, SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2008. My primary interests lies both in the development of new solutions as well as performance optimizing existing solutions.



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