How to create and use analytics reports with Power BI

Short story about Power BI

You see all the cool stuff that Power BI has to offer but you don’t really know what it is? Where do you really get started? What all it offers?

It is visualization tool to create stunning reports and dashboards to help you gain insights in your business. And to make business decisions.

In today’s world of fast changing trends and urge to make positive but creative business stories, sometimes it is overwhelming to gather all the data, go through, analyze them and figure out what would be the most optimal business decision for your company.

Power BI is the tool that visualize data you have and helps you to understand them better, but also to notice some trends within your work flows that are hard to see in Excel sheet. After all, human beings are visual creatures. Most of us process information based on what we see. 65 percent of us are visual learners, according to the Social Science Research Network.

There are 3 different pieces:

  1. Power BI Desktop – Free desktop app that offers you the most functionalities. Within just a few clicks you will get a bunch of visualization that will serve your business.
  2. Power BI Service – Cloud service in the Microsoft Cloud offerings. The point of the service is to drive and enable sharing of collaboration. It works as well in and out of your organization. You can have groups of people and share dashboards. Also, with the possibility of giving rights to ones who may or may not see particular visualization.
  3. Power BI Mobile App – It is possible to use all mentioned serviced on your phone, tablet or other devices wherever you are. Furthermore, there are other tools to help you while being mobile, like sending alert or annotation.

Okay, now what? What’s the first step?

Data (Sources and Connectors)

First step is to download Power BI Desktop, upload relevant data and create your first visualization: dashboard or report. With Power BI Desktop, you can connect to data from many different sources.

Data types are organized in the following categories:

  • All
  • File
  • Database
  • Power BI
  • Azure
  • Online Services
  • Other

Each of mentioned data types provides the data connections. For example, the File category: Excel, Text/CSV, XML, JSON, Folder, PDF, SharePoint Folder;

And the Database category: SQL Server Database, Access Database, SQL Server Analysis Services Database, Oracle Database, IBM DB2 Database, IBM Informix database (Beta), IBM Netezza, MySQL Database, PostgreSQL Database, Sybase Database, Teradata, etc.

The Power BI team is continually expanding the data sources available to Power BI Desktop and the Power BI service. For now, there are more than 250.

Query definition

When working in the Query Editor window of Power BI Desktop, there are a handful of commonly used tasks.

The common query tasks are the following:

  • Connect to data
  • Shape and combine data
  • Group rows
  • Pivot columns
  • Create custom columns
  • Query formulas

You can edit the steps that Query Editor generates, and create custom formulas to get precise control over connecting to and shaping your data. Whenever Query Editor performs an action on data, the formula associated with the action is displayed in the Formula Bar.

Data Modeling

Data Modeling is one of the features used to connect multiple data sources in BI tool using a relationship. A relationship defines how data sources are connected with each other and you can create interesting data visualizations on multiple data sources.

With the modeling feature, you can build custom calculations on the existing tables and these columns can be directly presented into Power BI visualizations. This allows businesses to define new metrics and to perform custom calculations for those metrics.

Data Visualization

Visualizations (known as visuals for short) display insights that have been discovered in the data. A Power BI report might have a single page with one visual or it might have pages full of visuals. In the Power BI service, visuals can be pinned from reports to dashboards. There are many different visual types available directly from the Power BI Visualizations pane.

It’s important to make the distinction between report designers and report consumers. If you are the person building or modifying the report, then you are a designer. Designers have edit permissions to the report and its underlying dataset. In Power BI Desktop, this means you can open the dataset in Data view and create visuals in Report view. In Power BI service, this means you can open the data set or report in the report editor in Editing view. If a report or dashboard has been shared with you, you are a report consumer. You’ll be able to view and interact with the report and its visuals but you won’t be able to make as many changes as a designer can.

Consume and share

Next step is to publish that visualization from Desktop to the Cloud – Power BI Service. Of course, if you are worried about your data – there are ways to publish visualization, without publishing your data.

From all these visualizations, one can make dashboard that collects all singular visualizations within the organization to give you visual overview.

After creating and publishing wanted content, it’s time to share it with particular colleagues or groups of them in or outside your organization. And real time collaboration starts.

To be part of this collab, people you share visualizations with can use their private email addresses. Power BI Service is user friendly even for newbies who don’t have IT background, which is important because it really gathers experts from all departments in organisation. This is particularly important for analytics departments that create relevant analytics and reports, and then share them across the company.

Apart from consuming the mentioned materials, one can set different access rights for collaborators. Row-level security (RLS) with Power BI can be used to restrict data access for given users. Filters restrict data access at the row level, and you can define filters within roles. This is a practical tool for larger companies, especially ones that have more departments or operate in multiple countries.

Power BI Desktop is a versatile tool that supports four development modes:

  • Live Connection
  • Import (cached)
  • DirectQuery
  • Mixed

Live Connection is mode to develop a report that directly queries an existing data model. With it, one can exploit existing data assets and allow connecting to the base model or a perspective. Also, measures can be added to the report.

One of the features that will be interesting for some companies is that the user’s identity is passed through to enforce role permissions. A great benefit of Live Connection is definitely automatically dashboard tiles update.

Import mode is the most common mode used to develop models. This mode delivers extremely fast performance thanks to in-memory querying. It also offers design flexibility to modelers, and support for specific Power BI service features (Q&A, Quick Insights, etc.). Because of these strengths, it’s the default mode when creating a new Power BI Desktop solution.

It’s important to understand that imported data is always stored to disk. When queried or refreshed, the data must be fully loaded into memory of the Power BI capacity. Once in memory, Import models can then achieve very fast query results. It’s also important to understand that there’s no concept of an Import model being partially loaded into memory.

DirectQuery mode is an alternative to Import mode. Models developed in DirectQuery mode don’t import data. Instead, they consist only of metadata defining the model structure. When the model is queried, native queries are used to retrieve data from the underlying data source.

There are two main reasons to consider developing a DirectQuery model:

  • When data volumes are too large – even when data reduction methods are applied – to load into a model, or practically refresh
  • When reports and dashboards need to deliver “near real-time” data, beyond what can be achieved within scheduled refresh limits. (Scheduled refresh limits are eight times a day for shared capacity, and 48 times a day for a Premium capacity.)

Mix mode can mix Import and DirectQuery modes, or integrate multiple DirectQuery data sources. Models developed in this mode support configuring the storage mode for each model table. This mode also supports calculated tables (defined with DAX).

The table storage mode can be configured as Import, DirectQuery, or Dual. A table configured as Dual storage mode is both Import and DirectQuery, and this setting allows the Power BI service to determine the most efficient mode to use on a query-by-query basis.

Mix mode strives to deliver the best of Import and DirectQuery modes. When configured appropriately they can combine the high query performance of in-memory models with the ability to retrieve near real-time data from data sources.

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Video: This is Power BI

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Introduction to the Power BI service

Introduction to the Power BI service

This unit explores the Power BI service and shows how it can help you turn your business intelligence data into data insights.

The following are the tasks that you will complete in this module:

  1. Upload reports
  2. Create dashboards
  3. Ask questions of your data

Video: Introduction to the Power BI service

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

Sign in to the Power BI service

Before you can sign in to Power BI, you’ll need an account. To get a free trial, go to app.powerbi.com and sign up with your email address.

For detailed steps on setting up an account, see Sign in to Power BI service

Integrate OneDrive for Business with Power BI

Integrate OneDrive for Business with Power BI

You can use your Power BI and Office365 groups to collaborate and share by using Microsoft OneDrive for Business.

Video: Use data from Microsoft OneDrive

OneDrive for Business is a potential storage location for your Power BI content that provides version history. You can share your files with an Office365 group to enable several people to work on the same Power BI or Excel files.


To connect to a PBIX (Power BI Desktop) file on OneDrive for Business, sign in to the Power BI service and select Get Data. Under Create new content, select Files, and then select OneDrive – Business. Highlight the file and then select Connect.


Your content appears on the left-hand side navigation bar. File changes on the OneDrive for Business page will automatically reflect in the Power BI environment and will be recorded in the version history.

For more information, see Connect to files stored in OneDrive for your Power BI app workspace

Quick insights in Power BI

Quick insights in Power BI

The Power BI service can automatically look for insights in a dashboard, report, or dataset.

Video: Quick insights

From the Datasets section, select the ellipsis beside the dataset that you’re interested in and then select Get quick insights.


When you select Get quick insights, Power BI searches the data for patterns. After about 15 seconds, 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. You can scroll down through the page to view and consider the visuals.


As with any other visual, you can interact with the visuals on the Quick Insights page. You can also pin any of them to a dashboard or filter to uncover additional insights.

With Quick Insights, you can let Power BI do the work to spot outliers and trends in your data. Use those findings in your dashboards or continue to refine and filter to get to the insights that you need.

For more information, see Generate data insights automatically with Power BI

Publish to web

Publish to web

In this lesson, you’re going to share a Power BI report on a webpage or share it through email. This feature of Power BI is often referred to as Publish to web.

Video: Publish reports to web

In the Power BI service, select the report that you want to share so that it’s displayed on the canvas. Then from the menu, select File > Publish to web. A dialog box will appear, explaining that you’ll receive an embed code that will allow you to include the report on a website or in an email.


When you select Create embed code, Power BI presents another dialog box stating that you’re about to share your data with everyone on the Internet. Verify that sharing publicly is acceptable before moving ahead.

Power BI presents a dialog with two links:

  • A link that you can share in an email, which shows the report as a webpage
  • HTML code (a link plus within an iframe) so that you can embed the report directly into a webpage

For the HTML link, you can choose from predefined sizes for the embedded report, or you can modify the iframe code and customize its size.

You can paste the email link into a browser and see your report as a webpage. You can interact with that webpage just as you would if you were viewing the report in Power BI. The following image shows a Publish to web page when its link was copied directly from that dialog box into a browser.


You can also embed that iframe link into a blog post, website, or Sway.

If you want to delete an embedded code that you created, Power BI can help. In Power BI, select the gear icon in the upper-right corner and then select Manage embed codes.

The Power BI workspace shows the embed codes that you’ve created.

For more information, see Publish to web from Power BI

Create and configure a dashboard

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 can create dashboards by pinning visuals from reports.

Video: Create a dashboard

Pinning a visual to a dashboard is a lot like pinning a picture to a corkboard on a wall, where the visual is pinned to a particular spot for others to see. To pin a visual, open its report on the Power BI service. Hover over the visual that you want to pin and select the pin icon.


You can select a destination dashboard for the visual from the drop-down menu or create a new 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. After a visual has been pinned to a dashboard, it’s called a tile.

Your dashboards 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 select and drag it to a different location on the dashboard. Hover over a tile and select the pencil icon to open the Tile details form, where you can change information in the Title or Subtitle fields.


Select a dashboard tile to view the report from which it originated. You can also change that link by using the Set custom link field on the Tile details form.

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 simple to create and to change. You can customize your one-page dashboard to show exactly the information that it should.

For more information, see Introduction to dashboards for Power BI designers

Ask questions of your data with natural language

Ask questions of your data with natural language

Sometimes, the fastest way to get answers about your data is by asking questions in the Q&A feature of Power BI.

Video: Ask questions in natural language

Note: Currently, Power BI Q&A only supports answering queries that are asked in English; however, a preview is available for Spanish that can be enabled by your Power BI administrator.

Explore Q&A

You can use Q&A to explore your data by using the intuitive, natural language capabilities of Power BI and receive answers in the form of charts and graphs.


Ask a question

Ask a question about your data in Q&A by using natural language. Natural language refers to the ordinary language that humans use to communicate with one another every day. An example would be, “What are the total units by region?”


Q&A is available on dashboards and reports in Power BI. Go to the dashboard and place your cursor in the question box to open the Q&A screen.


If the visuals’ axis labels and values include the words salesaccountmonth, and opportunities, then you can confidently ask questions. For example, “Which account has the highest opportunity” or “Show sales by month as a bar chart.”

Other helpful items are provided on the side of the screen. For each dataset, Q&A shows you keywords and occasionally shows you some sample or suggested questions. Select any of these to add them to the question box.

Another way that Q&A helps you ask questions is with prompts, autocomplete, and visual cues.


Q&A visuals

Q&A picks the best visual based on the data that is being displayed. For example, numbers might be displayed as a line chart while cities are more likely to be displayed as a map.

You can also tell Q&A which visual to use by adding it to your question. Q&A will prompt you with a list of workable visual types. By using the previous example, you could ask, “What are the total units by region by pie chart?”


For more information, see Create a visual with Power BI Q&A

Create custom Q&A suggestions

Create custom Q&A suggestions

With Power BI, you can add your own suggested questions for others who use the natural language query box.

Video: Adding custom questions

Users will see your suggested questions when they ask a question.


To add your own questions, select the ellipsis next to the dashboard that you want to use. Select Settings from the menu. You can completely disable the Q&A search input box from the Dashboards section of the Settings page.


To add questions, select the Datasets section. All datasets that are associated with the dashboard are displayed. Select the dataset that is associated with your dashboard from the list, select Featured Q&A questions, and then select the Add a question link. Enter your question or prompt into the input box and then select Apply.


When anyone selects the search input box, they’ll see your suggested entries at the top of the prompt list. Custom questions are a valuable way to get dashboard users to think about the type of data that is available and how to best use it.

For more information, see Create featured questions for Power BI Q&A

Share dashboards with your organization

Share dashboards with your organization

Power BI reports help you find data, collect it in a data model, and build reports and visualizations. These features are even more powerful when you share your insights with others in your organization.

Video: Share dashboards

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


From the Share dashboard page, select the Share tab. In the Email address field, enter the names of people whom you’d like to grant access to your dashboard. You can also copy and paste email addresses into this field, or you can use a distribution list, security group, or Office 365 group.


If you select the Send email notification to recipients check box, then your recipients will receive an email with a link to the shared dashboard. You can add an optional note to the email.

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

Anyone whom you share a dashboard with 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.

For more information, see Share Power BI dashboards and reports with coworkers and others

Display visuals and tiles in full screen

Display visuals and tiles in full screen

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

Video: View visuals full-screen

Hover over a dashboard tile and select the ellipsis to see possible actions for the tile. Select Open in focus mode to expand the tile to encompass the full dashboard space.


Focus mode allows you to see more detail in your visuals and legends. For example, some of the columns might not be shown because of the space that is available in the tile.


In Focus mode, you can pin the visual directly to a different dashboard by selecting the pin icon. To exit Focus mode, select the Exit focus mode icon in the top-left corner.

The process is similar when you are viewing a report. A visual is still interactive in Focus mode, though you will temporarily lose any cross-filter effect between visuals.

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