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What is Power BI?

How can Power BI (Business Intelligence) help to interpret and communicate meaning for your data?

From customer and employee data, metrics for company goals, to sales and acquisitions, business are drowning in data, but this data is only as good as your ability to interpret and communicate its meaning. That’s where Power BI (Business Intelligence) comes into play.

Microsoft Power BI is a collection of software services, apps, and connectors that work together to turn your unrelated sources of data into coherent, visually immersive, and interactive insights. Whether your data is a simple Microsoft Excel workbook, or a collection of cloud-based and on-premises hybrid data warehouses, Power BI lets you easily connect to your data sources, clean, and model your data without affecting the underlying source, visualize (or discover) what’s important, and share that with anyone or everyone you want.

Different sources of data can be showcased in one place.
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The parts of Power BI

Power BI consists of a Microsoft Windows desktop application called Power BI Desktop, an online SaaS (Software as a Service) service called the Power BI service, and mobile Power BI apps that are available on phones and tablets.

Parts of Power BI.
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These three elements — Desktop, the service, and Mobile apps—are designed to let people create, share, and consume business insights in the way that serves them, or their role, most effectively.

Power BI concepts

The major building blocks of Power BI are: datasets, reports, and dashboards. They are all organized into workspaces, and they are created on capacities.


Capacities are a core Power BI concept representing a set of resources 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. By default, workspaces are created on a shared capacity.


Workspaces are containers for dashboards, reports, 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, and datasets. With one exception, all workspace members need Power BI Pro licenses.

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? An app is a collection of dashboards and reports built to deliver key metrics to the Power BI consumers in your organization. Apps are interactive, but consumers cannot edit them. App consumers, the colleagues who have access to the apps, do not necessarily need Pro licenses.


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 collection of data, for example, a dataset can contain data from an Excel workbook on OneDrive, an on-premises SSAS tabular dataset, and/or a Salesforce dataset. There are many different data sources supported. Datasets added by one workspace member are available to the other workspace members with an admin, member, or contributor role.

Shared Datasets

Business intelligence is a collaborative activity. It’s important to establish standardized datasets that can be the ‘one source of truth.’ Discovering and reusing those standardized datasets is key. When expert data modelers in your organization create and share optimized datasets, report creators can start with those datasets to build accurate reports. Your organization can have consistent data for making decisions, and a healthy data culture. To consume these shared datasets just choose Power BI datasets when creating your Power BI report.


A Power BI report is one or more pages of visualizations such as line charts, maps, and treemaps. Visualizations are also called visuals. 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 a 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 are 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.

dashboard tile.

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

Edit report button
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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.

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 and show all the metrics that matter to them.

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 will be presented with a dashboard. If you own the dashboard, you will also have edit access to the underlying dataset(s) and reports. If the dashboard was shared with you, you will be able to interact with the dashboard and any underlying reports but will not be able to save any changes.

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Introduction to Microsoft Power Platform for Business

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