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Introduction to Power BI Service

Introduction to Power BI Service

This blog post intends to give an overview of Power BI with great emphasis on Power BI Service.

Microsoft Power BI is a data analytics/business intelligence software that’s excellent for turning data into visually impressive and interactive insights. There are three major elements of this software – Desktop, Service/Web, and Mobile app that allows users to create, share and utilize the actionable insights in the most effective way.

 The Power BI flow

The flow in Power BI pertains to the three elements of the software. It typically starts in Power BI desktop where developers can perform ETL, and create reports which are then published to Power BI service for collaboration between stakeholders and then shared to view and interact with on the Mobile App.

Power BI Desktop 

This is the offline component of Power BI that allows users to perform data cleaning, data manipulation, and data modeling as well as create insightful reports. These reports are then published to Power BI service for others to consume. Power BI Desktop can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store or PowerBI service. Note that Power BI Desktop is free and does not require a license or sign-in. Power BI Desktop is most suitable for individuals who want to learn about the software and don’t require sharing.

Main Features of Power BI Desktop

  1. Report View
  2. Data View
  3. Modeling View
  4. Home Tab
  5. Filters Pane
  6. Visualization Pane
  7. Data Pane

Power BI Service 

On most occasions, reports created on Power BI desktop need to be shared with stakeholders for decision-making and interactions, this is where Power BI service comes in very handy.

Power BI service, also known as Power BI Online allows stakeholders to interact with published reports once they sign in. It allows for collaboration amongst co-workers within their workspaces, users can also create dashboards (allows you to pin visuals from several unrelated reports into one review) and ask questions about your data using the built-in AI feature it provides.

Main Features of Power BI Service

  1. Dashboard/Report title
  2. Company Icon and Power BI
  3. Icons
  4. Navigation Pane
  5. Q&A question Box
  6. Report or Dashboard Canvas (as in this case)
  7. Search bar, notification icon, and profile icon

Similarities between both tools

Connecting Power BI Desktop With Power BI Service

Connecting Power BI Desktop to Power BI Service requires you to sign up to Power BI Service for free using your work email address or school email. After which you’ll have to save your report and then publish it from Power BI Desktop to a workspace in Power BI Service. To view content on Power BI services, you must have a Pro or Premium Per User License.

WorkSpaces in Power BI Service

Workspaces are used to create and store assets within the Power BI Service. They are a core aspect of Power BI service, as they help users organize datasets, reports, and Dashboards within our Power BI Service access. Once a report is published from Power BI desktop, it is stored in a workspace in two-piece i.e. the dataset and the report. You can also describe workspace as a shared folder that’s created to have a collaborative environment for users and allows co-workers work concurrently.

By default, Microsoft Power BI Service provides a personal workspace environment known as “My Workspace” which helps with organizing data assets for personal use even with a free license. Users can also create other workspaces that can be shared with members of the organization to whom you can provide access so that datasets, reports and dashboards can be viewed by complete teams.

Workspace Roles

  1. Admin – Users with this role can do practically anything
  2. Member- Users with this role can do anything except add new admins and update or delete the workspace. suitable for people who need to manage the Power BI apps and workspace membership
  3. Contributor – Contributors may create, edit, delete, and view content in the workspace. They are not responsible for creating Power BI Apps.
  4. Viewers – Interact with dashboards and reports but cannot make changes


The word ‘dashboard’ is often used to refer to an actual report. In power BI, Dashboards, and reports differ. A dashboard is simply a summary of reports. You can pin several elements of different reports to create a dashboard. A report is usually more interactive while a dashboard is a layer on top of reports as it has elements of multiple reports to give a holistic view in one place. Slicers cannot be pinned to dashboards and dashboards automatically refreshes as soon as the data connected to the report is refreshed.

Power BI Licenses

You may wonder why you need a license when after all Power BI Desktop is free. One major reason for a license is the ability to share your interactive reports with stakeholders. You can also monitor and track the usage of your reports, automate the refreshing of your data sets, and lots more.

In Power BI Service, there are different types of licenses that can be categorized into 2 (two) which could be either Capacity Based or User Based Licensing. You would have to use any of the two in order to access Power BI Service. 

User Based Licensing is usually recommended for small businesses, and users are billed on a monthly basis. There are three types of licenses under user-based licensing which are the Free, Pro, and Premium Per User (PPU) Licenses. See the table below for more information.

In Capacity-Based Licensing, a user purchases a dedicated capacity and then assigns multiple users to it. You would also need user-based licensing even if you are using Capacity based licensing. Capacity-based Licensing is licensing at the organizational level and not the individual/user level. It is suitable for enterprise users with multiple users, they would have a dedicated capacity to host all their reports and can be enhanced specifically for their own environment. There are two types of licenses under capacity-based licensing which are Embedded and Premium. If you purchase premium licenses you have embedded included in it but if you purchase an embedded license, you just have embedded only without the premium.

The embedded license gives users the ability to embed their Power BI Reports to their company’s website or other applications with a dedicated capacity. You may need a web developer for this because of the configuration and customizations that may be required. It offers enhanced performance, scalability, and security features.

When you use the Premium Capacity, you enjoy the benefits of PPU and the provision for larger datasets of up to 400GB. It allows for a larger user base; when it won’t make sense to pay per user. You can also share content with FREE users (i.e when the workspace is built under a premium capacity). It requires a dedicated capacity and you still need a Pro License for developers. 

You can learn more about Licensing for Power BI Service on the Microsoft documentation here.

Power BI Subscription 

A subscription to Power BI Service allows you to automatically send a snapshot or copy of your report or dashboard as well as a link to the whole dashboard to stakeholders via email at a scheduled time. 

To create a subscription, kindly follow the steps below.

  • First, navigate to the workspace that contains the report/dashboard you want to use,
  • Click on the report to open it and then navigate to “Create Subscription” to create a subscription.
  • Add the email address of the stakeholders, and schedule a suitable time.
  • After this, the email will be sent at the scheduled time.

Power BI Service Alerts

Alerts in Power BI Service are a very handy feature. It is used to create email alerts/notifications when certain metrics/criteria are met. For example, when sales exceed the targeted sales amount, an alert is sent automatically to the stakeholders to notify them instantly of the great achievement. Note that alerts only work for dashboards and not reports. They work with only 3 visuals pinned to the dashboard which are either card, gauge, or KPI visuals. 

Creating an alert in the Power BI service is quite easy, follow the steps below to create an alert.

  • Go to the workspace that contains the dashboard you want to create
  • Click to open the dashboard
  • Hover over the card (or Gauge or KPI) visual as the case may be, Click on the three dots and then click on manager alerts.
  • A dialogue box will appear at the right-hand side of your screen, click on add an alert and fill in the preferred schedule.

Alerts can also be created using Power Automate, but we would speak more about that in another article.

Power BI Apps

Apps in Power BI Service can be described as a pre-built report or dashboard created by designers/developers who share the app to a location where business users can access and install it for their personal use. They are simply packaged content for broad distribution. For example, as a user, you may need to create a YouTube analytics report, instead of building from scratch or reinventing the wheel, there are apps (Template Apps) readily available that you can just install. Enter your credentials to your youtube analytics account and it creates the connection and builds the report for us.

There are two types of Power BI Apps namely Organisational apps and Template apps. Organizational apps are available to users within your organization while Template apps are pre-built Power BI applications that can be accessed publicly, some are free and some have to be paid for. Use this link to learn more about Power BI Apps.

Datasets and Data Flow in PowerBI Service

Datasource, datasets, and data flow are terminologies that we must be familiar with while using Power BI Service. Data is gotten from data sources which could be databases like SQL Server, Flat files, or cloud-based files. Datasets are a subset of data sources, they are usually queried from the data sources and used to create our reports and dashboards. Recall that when a report is published to Power BI service, it is separated into 2 – Report and Dataset. The dataset here contains the data, the manipulations, and the modeling carried out, as well as DAX measures.

Data Flow is ETL in Cloud based on the Power Query engine. It allows users to connect to data sources, carry out some transformation and load the result into Azure Data Lake Storage and you can reuse the datasets (Shared Dataset) in multiple Power BI files. Note that you’ll need a pro license to create data flows.

Shared DataSet also allows you to reuse datasets that are already published to Power BI service and create several reports from them without having to do data transformations or modeling all over again, which ultimately reduces redundant copies of a single data set.



In this article, we looked at what Power BI Service is and what elements makeup Power BI Service. We also saw how to create alerts and subscriptions for our reports and dashboards. Power BI Service provides a very secure way of sharing your Power BI content in real-time.

The decision to select Power BI desktop, Power BI Pro, or Power BI premium depends purely on your usage. If you just want to explore data for personal interest and you do not intend to share it with others, the Power BI desktop app will be a great option to choose. However, if you want to create visualizations that you can share with others in real-time and not just screenshots, you will have to switch to the Pro or Premium licenses.

To learn more about Power BI, you should sign up for our classes, keep up with the blog, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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