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How Content Consumers Can Unlock Actionable Insights in Power BI

Scott Hietpas Scott Hietpas  |  
Jan 29, 2019
 
I love working with Power BI and data, and I'm actively involved in helping develop content within Skyline. In that spirit, I’m going to walk you through how everybody in an organization can find content available to them, as well as useful tips to make best use of it.
 
Even if you've been using Power BI for the last year, you may not be familiar with some of the newer concepts that have been introduced. This includes Apps, which we recommend using to roll out content to your organization. Even if you only use Power BI a little bit, this will help you quickly find any available content and navigate that content to achieve deeper insights.
 

Finding content

As content consumers, how do we find the content that's available to us? The content that'll be available to any specific person in an organization will likely vary because of security and roles placed around the content. Depending on your role, you may only see certain content, whereas other users may see more or less than you. If you’re being directed to use Power BI, it’s safe to assume there will be available content for you. Read on to learn how you find it.
 

How content consumers can find Power BI content

For content consumers, there are 4 useful options on the top left side of the Power BI service screen:
 
  1. Favorites lets me see content that I’ve previously starred or marked as favorites for easy navigation.
  2. Recent shows all my recent activity. If I don't have something marked as a favorite but I know I viewed it recently, I can find it there.
  3. Apps is key to finding your content. I'm going to circle back to this in a moment.
  4. Shared with me shows items if they have been shared peer-to-peer. We recommend limiting content distribution by peer-to-peer sharing. There are a few cases where it makes sense, but the best practice for distributing content within Power BI to a broader audience is the use of apps.
 
power bi options
 
Going back to the third option, how do you find Apps? There are two approaches. The first is to select “Apps” and click on the last box there to get more apps. There is also a “Get Apps” button in the upper right-hand corner. If I click on this button, I can now browse all the apps within my organization that I have access to.
 

Power BI 101

I have now found some apps that I have access and interest in. What should I expect to find in these apps?
 
There are two different types of content in Power BI: dashboards and reports. Both types will consist of a collection of individual tables, graphs, filters, and other various media. These individual items are generally referred to as visuals.
 

Dashboards

A dashboard allows us to combine several images, text, and data visualizations into an overview of information. This information can be sources from several reports. A dashboard lends itself well to showing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) where we can measure ourselves against a goal. At a glance, I can see KPIs for every department in my organization. With a dashboard, I can click on one of these data visualizations, and that will navigate into the underlying report from which that tile was pinned.
 
power bi project dashboard
 

Reports

In some ways, a report looks like a dashboard. We still have a collection of rich data visualizations in a report. But a report may consist of multiple pages, where each page might have a focus on the data.
 
power bi report
 

Interactivity makes a big difference

The main difference between reports and dashboards is interactivity. Each report page allows me to slice, dice, and do deeper analysis of the data. On reports, I have slicers which can filter the data. As I click on the slicers, the visuals change to reflect that subset of data that I'm filtering on.
 
power bi report category
 

Visuals become slicers

One of the powerful capabilities of Power BI is that the visuals also become slicers. I can click on the visuals themselves, and the surrounding visuals highlight a subset of the data. I can even hold down the control key and select multiple visuals, which gives me the intersection of those selections. In this way, we can rethink how we design reports because the visuals themselves can become part of that analytical process. A report or page within the report lends itself to deeper analysis.
 
power bi visuals slicers
 

Drill up and down within visuals

Another feature of interactivity available in Power BI is the ability to drill up and down within a visual. Consider a bar chart that shows profits by product. If I have a product category available that each product falls under, I will see buttons near the top of the visual. There would be a button that shifts the bar chart to be profits by product category (up arrow), drilling up to the higher grain. If there were a lower level underneath product (i.e. product sub type), I would also have a button that could drill down and show profits by product sub type. There would also be the option to either show the product sub types independently (drill down, shown by the two downward arrows), or to show the product sub types grouped by their parent product (expand, shown by the forked down arrows).
 
power bi drill up down visuals
 

Drill-through opportunities

Beyond drilling up and down, content creators can also create drill-through opportunities in reports for consumers. They can even hide some additional report pages that consumers can only get to using controls provided by the creator.
 
For example, a creator can make a project detail page to supplement a project summary page. In order to view the detail page, the consumer would first view the project summary page, and then the summary page would have navigation (possibly a bookmark, which will be explained later) that points to the detail page. Any filters applied to the summary page could then be transferred to the detail page.
 
power bi drill through opportunities
 

Pinning KPIs

If we find Key Performance Indicators that might be captured on a report visual, then we can pin those back to a dashboard to enhance its summary view. That, at a high level, is the relationship between dashboards and reports.
 
power bi pinning kpis
 
Despite their similarities, dashboards and reports are different things, and there are some other minor differences. For starters, I can scroll up and down and horizontally on a dashboard. I can also zoom in and zoom out. However, reports are a fixed size and have multiple pages.
 
In a nutshell, Power BI is a collection of these rich data visualizations. It's a combination of a summary level dashboard and these individual reports that lend themselves to deeper analysis of the data. This will help you use common terminology when discussing Power BI.
 

FAQ: Can you put slicers on the dashboard?

You cannot put slicers on the dashboard. The only caveat to that is pinning a live page, which I do not recommend.
 

FAQ: The dashboard isn't meant to be an active report?

Correct. The dashboard doesn't have that interactivity. By default, it provides a summary that links into the underlying reports. On a high level, I like to think of a dashboard as summarizing how we're doing against our goals. Then, we can drill into the report to understand why we are or are not meeting our goals. One is reporting work; the other is analysis.
 

Q&A Feature

Once I’m familiar with the typical approaches to consuming Power BI content in the service, there are advanced capabilities available in the service. One such feature is called Q&A. When viewing a dashboard, in the upper left corner of the screen, I might see that it says, ''Ask a question about your data.'' In this case, I can click on that and start typing a question like, “What is my most expensive product?” Ultimately, Power BI will respond with a visual answer. If I had the appropriate access, I could pin this visual into my dashboard and keep it for future use. This is helpful if I ask this question regularly.
 
power bi Q&A feature
 
I can even start to do more advanced things. When I typed in my question earlier, I saw that the window underlined keywords that it thought it understood based on the underlying data. I could test this further to see what other language it understands. For example, I could say, ''What are my top 10 most expensive products?'' and see it rank my top 10 products. This is possible due to Power BI’s integration with Cortana, the digital assistant that is in Windows. Perhaps someday, rather than having to pre-build these reports, we can simply ask for what we want to see, and the Q&A tool would come back with a nice visual.
 
power bi q&a
 
Right now, Q&A works well. It's not entirely polished, but it gives us a glimpse of possible future capabilities.
 

Quick Insights

Another capability I'm excited about is called Quick Insights. This is where Power BI helps us analyze the data and provide suggestions of visuals that will provide deeper insights. You can either select a data source that is available to you and select “Quick Insights”, or you can select specific visuals in a report and use Quick Insights to analyze the data in that visual. This capability is very powerful and can move us away from only utilizing pre-created reports and towards AI-assisted ad hoc analysis with the click of a button. That’s why when we talk about leveraging the Power BI service, we're not only talking about reports that we create. We’re also talking about additional artificial intelligence that Microsoft is starting to incorporate into the product itself.
 
power bi quick insights
 

Bookmarks

Power BI recently added Bookmarks, which can enhance the capabilities of our reports. For example, consider a common report of sales by sales personnel. I can click on a person in a visual and see their specific numbers on an ad-hoc basis. Now with Bookmarks, I can also create predefined views here. Let's say some of my users want to see each person’s sales in units sold, and others want to see it in dollar amounts. I can use a bookmark to allow the user to flip between these two different views. I can also have some predefined date ranges that users frequently access so they don't have to mess with a date slider. I can even switch the visual itself with a bookmark in case users have preferences in how they want to see the data (bar charts, maps, etc.).
 
power bi bookmarks
 
Some of these capabilities get more complex from a content creator side but become very simple for consumers to use. With features like bookmarks, we have more options on how we can start doing that analysis.
 

Reset filters to Default

One important thing to note is Power BI’s ability to remember my activity within the apps I use. Let's say I go into my apps, set some filters on a few report pages, and then tomorrow I come back into the same app. My filter selections from my previous viewing will still be applied, which is useful if you use the same view every day. However, if I want to make sure that I’m viewing the initial, unaltered version of the report, I can use Reset to Default. If I clicked that, it clears all the custom filters that I set while interacting with it, and it puts the report back to the state in which it was published. This allows me to do all the slicing and dicing I want without worrying about being able to return to the original state.
 
power bi reset filters default
 

FAQ: Will filters show for everyone else who's viewing the report or just for me?

Your filter selections are your own personalized saved state of those filters. There will be some functionality coming in Power BI where you can save preset filters, but that's not yet available. Right now, you can only save where you left off.
 

FAQ: Does it save where I leave off?

Yes. This is useful if I'm always coming in here looking at the same view. But if I start to have several filters and I don't remember what I did or didn't do, then resetting to default brings you back to that initial state so you can start over.
 

Mobile

You can control mobile and web views separately. Not only can we consume this content in the Power BI service, but we can also get that same capability on our mobile devices. If you were to go to the appropriate app store for your device, you can search for the Power BI application. After logging in with your organizational account, you can then view the same content on your mobile device that you could view on your computer.
 
One important point to note is that, by default, if you hold your mobile device in landscape mode, your view of the Power BI content will be very similar to what you see in the online or web version. If you switch to portrait mode, you will see the mobile-optimized view (assuming said view was created by the content creator).
 
power bi mobile view
 

Conclusion

There are a lot of great features that are baked into the Power BI tool and service that help us analyze data in ways we previously couldn't. There is still a place for reporting tools like SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), which can create paginating reports that are highly structured. SSRS is more useful when you care more about reporting data than analyzing it. But with Power BI, we can get to that next level where we're starting to ask deeper questions. By using the powerful combination of dashboard reporting and report deep-dive analysis, you can unlock new insights to change your organization for the better.
 
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