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Useful Tips for Power BI Desktop

Scott Hietpas Scott Hietpas  |  
Mar 19, 2019
There are several things within the Power BI desktop resources that I want to point out. One of the best things that happened in a few releases back is the help menu in the Desktop app. Within the help menu is access to Microsoft documentation and videos. Power BI’s blog speaks about this in more detail if you want to read about some of the latest monthly features.
Power BI’s Community is essentially discussion boards where you can post questions and see if somebody already answered your question. There are also several samples in galleries in the community. If you have ideas for future enhancements, you can submit those as well. If you're trying to do advanced art, there's a whole gallery around art scripts. There are others around different themes and color combinations. But the one I want to point out here is data stories galleries. This is where we may find examples of different stories we want to tell.

Deploying Power BI Desktop content

Once you create a report in Power BI Desktop, what do you do next? You publish the report to your app workspace. On the main screen of the Desktop app is a Publish button. This is what takes content from the local Power BI desktop and publishes it out to an app workspace in the Power BI service. I can simply click Publish, and it will prompt me to publish the report to the same workspace that the data model is in. After I publish it, then we can see that report out in the app workspace.
Once you publish a report to the workspace (if you were in the app workspace in the Power BI service), you would think you're done publishing because you see the latest version of the data here. You can start interacting with it and apply slicers and filters. However, there are a few important steps that we need to keep in mind after we publish to the service. Within the app workspace, I'm going to click on the active workspace that shows my content listing. When you publish a report, it publishes two things: the report definition and the corresponding data set.
For any report that we publish to the app workspace, we need to determine how to keep the data updated. If we import data into Power BI, the report works as soon as we publish it, but eventually that data will become stale. If we intended to connect to Analysis Services, even though that's a live connection that will keep the data up to date, Power BI needs a gateway to get back to our on-premises server. We need to make sure that it found the appropriate gateway.


To verify that the report not only works now, but it will continue to stay up-to-date and relevant as we go forward, the first thing you should always do after publishing a report is go to the Datasets area. Usually there will be a star next to new datasets. Click the ellipses for the dataset and go to settings. Here you can check the gateway connection. If you're directly connecting to an Azure resource, then you don’t need a gateway. The gateway is only needed if you're trying to access an on-premises data source. Power BI can also automatically access any data sources that we have that are in OneDrive or SharePoint. If you are using OneDrive or something like that, then Power BI still needs a credential that has access to that OneDrive area because Power BI won’t natively have access. You need to click edit credentials and put in your credentials so it can get back to that OneDrive area for doing a refresh.

Scheduled Refresh

The next important thing to check is the scheduled refresh. For a live connection, you don't need that because it stays live. If you're importing data into Power BI, then you need to schedule a refresh. Depending on your license, there's a limited number of times you can do that. For a normal Pro license, you could refresh the data eight times a day. Every time you refresh the data that you imported into Power BI, it's going to pull the entire dataset each time. These settings are important if your dataset is large.


Is there an event-based scheduling like when the up-stream links that data?

The short answer is, no. The more complex answer is that, in theory, you could invoke an event-driven refresh via PowerShell (and other Azure services combined with PowerShell).

I created the report in Power BI and I can interact with it, so why do I need to publish it to the service?

It’s because you want the service’s sharing and collaboration capabilities. Ultimately, we want to distribute that report to a broader audience using an app, and we do that by first publishing it to an app workspace.
When you publish your report to the app workspace, whatever filters you had applied are going to be the default. Users can always reset back to the default, but that default is whatever it was when it was published. If, after publishing from the Power BI desktop, I see many filters preset the way I don't want, then I would go back in the Power BI desktop, clear out any preset filters that I had set that I don't want as the default, and publish again. Remember, whatever state it was in, that's going to be the default state for the app.

Creating the App

Now you need to create the app. If you click on the heading of the active app workspace, there's a button on top that will either say create app or update app. When I click it, I can add a description for the app and a background color. I can choose what the landing page is for the app, and I can also decide who I'm distributing it to. In most cases I might choose individuals or groups that I want to distribute that to and then I can click “update”. When I do that, all the latest changes in my workspace would get published to the app, and all those additional users that I distributed to would be able to consume that app in the apps area.

Content Creator Best Practices

Let’s reiterate some best practices if I’m a new content creator in an app workspace. The first thing I would do when I'm added to a new app workspace is click the ellipsis, go to the files area, and then immediately click sync within this area. Once it's synced, you can then work within file explorer. Then, when editing an existing report, simply navigate to that report, open it, make any changes, save it, and publish it up to the app workspace. If I want a new report, I can simply save it in the folder. Even though it's new, it will sync to OneDrive and eventually other people can see it.
Within the Power BI desktop, make sure to publish to the app workspace. Once I publish to the app workspace, if it was an existing report all the settings that I had should still apply. But if it was a new report, either way I'd probably go to the dataset section and I would double-check the settings just to make sure that it found a gateway, that my credentials were entered, and that I have scheduled “refresh enabled” as needed. Make sure to test the report within the app workspace. Once complete, update the app so additional users can then consume that content.
Regarding building Power BI reports, leveraging drill down and drill through is certainly something that gives users additional layers to do deeper analysis. The other thing that I try to leverage often is the filters area. There are page level, report level filters, and the drill through filters. I try to add as many fields there as I can, and part of that is so that those are available in the end-user experience. Even though the app experience is read-only, the more values that we can put in the filters area, the more flexible and usable those reports can be. In addition to having some drill down and drill through, we can also leverage that filters area to really make it where that single report page is jam-packed with a bunch of different ways that you can analyze the data.


This 4-part blog series should provide you with a crash course on creating enterprise content in Power BI. I highly recommend that you use these best practices to ensure that you can build and manage your content for long-term success. If you would like further insight into the best practices Skyline recommends around Power BI, contact us, and we would be happy to assist you.
  1. How Content Consumers Can Use Apps and Workspaces in Power BI
  2. How to Create Content for a Power BI App Workspace
  3. How to Retrieve Data from Excel Files and Other Data Sources in Power BI
  4. Useful Tips for Power BI Desktop
AnalyticsPower BI


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