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How To Share Power BI Reports – Fitting the Needs of the End User

Technology

Jul 20, 2022 - 7 minute read

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Injae Park Senior BI Analyst

A Swedish-Korean Senior Business Intelligence Analyst specialising in Power BI and Azure. With experience working for multiple F500 companies, he solves data problems with cloud solutions. Injae enjoys cooking fusion dishes inspired by the different countries he’s lived in.

See all Injae's posts

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In my first projects, sharing Power BI content with end users was simple — I created reports and added access to a particular report or workspace by individual work emails. With time, one report became many reports, and it was necessary to change the distribution method to apps. This essentially allowed me to share multiple reports in one go, without having to grant users access to the workspace — a complete game changer for me at the time.

As Microsoft continues to release new functionalities (and deprecate a few others) in Power BI, the number of options for distribution to the users is generally increasing. How end users access Power BI content might be an oversight in many projects — in many cases, an application or a report will be the right approach. Nonetheless, alternative options shouldn’t be disregarded, e.g., if the framework of end user consumption is already established (such as an internal SharePoint or a customer-facing portal), or if the report needs URL filtering.

It should be noted that Power BI as a tool can also directly provide data instead of reports. The self-service model can offer a more personalised approach to end users who are more Power BI-savvy. I won’t be discussing it in this article, but it’s important to remember that such an option exists.

What Is the Content Delivery Scope?

Content Delivery Scope is Microsoft’s way of aligning who creates content for whom. There are four different levels based on the target consumer:

Power BI report

This distinction is required at all levels of the conversation — a report made by a data analyst for their personal use would significantly differ from an enterprise-level report. Typically, the two would also be restricted by different licences.

The Classic — Reports, Apps, and Workspaces

At the start of any Power BI journey, you will invariably run into your own workspace. This is where the content is hosted in the Power BI service and is used at a personal, team, or department level. Workspace roles can be assigned to administer security at this level, but typically workspace access isn’t used to deliver content and is directed more towards collaboration. To share a workspace, a user needs to be an Admin or a Member, while the Contributor role allows for editing and publishing reports. If we’re using something like Row-Level Security, then users need to be added to the workspace with the Viewer role. If the users are part of an Azure Directory group that has higher access, their data won’t be restricted as access within Power BI works additively.

From a workspace, content delivery is usually done using the share functionality or applications. Sharing is an intuitive way to grant access to a report published on the Power BI online environment, and applications are a great way to group multiple reports together and share them as a standalone web resource where the user doesn’t have to navigate the Power BI environment. Sharing is better suited for smaller audiences, while apps are better for bigger ones. This is in the design — apps are for distributing packaged content and can be found by users independently if published within an organisation from the Power BI service.

The minimum requirement for sharing a report or app is either:

  1. The Sharer and Recipient both need Power Bi Pro licencing, or
  2. The Power BI content needs to reside in the Premium capacity.

This requirement holds regardless of how the report is being shared and therefore can be an important aspect of the licencing strategy. The Premium capacity involves significant costs, and if the organisation is small, a Power Bi Pro/Premium per-user licence might be the way to go. It might even be that users within the business already possess a Microsoft E5 licence, which automatically includes Power BI Pro. However, a per-user licencing scheme could be more expensive if there’s a large number of users, so it’s important to have the correct licences backing your Power BI.

The Static — PDFs and Emails

You may have already heard of paginated reports, which are Power BI’s answer to the need for printed reports/documents. It comes with its very own software — the Power BI Report Builder and is a tool optimised for printable reports. Paginated reports are a premium functionality, so you could be inclined to use the PDF export function combined with Power Automate to send out a scheduled email.

Even though some of the best functionalities in Power BI come from interactivity, there are also various use cases for static reports, which include:

  1. Weekly financial updates,
  2. Executive summaries,
  3. Email blasts,
  4. Notifications for updates to the existing reports.

Distributing Power BI reports as PDFs requires taking a few aspects into account. It may be helpful to structure the Power BI report to fit the A4 size, although landscape PDFs can also be generated if the report is at the default 16:9 scale. Moreover, end users can directly download PDFs from the report or workspace, but they might also simply want a scheduled email showing new data.

For this purpose, the best way is to use either the subscription function or Power Automate to turn a snapshot of a report page into a PDF and send it in an email. Subscriptions are another premium feature and allow for users or AD groups to be added to a “subscription” of a report and receive its PDF version. It does face some limitations, such as licencing, but also a lack of flexibility — the email is very basic and can’t be modified to your preferences. Therefore, using Power Automate to create the PDF and sending a fully customised email might be the option to consider.

Embedding — Websites and Portals

As a feature, Power BI allows for embedding in websites or portals, be it an internal HTML portal, a SharePoint site, or even a model-driven app (part of PowerApps). This can be particularly useful if the report isn’t just a standalone tool, but part of an integrated environment. Take a pricing tool built within model-driven apps, where an end user selects a basket of goods to be repriced. During the process, an embedded Power BI report could use URL filters to show more information on these items. Power BI can create both a URL and an iFrame code for embedding into HTML code.

Why would you embed a report or application within a website? One reason is to ensure interactivity within a portal with the URL filters. If the website is an established part of the organisational infrastructure, an embedded report can improve the user experience as all information is available in one location.

Microsoft Teams and PowerPoint

There are some simple reasons why you would want to embed Power BI into MS Teams, but to warrant such a decision, the selected user group needs to be active enough in Teams. This holds especially true if the user group only uses a few reports and doesn’t access the Power BI service otherwise. Then, embedding in Teams allows smaller groups or entire departments to access data quickly and, particularly, to use the chat function native to Power BI to leave comments in the report.

Power BI can be embedded in MS Teams in two different ways. The entire online service can be embedded in your main navigation pane as the Power BI Teams App (not to be confused with the Power BI Report Apps) as long as it’s allowed by the Teams Admin. This essentially takes the online environment and pastes it into your Teams programme, which overall isn’t too different from using your browser. The key difference here is notifications, as in your Teams notifications/feed, you’ll be able to see Power BI-related information such as shared reports, requests for access, and Power BI Goals. This would be most useful for internal administrators of Power BI or end users specifically using the Scorecard/Goals feature.

The other way is to embed specific reports in tabs. Tabs exist in both chats and channels, and embedding the report this way can allow end users to quickly access the relevant information. This, however, also depends on how much the organisation relies on Teams — as mentioned earlier, accessing the report from the browser might be preferred for some users not accustomed to Teams.

In addition to Teams, Microsoft now offers the possibility to embed a Power BI report in a PowerPoint presentation. Before, presenters had to switch between the two tools, but with the new feature, the Power BI report can be accessed directly from the presentation. This is currently available as an add-in, so it needs to be enabled for your organisation.

The way to add a report to PowerPoint is very similar to how Power BI reports are embedded in websites. A URL is generated to be pasted into the PowerPoint add-in. The report can be frozen to a specific view to save it in a state without automated data refreshes, and in the case of imported data, the Power BI report can be refreshed from the PowerPoint add-in. The PowerPoint feature is clearly directed towards demonstrations of fully productionised reports, but the option is there to make those demos seamless.

Final Thoughts

In this article, I’ve discussed quite a few different options for sharing Power BI reports, from direct access, through a scheduled email containing a static PDF, to embedding in websites, portals, Teams, and PowerPoint. There are different use cases for all these options, and it’s important to note that Power BI is simply a tool, and understanding these possibilities will let you utilise it to the fullest. Having read this article, I hope you’ve gained insights that will help you successfully plan and distribute your future Power BI projects.

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Injae Park Senior BI Analyst

A Swedish-Korean Senior Business Intelligence Analyst specialising in Power BI and Azure. With experience working for multiple F500 companies, he solves data problems with cloud solutions. Injae enjoys cooking fusion dishes inspired by the different countries he’s lived in.

See all Injae's posts

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