Welcome to the eleventh post in my blog series concerning Microsoft Exam 70-778, where I hope to provide a revision tool for those planning to take the exam or a learning aid for those looking to increase their Power BI knowledge. In last week’s post, we covered a broad spectrum of topics ranging from Dashboards through to integrating on-premise data sources within Power BI Online. Dashboards are just one means of consuming published Power BI Reports, with a few additional options also available to help us include Power BI content within existing websites, intranet or on-premise deployments. The Publish and embed reports exam topic covers this, focusing on the following skill areas:

Publish to web; publish to Microsoft SharePoint; publish reports to a Power BI Report Server

Let’s dive into each of these specific areas of functionality and how to utilise them most effectively.

Publish to Web

The ability to publish Power BI content to any location on the web can be incredibly beneficial. Users can access Power BI information without needing to log into Power BI Online or even, necessarily, be licensed, allowing you to quickly include Reports as part of an existing website, blog or application. Although there is some trade-off from a functionality perspective, you can expect to do most of the things you’d expect a Power BI Report to do as standard. Keep in mind though; it’s only possible to publish Reports to the web, not Dashboards or Datasets. To do this, you navigate to the relevant Report within Power BI Online and select the File -> Publish to web option:

At this stage, note that you will be presented with additional dialog box prompts, indicated below, which emphasise two critical points to remember regarding the Publish to web option:

  • ANYONE on the web can access your Report once published, and there is also a high likelihood that crawler bots, including search engines, will also index and include your Report as part of search results. To ensure that only users within your organisation can access your report, consider using the Embed option as opposed to Publish to Web, which is available for users assigned a Power BI Professional license.
  • If you wish to embed reports for internal users to access, then this is technically not allowed under the Power BI Free license. To use this functionality in a compliant manner, you must ensure that all internal users accessing the report are assigned a Power BI Professional license.

Once sorting the various T&C’s, a URL and embed code is generated for you to use. A handy feature for less-technical users is the ability to modify the size of the IFrame, based on the options defined below:

You can then embed the IFrame snippet within any HTML page. For example, the below snippet would load a basic HTML document, with the Report fully rendered for access:

<p><b>iFrame Test</b><p>
<iframe width="933" height="700" src="https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=aBjFVit61EihycCDLLtDAlMJeVQICkMIwvEFSbgosnAFFjy4kctLkRzqVxB3xZHfsNMO4GDDbzxGSbLfycHKUSEytFTe16sULAe61SsXzPdA2hhGWiTx7YTwf4o6" frameborder="0" allowFullScreen="true"></iframe>

The rendered Report behaves as you would expect any other Power BI Report to work. You can navigate between pages, move your cursor over visualizations, drill up/down through them, view their tooltips and even apply filters. However, you are unable to see or export any underlying data or export the Report as a PowerPoint document/PDF. You also cannot Publish to web a report that:

  • Has R visuals.
  • Uses Row-level security.
  • Has an on-premise SQL Server Analysis Services Tabular data source.
  • Is shared with you.

Putting aside the paramount data privacy and licensing concerns associated with this feature, it does nevertheless present a nice way of sharing out Power BI content for external users to access.

Publish to SharePoint

Intranet sites represent a potential deployment option for Power BI content, and the Publish to SharePoint Online option helps to accommodate this. Available for Power BI Professional subscriptions and online SharePoint deployments, this feature works similar to Publish to web and can be found nestled just next to this option on the File tab:

Once selected, Power BI will then generate a URL link, as indicated below:

Your next step will then be to navigate to the SharePoint page that you wish to embed the Report onto and adding the appropriate control onto the page:

And then populate the proper details on the right-hand pane when it appears:

Note that you have a few options here to help customise how the Report renders. You can specify a default page, the page ratio and also toggle whether the Navigation or Filter panes are displayed.

An important thing to remember when working with this feature is to ensure that all SharePoint users who need to access the Report have been granted the relevant access permissions within Power BI; merely adding the Report into SharePoint will not automatically do this for you, and users will instead get an error message. The quickest way to grant these privileges is to ensure that all users are part of the Workspace/Office 365 Group where the Report resides. Alternatively, you can also specifically Share the Report out to all required users, but this could prove cumbersome to manage for larger deployments.

Publish to Power BI Report Server

Organisations that are not quite ready to start using Power BI within the cloud-based offering can still potentially benefit from all the goodness that the solution has to offer. If you have an active SQL Server Enterprise license agreement with Software Assurance or a Power BI Premium subscription, then Microsoft allows you to download a fully licensed copy of Power BI Report Server. This application is, in effect, an on-premise version of Power BI Online, provideing sufficient feature parity alongside some nice little extras thrown in. From a technical standpoint, the solution is a retooled version of SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS); and, as a consequence, you have the full capability to deploy out SSRS reports onto Power BI Report Server. Functionality like this may represent a significant boon, allowing organisations to leverage their existing reporting solutions while enabling them to start developing new reports using Power BI as well. Microsoft also provides a Developer edition of the application, which is really neat. 🙂

Publishing a Report to Power BI Report Server has some significant differences when compared to the Online version. Because the solution does not benefit from the same release cadence as the online offering, you must use a separate Power BI Desktop application when developing for Power BI Report Server. The latest release from January 2019 (at the time of writing this) is available for download, but will not necessarily have the same monthly release cycles compared with the “normal” Power BI Desktop application. As such, be aware that you may encounter issues working with Reports developed between both Desktop applications and, the general recommendation would be to ensure these are developed separately wherever possible.

When getting a Report deployed out to Power BI Report Server, you must somewhat counter-intuitively navigate into the File -> Save as area of the application, where the appropriate option becomes visible:

Then, when prompted, populate the URL field with the Web Portal URL value (derived from the Report Server Configuration Manager application):

Next, specify the name of the folder where the Report will be saved. In the example below, there are no folders set up, so the Report will be deployed out to the default, root folder on the instance:

It may then take some time for the Report to publish out successfully…

…at which point, you can then take a look at how the Report looks within the application. As the screenshot below indicates, the experience here is virtually identical when compared to Power BI Online:

If you ever need to make changes to your Report, you would have to revert to Power BI Desktop, make the appropriate changes and then repeat the steps above. Unlike Power BI Online, there is no option to modify reports from within a web browser. A small trade-off but, as we can see, Power BI Report Server does provide a complete Power BI experience that is tailorable to an organisation’s specific infrastructure/hosting requirements.

Key Takeaways

  • The Publish to web option allows for non-licensed, external users to view a Power BI Report in its entirety. A URL and IFrame embed code can be generated for this at any time within the portal and then dropped into virtually any website. Although you will lose some functionality when deploying a Report out in this manner, you can expect that users will be able to perform most types of interactions with visualizations, Report pages and other components, as if they were accessing the Report through Power BI Online. In some cases, you may be unable to use the Publish to web option if your Report uses certain kinds of features, such as R Visuals or row-level security. You must also take into account any privacy or data protection concerns, as Reports deployed out in this manner will be publically accessible; where this is an issue, the Embed option is available as a secure alternative.
  • There are three steps involved if you wish to add a Report to SharePoint. First, you must generate the unique SharePoint embed URL within Power BI. Secondly, you then need to add on the dedicated control for this feature on your target SharePoint page and configure the relevant display options. Finally, you then need to ensure that all SharePoint users have been granted access to the Report, either at a Workspace level (recommended option) or by having the Report shared with them. By implication, in this scenario, all SharePoint users would have to have at least a Power BI Professional license to take full advantage of this functionality.
  • Publishing a Report to Power BI Report Server is mostly the same as if you were to do the same with the online version of the product. Instead of selecting a Workspace to add the Report to you, specify the name of the Report Server folder where the Report will reside. From a development standpoint, the dedicated Power BI Desktop for Power BI Report Server must be used and may differ in functionality from the “normal” version of the tool. There is also no option to edit a report from within Power BI Report Server like you can through the online version.

We saw previously how Power BI Embedded presents a means of integrating Power BI visualizations as part of a bespoke application, but the options offered in this post today do represent a potentially quicker and simpler alternative to achieving the same ends. In this series penultimate post next week, we will dive deeper into the various security options available as part of Power BI, to help ensure that both reports – and any underlying data – can be “hardened” to suit a variety of different scenarios.

Welcome to my tenth post in a blog series aimed to provide a revision tool for Microsoft Exam 70-778, and for those looking to increase their expertise in Power BI. In last week’s post, we explored the possibilities developers have to leverage Power BI within their applications and how the Power BI API relates to all this. As we now get into the home stretch, this weeks post combines two exam areas into one. The first topic, all concerning how to Access on-premises data with Power BI, covers the following skills areas:

Connect to a data source by using a data gateway; publish reports to the Power BI service from Power BI Desktop; edit Power BI Service reports by using Power BI desktop.

Then, we’ll look at how to Configure a dashboard and do the following with them:

Add text and images; filter dashboards; dashboard settings; customize the URL and title; enable natural language queries

Power BI Gateway

A typical obstacle that can prevent an organisation from wholly adopting a cloud solution is the need to retain existing on-premise systems. A myriad of potential concerns may be involved here, such as regulatory or contractual arrangements. As a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering, Power BI is no different in this regard, thereby presenting potential obstacles for its adoption. The online element of the solution is designed to interact with data sources that are “in-cloud”, such as Azure SQL databases or Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement. If, for example, you need to access a data warehousing solution residing within an on-premise IBM DB2 instance, this is not necessarily something that can be “opened up” for access.

To address these concerns in a streamlined manner, Microsoft makes available the On-Premise Gateway application, which provides an easy to install and configure way of interacting with on-premise data sources. Built initially with Power BI in mind, the solution is now extended to support by the various services that make up the Power Platform, such as Microsoft Flow and PowerApps. The list of supported on-premise data sources is extensive, covering well-known systems such as:

  • SQL Server
  • Active Directory
  • SharePoint
  • MySQL
  • IBM DB2

A general recommendation when installing the gateway is that the target machine should remain consistently online and have the proper access to all of your on-premise data sources.

To get up and running with the on-premise gateway, you must first download and install the corresponding client from Power BI online, by clicking on the Download button in the top right area of the application (the icon that has a downward arrow and a line):

Clicking this will navigate you to the dedicated information page for the Gateway (which is accessible via a direct link too), where the very obviously placed button will let you download the application:

Once downloaded and installed, some additional configuration is then required:

  • You must specify the type of gateway to deploy – either one that uses the Recommended configuration or one configured for Personal Mode. Recommended will be the one that you generally need to go for, with Personal Mode only being useful for testing purposes or when developing on a local machine.
  • You will need to sign into the Office 365 tenant that contains the Power BI Subscription for your new gateway, making sure that the account in question has sufficient privileges to register one. Once successfully signed in, you can then chose to deploy a new gateway or a replacement one:
  • Next, you will need to define a name for your gateway and also a recovery key. Make sure this is noted down, as you will require it if the gateway requires modification in future. The application should also determine the most appropriate Azure region to associate itself with, but this can be adjusted if needed. Keep in mind though that doing so may make it incompatible with certain services:

With everything configured correctly, you can then confirm the status of the gateway by navigating to the appropriate tab on the application:

Its successful creation can then be verified by going into Power BI Online, where it should be visible in the Manage gateways settings area:

Once implemented, you can then press the ADD DATA SOURCE button to start adding your on-premise connections. The screenshot below shows an example of how to configure access to the WideWorldImporters sample database on an on-premise SQL Server instance:

The gateway is an essential tool to have within your arsenal if you are attempting to leverage the benefits of Power BI Online more quickly, but find yourself restrained by existing, on-premise data sources; once deployed, it straightforwardly allows you to have the best of both worlds.

Publishing Reports

Although it is perfectly acceptable for users to work and interact with their Reports from within the Power BI Desktop application, Reports that typically require more general consumption or utilisation by non-technical audiences will require deploying out to either a) Power BI Online or b) a Power BI Report Server instance. The steps involved in the second one are a little different (and require access to a separate Power BI Desktop application), but for the first route, it is merely just a case of clicking on the Publish icon on the main application ribbon once your Report is ready:

If you have access to several Workspaces within Power BI, you must first specify which workspace the Report will appear in after publishing:

Depending on the size of your Report, this may take some time to upload, but a helpful dialog box will keep you informed on progress:

Once published, you will be provided with a hyperlink that opens the Report within your web browser, where both a new Report and corresponding Dataset will exist:

Once deployed, a Report can be modified in one of three ways:

  • By updating the existing Report within Power BI Desktop and then re-publishing your changes; all current Reports/Datasets will then refresh accordingly.
  • If the original .pbix file is unavailable on your local machine, then you can go to File -> Download report (Previewto get a copy of the file:
  • This can then be modified and re-published in the manner already described.
  • From directly within the Browser. This route provides a similar experience to Power BI Desktop but optimised for browser use. I would not generally recommend altering reports in this manner, especially if your Reports are subject to strict version control policies.

Working with Dashboards

Power BI Reports are similar to books in many ways, in that they cater towards more detailed analysis and precise drill-down capability. For situations where executive or senior level individuals require an at a glance view of the information that is most relevant for their needs, a Dashboard represents the optimal choice to include the data that interests them the most, while still allowing them to drill-down further if required. They also afford additional functionality that assists from a presentation standpoint, by supporting the ability to include images, hyperlinks, videos and even custom streaming datasets.

It is not possible to create Dashboards from within Power BI Desktop. Instead, you must generate them from a Workspace within Power BI online by selecting the + Create button at the top right of the screen, choosing the corresponding Dashboard option and by finally providing an (ideally descriptive) name for it:

You have many different options available when working with a Dashboard, either from an administrative or end-user perspective and these are all accessible from the Dashboard ribbon, shown below and explained in the bullet points that follow:

  • Add tile: Adds various tiles onto your Dashboard, such as web content, videos, custom streaming data sources, images or text boxes.
  • Comments: Displays and lets you add comments to the dashboard, which can be viewed by all other users who have access to the Dashboard.
  • View related: Shows a list of all Reports and Datasets that are associated with the Dashboard.
  • Set as featured: When selected, Power BI will always display this Dashboard first when you login.
  • Favorite: Adds the Dashboard to your favourites list.
  • Subscribe: Allows you to configure email alerts whenever a refresh of data occurs on the dashboard, which will include the Dashboard content and a link to access it. Multiple subscriptions can be set up in this manner. This feature is only available if you have a Power BI Professional subscription.
  • Share: Allows you to share data with other users within or outside your organisation. Once shared, you can then define the access level that these users have – Read or Read and reshare. Access can be revoked at any time. This feature is only available if you have a Power BI Professional subscription.
  • Web view: Lets you toggle between either a Web View or Phone View of the Dashboard, allowing you to verify how the Dashboard renders on different device types.
  • Dashboard theme: Enables you to change the current Theme for the Dashboard. New themes can also be defined using the Custom Theme designer or by uploading a JSON file. If you have already designed your own custom Report theme file, as discussed earlier in this series, then this can be uploaded here too.
  • Duplicate dashboard: Creates a copy of the Dashboard within the current workspace, using a name you specify.
  • Print Dashboard: Lets you print the currently displayed Dashboard to a physical printer or PDF.
  • Refresh dashboard tiles: Forcibly updates all dashboard tiles to return the latest available data.
  • Performance inspector: This will display some KPI type recommendations relating to your Dashboard, advising on elements such as network latency, choice of tiles and other information which is useful when fine-tuning Dashboard performance.
  • Settings: Lets you modify settings for the Dashboard, such as Q&A capabilities, whether Comments are allowed or the default behaviour when moving tiles around. The Dashboard can also be renamed here.

As mentioned already, accessing the + Add tile button on the ribbon shows all the options available for adding content onto your Dashboard:

The next few sections will primarily focus on the three most used options – visualizations from a report, text boxes and images.


Any Report visualization can be pinned to a Dashboard, provided that they exist in a report within the same Workspace. To do this, navigate to the visualization in question and click on the pin icon in its top right corner. You’ll be asked to specify what theme is used for the visualization and also which Dashboard to add it to. Once decided and pinned, you can then navigate to your dashboard to see how this looks:

If there is a requirement to filter a visualization first before pinning it to a Dashboard, then you must do this within the Report, as there is no option to filter visualizations after they are embedded as a tile. A great alternative to get around this is discussed on the PowerDAX website, which involves the use of slicers.

Text Boxes

This tile type should be reasonably self-explanatory, but it is worth highlighting the additional options available here:

  • Titles/subtitles can be specified and, optionally, displayed.
  • Text can be rendered using rich-text editor capabilities.
  • It is possible to add a hyperlink to an external link, another Dashboard or a Report page, that redirects users accordingly after clicking the tile.


The list of available properties when configuring an image tile is mostly the same as text boxes. The picture you wish to display must derive from a Web URL; there is no option to upload an image file. A good candidate for hosting any image could include a publically available OneDrive folder or an Azure Blob Storage location:

Rearranging Dashboard Content

It is possible to drag, drop, shorten and widen tiles on a Dashboard at any time. The two screenshots below show how it is possible to do this to suit any potential layout requirement you may have:

Key Takeaways

  • The Power BI On-Premise Gateway provides a streamlined route to working with non-cloud data sources within Power BI, Microsoft Flow and PowerApps. As a lightweight and easy-to-configure client application, it supports a wide variety of data sources, making them accessible as if they were in the cloud. Once set up, corresponding Data Sources are then made available for configuration and for leveraging as part of any Power BI Dataset.
  • Reports can be published into Power BI Online, meaning that they become accessible online and to a broader group of users, without requiring access to Power BI Desktop. Reports need deploying into a Workspace, which can be created manually or derived from an Office 365 Group. Each Report contains a corresponding Dataset, where all queries defined within Power BI Desktop exist.
  • Reports that already exist on Power BI Online can be updated by just publishing a new version of the Report from Power BI Desktop. It is also possible to modify Reports from directly within the browser and by downloading a copy of the .pbix Report file as well, which can then be altered and re-published.
  • Dashboards provide a means of grouping together various content as tiles, designed for at-a-glance analysis and optimal end-user experience.
  • The list of content that can be pinned to a Dashboard includes:
    • Visualizations
    • Web content
    • Images
    • Text boxes
    • Videos
    • Custom streaming data
  • Pinned content can be re-arranged on Dashboard via drag and drop functionality. It is also possible to resize tiles to any given height/width.
  • Within the settings of a Dashboard, it is possible to enable/disable features such as natural language queries (Q&A’s) and Notes.
  • Some features of a Dashboard are only available if you have a Power BI Professional subscription, such as sharing and email subscriptions.

We’ve covered a lot in today’s post and jumped around two distinct functionality areas within Power BI, both of which have arguable importance in their own rights. Next weeks post will hopefully be a lot easier to digest, as we evaluate the options available to publish Power BI Reports to a variety of locations, such as for public access or within SharePoint.

Welcome to post number nine in my series designed to provide a revision tool for Microsoft Exam 70-778, and for those looking to increase their expertise in Power BI. The topics we have covered so far in the series have all involved Power BI Desktop primarily, and we now move away from this as we evaluate how to Manage Custom Reporting Solutions with Power BI. This focus area for the exam measures the following skill areas:

Configure and access Microsoft Power BI Embedded; enable developers to create and edit reports through custom applications; enable developers to embed reports in applications; use the Power BI API to push data into a Power BI dataset; enable developers to create custom visual.

Despite being, at first glance, a very technically focused area, it is not necessarily a requirement for the exam to know how to work with these features in-depth. However, what this post will try to do is fully explain what Power BI Embedded is (and how it can be tailored accordingly), the capabilities and benefits of the Power BI API and, finally, what options you have available to build custom visualizations, that are then available for use across any Power BI Report.

Power BI Embedded

A potential limitation of using Power BI as your Business Intelligence solution is that you must access your reporting solution through one of the two interfaces, depending on how you have licensed the product:

For strictly organisational only access, this is all fine and dandy; but if you desire to grant external users access to your reports, it would be necessary to open up a door into a critical component of your IT infrastructure, often in tandem with any other systems your solution may contain. For example, if you have developed a support portal for your customers to submit cases with and wish to provide them with a range of Power BI visualizations, you would need to grant and deploy access to two, separate application instances – your support portal and Power BI Online/Report Server. This can lead to a jarring end-user experience and severely limit your capabilities in providing a unified, bespoke and branded solution.

Power BI Embedded seeks to address this scenario by providing application developers the means to embed Power BI reports and visualizations directly within their existing applications. The experience this offers is seamless, to the extent that end-users will not even need to know that you are using Power BI at all. Consequently, this potentially allows you to look exceptionally gifted when you begin to deploy engaging and highly interactive visualizations into your application quickly. As an Azure-based service with a pricing mechanism to suit, you only need to suitably estimate your potential compute capacities, deploy your capacity and any corresponding reports and then build out the appropriate link to your Power BI content within your application.

To get started with using Power BI Embedded, you need to make sure you have the following at your disposal:

To get a feel for the capabilities on offer as part of this offering, you can go to the Power BI Embedded Playground, made available courtesy of Microsoft. This tool allows you to test how the various Power BI Embedded components render themselves, tweak around with their appearance and generate working code samples that are usable within your application. The screenshot below shows an example of how a single Report visual would look when embedding it into a bespoke application:

As the screenshot indicates, there is no loss in core functionality when consuming Power BI in this manner. You can hover over individual areas to gain insights into your data; you can drill-down through the data; data is sortable in the conventional manner; and, finally, you can view the underlying data in the visualization or even export it out into an Excel/CSV document. Also, you have extensive options available that can be used to modify how a visual, report etc. is rendered on your application page, allowing you to ensure that all rendering completes most optimally for your application.

All in all, Power BI Embedded represents a significant boon for application developers, enabling them to very quickly leverage the extensive reporting capabilities Power BI  provides, all of which is cloud-based, highly scalable and minutely tailorable. It is important to highlight that all of this goodness comes with a potentially high cost, namely, that of requiring a sufficiently proficient application developer (preferably .NET focused) to join all of the various bits together. But, if you are already in the position where you have developed an extensive range of Power BI reports for consumption by your customer base, Power BI Embedded is the natural progression point in turning your solution into a real piece of intellectual property.

The Power BI API

If you are finding your feet with Power BI Embedded and need to look at carrying out more complex actions against Power BI content that is pulling through from a workspace, then the API is an area that you will need to gain familiarity in working with too. Microsoft exposes a whole range of functionality as part of the Power BI API, that can assist in a wide variety of tasks – such as automation, deployment and allowing any bespoke application to further leverage benefits out of their Power BI embedded solution. Some examples of the types of things you can do with the API include:

The API requires that you authenticate against the Power BI service, using a corresponding Application Registration on Azure Active Directory, which defines the list of privileges that can be carried out. This component can be straightforwardly created using the wizard provided by Microsoft, and a full tutorial is also available on how to generate an access token from your newly created Application Registration. The key thing as part of all of this is to ensure that your Application Registration is scoped for only the permissions you require (these can be changed in future if needed) and not to grant all permissions needlessly.

Because the API is a REST endpoint, there are a variety of programming languages or tools that you can use from an interaction standpoint. PowerShell is an especially good candidate for this and, in the snippet below, you can see how this can be used to modify the User Name and Password for a SQL Server data source deployed onto Power BI Online:

#Make the request to patch the Data Source with the updated credentials

$sqluser = "MyUserName"
$sqlPass = "P@ssw0rd!"

$patchURI = "https://api.powerbi.com/v1.0/myorg/gateways/cfafbeb1-8037-4d0c-896e-a46fb27ff229/datasources/1e8176ec-b01c-4a34-afad-e001ce1a28dd/"
$person = @{
$personJSON = $person | ConvertTo-Json
$request3 = Invoke-RestMethod -Uri $patchURI -Headers $authHeader -Method PATCH -Verbose -Body $personJSON

This example deliberately excludes some of the previous steps needed to authenticate with Power BI and is, therefore, provided for strictly illustrative purposes only.

Creating Custom Visuals

Developers have access to primarily two options when it comes to building out bespoke visualizations, which are then includable in a Power BI Online, Embedded and Report Server report:

Last week’s post discussed this topic in more detail from an exam standpoint which, in a nutshell, only requires you to have a general awareness of the options available here; no need to start extensively learning a new programming language, unless you really want to 🙂

Key Takeaways

  • Power BI Embedded is an Azure hosted offering that allows you add Power BI Report content into bespoke applications. This deployment option can be incredibly useful if you wish to make available your Power BI solution to users outside of your organisation or if you have an existing, bespoke application system that can benefit from utilising Power BI content. An Azure subscription is required to begin working with Power BI Embedded and you are billed based on node size, not individual user licenses. All Power BI content requires publishing to the online service before its contents become available for Power BI Embedded to access. Report developers will, therefore, need granting a Power BI Professional license to carry out these activities.
  • The Power BI API grants access to developers to perform automation or administrative actions programmatically against the Power BI Online service. Utilising a REST API, developers can determine the optimal programming language of choice to interact with the API, allowing them to streamline the deployment of Reports or Dashboards to the Power BI service or leverage additional functionality when utilising Power BI Embedded. The API can also cater to specific data load requirements, although more complex needs in this area would require addressing via alternate means (SSIS, Azure Data Factory etc.)
  • Developers can add their own bespoke visualizations to a Power BI Report by either developing them using Node.js or using the R language. The first of these options facilitate a more streamlined deployment mechanism and allows developers to add their visualizations to AppSource, whereas the second option may be more useful for complex visualization types with an analytical or statistical function.

Compared to the other exam topics, a general awareness of these concepts is more than likely sufficient from a learning perspective and is (arguably) useful knowledge in any event, as it allows you to understand how developers can further extend a Power BI solution to suit a particular business need. In next weeks post, we will move into the final subject area for the exam, as the focus shifts towards how to work with Power BI outside of the Desktop application and the various tools available to integrate on-premise data sources into Power BI Online.

Happy New Year! As 2019 dawns upon us, Microsoft Business Application professionals start in the right place, as the concept of the Power Platform starts to take hold. Through this, it is pleasing to observe more consistency across these range of products, with regular releases, increased integration and better learning tools, provided directly from Microsoft. I’ve mentioned this previously on the blog, but it is worth emphasising again the increased importance Power BI has from a Dynamics CRM/365 Customer Engagement standpoint. With this in mind, having a New Years resolution to learn more about it and to earn a technical qualification in the subject will hold you in good stead in future. If you are reading this now, then hopefully you already have this resolution. 🙂

Today’s post will continue my series focused on providing a revision tool for Microsoft Exam 70-778. This week, we move into the broad subject area Create and format interactive visualizations, which revolves around the following skill areas:

Select a visualization type; configure page layout and formatting; configure interactions between visual; configure duplicate pages; handle categories that have no data; configure default summarization and data category of columns; position, align, and sort visuals; enable and integrate R visuals; format measures; Use bookmarks and themes for reports

Let’s start by providing an overview of just what a visualization is, before deep-diving into the specific topic areas listed above. The examples provided in this post refer to the latest Power BI Desktop sample report 2018SU12 Blog Demo – December.pbix, which can be downloaded from GitHub using this link.

Visualization Overview

The majority of topics covered in this series have all concerned the foundations of a successful Power BI report – the data sources, the data quality enhancement work and the required DAX wizardry to create custom columns, Measures or table objects to supplement any requisite Power Query manipulation. With the necessary foundations, walls and various utilities built for your Power BI “house”, the final and most important topic concerns the decoration – creating impactful and meaningful visualizations that help to display your data most appropriately. The great thing about using Power BI as your Business Intelligence tool is the vast array of default and custom visualizations that are available when developing a report. The Visualizations pane on the Report tab lists all of the possible visuals available for your report, described further in the list that follows (in order, left to right, top to bottom):

  • Stacked bar chart
  • Stacked column chart
  • Clustered bar chart
  • Clustered column chart
  • 100% stacked bar chart
  • 100% stacked column chart
  • Line chart
  • Area chart
  • Stacked area chart
  • Line and stacked column chart
  • Ribbon chart
  • Waterfall chart
  • Scatter chart
  • Pie chart
  • Donut chart
  • Treemap
  • Map
  • Filled map
  • Funnel
  • Gauge
  • Card
  • Multi-row card
  • KPI
  • Slicer
  • Table
  • Matrix
  • R script visual
  • ArcGIS Maps for Power BI

Power BI also supports custom visuals, provided by ISV’s or Node.js developers, that allow you to include additional visualizations in your report. You can work with these by clicking on the ellipsis icon on the Visualizations pane:

There are two web links relating to custom visuals that are worth considering further:

  • The Business Apps marketplace, accessible also via the Import from marketplace button, lets you either add new custom visuals directly into Power BI or download versions that you can then import using the Import from file button. There are a lot of great visuals available here, that can help to supplement your existing reports and take some of the aggravation out when implementing more complex requirements (e.g. displaying Gannt chart visuals).
  • The Developing a Power BI custom visual Microsoft Docs Tutorial walks you through the required steps to build out a custom visual using Node.js.

Just dragging and dropping a visual onto a report and adding a few field values may not be enough to meet a specific business requirement. For this reason, you should consider the following when working with visualizations:

  • Does the visual require sorting in ascending, descending or by a particular column order? If so, then clicking on the ellipses button at the top right of the visualization will expose several sortation options, which may differ based on the underlying dataset:
  • Are there blank categories within your data? If so, you may encounter a similar issue as indicated in the screenshot below, with a (Blank) category value:
  • Resolutions to this problem can vary – for example, you could go back into your query and add a default value for all blank columns values – but a quick way to potentially fix this is to click on the down arrow next to the field and select the Show items with no data option:
  • Does the default summarization need to be overridden for the Values field? We’ve seen previously in this series how it is possible to specify the default summarization for each column in your dataset. On occasions where this needs changing, you can again use the right arrow next to the field to carry this out:

Finally, you also have some additional options available by selecting the Format tab with a visual selected:

The options above the Arrange heading should be self-explanatory, but it is worth focusing on the Edit interactions button. An expected experience with Power BI is, as you begin to filter visualizations, others on the report update accordingly by applying the same filter. This behaviour can be changed using the Edit interactions button, allowing you to specify whether other visuals on the report:

  • Apply a cross-filter
  • Apply a cross-highlight
  • Do nothing

The default action for most visualizations is to apply a cross-filter. The sequence below demonstrates how this can be disabled using the Edit interactions button:

A handy feature to have at your disposal, further details regarding the Edit interactions button can be found on the Change how visuals interact in a Power BI report Microsoft Docs article.

Deciding Which Visualization To Use

Both for a real-life and exam scenario, you should be prepared to identify when a visualization will be appropriate to use, based on a stated list of requirements. As a general rule of thumb, if:

  • You need to compare data between different categories, then use a Bar/Column or Ribbon Chart.
  • The requirement is to compare data values across a date range, then use a Line or Area Chart.
  • You are working with a dataset that contains multiple fields with wide value ranges, then use a Combo Chart.
  • There is a need to show significant variances across a set of data or to highlight significant amounts in comparison to others, then use a Waterfall Chart.
  • You are working with two metrics that have a relationship between them and you need to visualise diverse value types, then use a Scatter Chart.
  • Data needs to be grouped by a distinct category and shown as part of a whole value, then use a Pie or Doughnut Chart.
  • The requirement it to distinctively show proportions of an overall part and, by association, the most significant/smallest contributors, then use a Treemap visualization.
  • Your data is geographically based, and there is a desire to provide drill-down capability, then use a Map, Filled Map or ArcGIS Maps for Power BI visualization.
  • You are working with data based on distinct stages (e.g. Lead data from Dynamics CRM/365 Customer Engagement, grouped by Business Process stage), then use a Funnel visualization.
  • The data needs to be consumed via a single value or viewed as represented in the underlying data, then use a Card, Multi-Row, Table or Matrix visualization.
  • There is a need to provide users with the capability to filter data “on the fly”, then use a Slicer visualization.
  • An R script requires incorporation into your report, use an R visualization (discussed in further detail later on in this post).
  • You need to report data concerning Key Performance Indicator (KPI) monitoring, then a KPI or Gauge visualization should be chosen. These are both discussed in greater detail in my previous post on this subject.

Report Page Options

Visualizations form an essential part of the look and feel of a report, but further options are also available from a report design perspective. With a report page selected and with the Format paintbrush icon chosen (which is accessible in the same way as described in section Visualization Format Settings in my post concerning KPIs), you have access to additional options relating to the currently selected page:

The options available here include:

  • Page Information: Here, you can change the name of the page, as well as enable/disable the Tooltip and Q&A features for this page.
  • Page Size: The options here let you adjust the size of the page to one of several options:
    • 16:9 (1280 x 720)
    • 4:3 (960 x 720)
    • Cortana (296 x 592)
    • Letter (816 x 1056)
    • Custom
  • Page Background: From here, you can change the background colour of the page and adjust its transparency. It is also possible to add a background image here too.
  • Page Wallpaper: Potentially confusing when compared against the Page Background options, the options in this section let you adjust the colour outside of the main page area. The best way of understanding how this looks is to take a look at the following garish example, which shows a page that has had both background and wallpaper colours specified:

Never develop a report that looks like this, by the way. 🙂

When it comes to working with multiple pages, you also have the following options available, accessible through right-clicking a page:

Formatting Measures

Measures, as with other column types (derived either from a query or a DAX formula), can be formatted in numerous different ways. The steps involved here do not differ significantly from the options discussed in the Formatting Columns section of my previous post concerning data model optimisation; select the Measure in question from the Fields pane, navigate to the Modeling tab and the appropriate options will be made available to you.

R Visuals

R provides developers with the means of building highly sophisticated and bespoke visualizations, that will typically be consumed for statistical analysis. These can be added to Power BI Desktop and linked to any data source in your report. There are two necessary components required to start working with R visuals in this manner:

  • You must install R on your local machine. There are many versions available, with R Open 3.5.1 from Microsoft being the logical choice for beginners.
  • Within the Options area of Power BI Desktop, you must verify that the correct Detected R home directories dropdown is selected. If you have installed R Open 3.5.1 on your machine, then this should be filled for you automatically, as follows:

(You may also be prompted to Enable script visuals, as indicated by the dialog box below; ensure that the Enable option is selected)

Beyond the basics of getting started with R in Power BI, which is all that is required from an exam perspective, this is a topic too complex to cover in this blog post.


The ability to pre-configure a report page, from a filtering standpoint, can be incredibly useful for those who consume a Power BI report. Bookmarks seek to address this need, by allowing developers to build a guided “story” in their report. All that is required is for a report page to be filtered accordingly and then for a Bookmark to be added – couldn’t be simpler! For example, the 2018SU12 Blog Demo – December.pbix sample report contains several Bookmarks, accessed by opening the Bookmarks Pane on the View tab:

With the Selection pane also enabled, you can then easily navigate between all Bookmarks by clicking the View button above and using the arrow icons on the bottom of the page:

Through the Bookmarks pane, it is also possible to re-order Bookmarks and to group them by a category, such as a page. Simple to setup, but powerful when utilised, they are a feature which I think gets overlooked and should be considered if you are building out a report for beginner Power BI users.


A feature that has typically been available with every Microsoft Business Intelligence (BI) application is extensive design capabilities, atypically to suit any bespoke branding requirements that an organisation may have. Power BI is no different in this regard, because, as well as being able to specify the colour of visualizations individually, developers also can define a top-level Theme that will automatically apply to all report visualizations. The Switch Themes button provides users with the ability to modify their Report theme at any time, located on the Home tab:

As shown in the image above, you can:

  • Change the Theme from Default to one of the other include Theme definitions within Power BI, such as Electric or High Contrast.
  • Add a custom Theme to your report using the Import theme button.
  • Browse the Power BI Community Theme gallery to download a custom Theme developed by someone else.
  • Get additional help on theming through the How to create a theme button, which links to the Use Report Themes in Power BI Desktop support article.

The ability to import and develop bespoke Themes is a topic that requires further discussion. All Themes are defined as JSON files, which outline the different hex colour values that Power BI allocates for each visualization type. There is a hell of a lot of options available here, depending on how masochistic you are feeling stringent your branding requirements need to be. For the exam and most real-life scenarios, a straightforward JSON file (provided courtesy of Microsoft) may resemble the below:

    "name": "St Patricks Day",
    "dataColors": ["#568410", "#3A6108", "#70A322", "#915203", "#D79A12", "#bb7711", "#114400", "#aacc66"],
    "foreground": "#3A6108",
    "tableAccent": "#568410"

Once saved as a file with the name St Patricks Day.json and imported into the sample 2018SU12 Blog Demo – December.pbix report, we get this rather…distinctive look:

The options available with Themes are always worth keeping in the back of your mind and, chances are, they can provide the means towards ensuring consistently branded Power BI reports.

Key Takeaways

  • Power BI delivers, out of the box, a range of different visualizations that cater towards most (if not all) reporting requirements. Should you find yourself in need of additional visualizations, then Microsoft AppSource is your go-to destination for finding visualizations developed by others. If you have experience working with either Node.js or R, then these can be used to build bespoke visualizations also.
  • When first developing a report, you should be able to match a requirement for a specific visualization type, to ensure that you are delivering a solution that is both meaningful and useful. From an exam perspective, this becomes a more critical consideration, and you should be prepared to suggest the most optimal visualization to use when given a specific scenario.
  • After adding visualization’s to your report, you have additional options available to customise them further. For example, you can specify a preferred sorting order for your data, override any summarizations used and move/align your visual on the report page.
  • By default, visualizations in Power BI are designed to change automatically, based on how users interact with the report. All of these options are controllable via the Edit interactions button, allowing you to specify your preferred cross-filtering and cross-highlighting conditions.
  • There is a range of report page customisation options available to developers. It is possible to resize a page to any possible height/width, allowing you to optimise your report for specific devices. Also, you can modify the colour of a page (or its wallpaper) or add an image instead. Pages can also be renamed, reordered or duplicated.
  • Measures can be formatted in the same way as calculated columns, meaning you can specify a data type or, for numerics, modify the number of decimal places.
  • Bookmarks allow developers to set up “checkpoints” within a report, based on how a report page has been filtered. These can then be used to automatically navigate the user through a report, applying these filtering steps automatically. This feature can help transform your report into an interactive story.
  • Visualizations will automatically inherit their various colour properties from the currently selected report theme. Although these can be modified granularly, the fastest and most consistent way of making these changes en masse is to change the Theme. Power BI includes some Themes out of the box, but you also have the option of building your own using a custom JSON file; this can then be imported into different reports, providing a portable means of enforcing a particular branding requirement.

Visualizations are a HUGE topic for the exam, with a lot of detail that requires careful consideration. I hope this post has provided the right balance between highlighting the most critical areas, without going into minute detail. I would, therefore, urge you to go away and carry out studying yourself to gain a greater appreciation of this subject area. Next weeks post will be somewhat lighter reading, as we take a look at how application developers can integrate Power BI within their existing apps.