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What is Power BI?

Power BI is a business intelligence tool from Microsoft. It helps you import data from various sources, analyze it, and create visual reports. These reports can be securely shared within your organization. Power BI helps you make better decisions. It lets you track key performance indicators (KPIs) and spot trends in your data. It’s a valuable tool for both new and experienced data analysts.

Different Power BI Apps

Power BI includes several products and services, each with a unique purpose:

  • Power BI Desktop: A free desktop application for building reports.
  • Power BI Service: An online portal for storing and sharing reports and dashboards. You can create a free account with a work or school email, but sharing features require a paid license.
  • Power BI Mobile App: A free app for viewing published reports and dashboards, available on Windows, Android, and iOS.

Additional tools include:

  • Power BI Report Builder: For creating paginated reports, ideal for printing and PDFs.
  • Power BI Report Server: An on-premises solution for storing and sharing reports on a local server through a secure portal.

Power BI Desktop is the tool you will use the most.

Is Power BI Free?

Yes, Power BI offers both free and paid versions. But, there are some key distinctions:

Power BI Desktop

  • Free: Power BI Desktop is free to download and use on your computer. It includes all the essential features for creating and viewing reports.

Power BI Service

  • Free Version: You can use Power BI Service for free, but with limited capabilities. The free version allows you to publish reports to “My Workspace,” but sharing and collaboration are restricted. You cannot share reports with others unless you use the “Publish to web” feature, which makes your report public on the internet and accessible to anyone with the link.

Power BI Pro

Power BI Pro requires a subscription and offers advanced sharing and collaboration features. With Pro, you can share reports and dashboards with colleagues, allowing full interactivity and collaboration. This is ideal for larger teams and businesses.

Power BI Premium

  • Paid: Power BI Premium is designed for large organizations. It provides dedicated cloud resources, advanced features like paginated reports, and AI capabilities. This option is more expensive and is suitable for enterprise-level needs.

Why Use Power BI?

Learn Power BI for these benefits:

  • User-Friendly Interface: It’s easy to use, even for beginners.
  • Data Integration: Import data from a wide range of sources.
  • Powerful Analytics: Analyze data to gain insights and make informed decisions.
  • Customizable Reports: Create interactive reports and dashboards tailored to your needs.
  • Secure Sharing: Share your reports securely within your organization.
  • Mobile Access: View reports on the go with the mobile app.

Power BI empowers you to transform your data into actionable insights, making it an essential tool for any data analyst.

Download Power BI Desktop

Downloading Power BI Desktop is simple and free. Here’s how you can get it:

For Windows 10/11 Users

  1. Go to the Microsoft Store and search for “Power BI Desktop”.
  2. Click the “Install” button.
  3. Windows will automatically install Power BI Desktop and keep it updated.
Power BI Desktop in the Microsoft Store.

The main advantage of using the Microsoft Store is automatic updates. Microsoft releases updates for Power BI monthly, so you won’t have to reinstall it each time.

For Other Operating Systems

  • Visit the website.
  • Click the “Download” link.
  • Follow the instructions to download and install Power BI Desktop.
Microsoft Power BI Desktop download from the official website.

This method is useful if you are using an older version of Windows or a different operating system.

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Power BI Login

After downloading and installing Power BI Desktop, you can easily log in and start using it. Here’s how:

Launch Power BI Desktop:

Open Power BI Desktop on your computer.

Sign In:

  • Click on the “Sign In” button.
  • Enter your work or school email address.
  • Follow the prompts to complete the login process.

đź’ˇ Tip: You can use Power BI Desktop without signing in. However, you will need to sign in when you’re ready to publish your report to the Power BI Service.

Power BI Desktop welcome screen.

The Power BI Main Components

Power BI Desktop consists of three main components that help you create detailed and interactive reports:

Main views in Power BI Desktop.

Report View:

  • This is where you build and present all your visualizations.
  • You can create tables, charts, graphs, slicers, KPIs, cards, buttons, logos, icons, and more.
  • Why it’s useful: It lets you design and customize how data looks. This makes it easier to understand and share insights.
A sample Power BI report in Report View.

Data View:

  • Displays tables of data imported from your sources.
  • You can clean, transform, and prepare your data here.
  • Why it’s useful: It shows your raw data clearly. This helps you check if it is accurate and consistent before making visualizations.
A table in the Data view.

Model View:

  • Shows a bird’s-eye view of the tables from the Data View.
  • Displays the relationships between the tables using connectors.
  • Why it’s useful: It helps you understand the relationships between data sets. It also helps you manage them. This ensures your reports are accurate and complete.
A data model diagram in the Model view.

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Creating a Power BI Dashboard

Creating a Power BI dashboard starts with acquiring the data for your report visualizations. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Data Sources

You can get data from various sources, including:

  • Delimited Text Files
  • Excel Workbooks
  • Databases
  • Websites
  • PDF Files
  • Folders
  • Online Services

Power BI provides many connectors, which are updated regularly. Click “Get Data” to see the full list.

Get Data on the welcome screen.
Data Sources in Power BI (incomplete list).

For this Power BI dashboard, we’ll use two sources:

  • Excel Workbook: “CustomerMaster.xlsx” with a table named “MasterCustomer” containing customer information.
  • Text File: “InvoiceData.txt” containing sales transactions.

Loading the Invoice Data

  • Get Data: Click “Get Data” and browse to “InvoiceData.txt”.
  • Preview: Verify the file and delimiter.

Importing a text file to Power BI.
  • Load or Transform: Choose “Load” to import data directly to the Power BI Data Model. Choose “Transform Data” to open Power Query for data preparation.

Even if no transformations seem needed, transforming data into Power Query ensures proper interpretation, such as dates.

InvoiceData in the Power Query Editor.

Power Query Capabilities:

  • Remove unwanted columns
  • Filter rows
  • Create calculations, like Profit (Sale Price – Cost)

If you’re familiar with Power Query in Excel, you’ll find it similar in Power BI. Learn more about Power Query in this article.

Applied Steps in Power Query:

Power Query performed several transformations steps automatically.

  • Source: Import data from the file.
  • Promoted Headers: Use the first row as headers.
  • Changed Type: Assign appropriate data types.

Verify these steps to ensure they meet your needs. Adjust data types for efficiency, such as using whole numbers instead of decimals when appropriate.

Merging Columns Example:

Combine “Year”, “Month”, and “Day” into a single “Date” column:

Separate Year, Month and Day columns.
  • Select columns while holding Ctrl.
  • Click “Transform” -> “Merge Columns“.
Location of the Merge Columns feature on the Transform tab.
  • Use “/” as a separator and name the new column “Date”.
  • Set the new column’s data type to “Date”.
Defining the separator in the Merge Columns window.

This is how you can combine two or more data columns into one in Power Query.

Merged Date column.

💡 All performed steps are recorded in the  Applied Steps panel on the right. Simply refresh the data to apply these steps to updated source files.

Applied Steps in the Power Query Editor.

Loading the Customer Information

The customer information is located in the Excel file named “CustomerMaster.xlsx”.

  • New Source: Select “Home” -> “New Source” -> “Excel Workbook”.
Location of New Source on the Home tab of the Power Query Editor.
  • Preview: Choose the table “MasterCustomer1” and click “OK”.
Power Query Navigator window.

đź’ˇ Pro Tip: Select the table instead of the sheet to confine the data range and detect headers.

Splitting Columns Example:

Split “CityProvince” into “City” and “Province”:

CityProvince column.
  • Select “CityProvince”.
  • Click “Transform” -> “Split Column” -> “By Delimiter”.
Location of the Split Column feature on the Transform tab.
  • Use “ (” as the delimiter (space and open parenthesis) and click “OK”.
Defining the custom delimiter in the Split Column by Delimiter window.

We now have the cities and the provinces in separate columns.

CityProvince column split into two columns.
  • Remove any unwanted characters (e.g., “)“) using “Replace Values”.
Location of the Replace Values feature on the Transform tab.
Populating the Replace Values parameters.
  • Rename the columns appropriately (double-click on the column header).
Separate and renamed City and Province columns.

Remove unnecessary columns to streamline your Data Model and improve performance:

  • Click “Home” -> “Choose Columns”.
Location of Choose Columns feature on the Home tab.
  • Uncheck unwanted columns and click “OK”.
Choose Columns window.

As with the invoice data, all the applied transformation steps for the customer data have been recorded. They will execute automatically on data refresh.

Applied Steps in the Power Query Editor.

Final steps

  • Rename the query to “MasterCustomer” using “Properties – Name” in the Query Settings pane.
Renamed query.
  • Click “Close & Apply” to load the results into the Data Model.
Location of Close & Apply on the Home tab.
  • Switch to the Data View to examine the query output.
Power BI Data view.
  • Expand titles in the Data pane to see all loaded columns.
Tables expanded on the Data (previously Fields) pane.
  • To modify transformations, right-click the query name in the Data pane and select “Edit Query”.
Edit query option in the right-click menu of the Data (previously Fields) pane.

Mastering Power Query is the first step in making the most of Power BI. By following these steps, you can create powerful and insightful dashboards.

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Create and Manage Relationships in Power BI

Switch to the Model View in Power BI to visualize the relationships between your tables.

Relationship between tables in Model view.

Here’s how to make the most of this feature:

Understanding Table Relationships

In our example, the tables “InvoiceData” and “MasterCustomer” are connected. This connection is established between the “InvoiceData – CustomerCode” column and the “MasterCustomer – CustomerID” column.

  • Fact Table: “InvoiceData” is the fact table, which contains records of events or transactions (e.g., sales transactions).
  • Lookup Table: “MasterCustomer” is the lookup table, which provides additional details to the fact table (e.g., customer information).

Why Model Relationships Matter:

  • Relationships allow real-time lookups between tables.
  • No need to merge tables into a single large table.
  • Enables efficient data analysis by linking related data points.

For example, you can use a [CustomerCode] from “InvoiceData” to find the corresponding [City] from “MasterCustomer”.

Creating Model Relationships Automatically

Power BI can create relationships automatically. Here’s how to enable or disable this feature:

  • Go to File -> Options & Settings -> Options.
  • Under Data Load, select Relationships.
  • Activate or deactivate automatic relationship creation as needed.
Power BI Options window.

Manual Relationship Creation:

  • If automatic relationships aren’t created (common with unstructured data or dissimilar field names), you can manually create them.
  • Simply drag a field from one table and drop it onto the corresponding field in another table.

By understanding and utilizing table relationships, you can enhance your Power BI reports, ensuring that your data is connected and ready for insightful analysis.

Building a Report

Creating reports in Power BI is straightforward and intuitive. Here’s how to build your first report:

Report View

Reports are created in the Report View. This is where you can design and customize your visualizations.

Power BI canvas in the Report view.

Creating Visuals

Select Fields:

  • In the Fields pane on the right, check the boxes next to the fields you’re interested in.
Creating a visual by checking the fields.
  • Power BI will automatically create a visualization based on your selected data.
Clustered column chart showing Sales by Customer Category.

Changing Chart Types:

  • You can easily change the chart type. In the Visualizations Library on the right, click on the icon for the desired chart type (e.g., Pie Chart, Line Chart).
Visualizations library in Power BI.

Filtering the Data

Filtering data in Power BI allows you to focus on specific aspects of your dataset. Here’s how to filter data using a Slicer visualization:

Switching Chart Types:

  • We’ve changed the original Column Chart to a Bar Chart. This chart shows sales for all years.
  • To filter sales by specific years, we can add a Slicer in Power BI.
Clustered bar chart showing Sales by Customer Category.

Adding a Slicer:

  • Ensure no existing visual is selected in the Report View.
  • Click the Slicer icon in the Visualizations Library.
Slicer icon in the Visualizations library.
  • With the Slicer placeholder selected, click the [Year] field from InvoiceData – Date – Date Hierarchy.

Select Year in the Date Hierarchy.
  • Power BI creates a Date Hierarchy to help report data by common periods like quarters or months.
Between slicer.

đź’ˇ If the Date Hierarchy isn’t created automatically, enable “Auto Date/Time”:

  • Go to File -> Options & Settings -> Options -> Data Load -> Time Intelligence -> Auto Date/Time.

Auto date/time in Power BI Options.

Customizing the Power BI Slicer:

  • If you prefer a different slicer style, change it in the Format pane.
  • Select the slicer visual and go to Format -> Slicer settings -> Options -> Style.
Slicer style settings on the Format visual pane.

Slicer Styles:

  • Vertical List: Displays years in a vertical list.
Vertical List slicer.
  • Drop Down: Shows a dropdown menu for selecting years.
Dropdown slicer.
  • Tile: Provides clickable buttons for each year
Tile slicer with year 2021 selected.

Using slicers, you can easily filter your data and focus on the information that matters most. This enhances the interactivity and usability of your Power BI reports.

Formatting the Visuals

To format visual elements in Power BI, follow these steps:

Access the Format Pane:

  • Click the Paintbrush icon on the Visualizations pane.
Format visual on the Visualizations pane.

Customize Visuals:

  • The options vary based on the visual type.
  • Expand a feature to see customization controls.
  • Use On/Off toggles to enable or disable features.
Customizable options after expanding chart element.

Example Customizations:

  • Turn Off Axis Titles: Turn off titles for both the Y and X axes.
  • Change Bar Color: Set the bar color to orange.
Formatted bar chart.
  • Edit Chart Title: Change the title of your Bar Chart to “Sales by Category.”

đź’ˇ Find the Title option under General formatting properties.

Editing the title of a visual.


Tooltips in Power BI provide detailed information when you hover over data elements. Here’s how to use them:

Basic Tooltips:

  • Tooltips show details like category names and aggregation values.
  • They appear when you hover the mouse over a visual’s data element.
Default Power BI tooltip.

Custom Tooltips:

  • You can customize tooltips to show additional information.
  • Tooltips can even display mini charts filtered by the data point you hover over.
Custom tooltip showing a filled map chart.

Why Use Tooltips:

  • Enhanced Readability: Formatting helps make your visuals more readable and attractive.
  • Detailed Insights: Tooltips provide extra information without cluttering the visual.
  • Customization: Tailor your visuals to match your specific needs and preferences.

By using these formatting options, you can create clear and informative visuals that enhance your Power BI reports.

Building a Table of Calculations

Creating a table with key calculations in Power BI is simple and doesn’t require writing complex formulas. Here’s how to do it:

Adding a Table Visual

  • Click Table in the Visualizations pane to add a table visual to your report.
Table visual in the Visualizations library.

Select Fields:

  • Check the [Month] field in the Date Hierarchy.
  • Check the [Sales] field from the “InvoiceData” table.
  • Power BI will automatically summarize the sales values, similar to an Excel Pivot Table.
Table showing Sales by Month.

Comparing Sales of Same Month to Previous Year

Click Quick Measure on the Home ribbon.

Quick measure.

In the Quick Measures dialog box, set the following:

  • Calculation: Year-over-year change
  • Base Value: Sum of Sales
  • Date: Date
Quick measures template for Year-over-year change.

This calculation will show the YOY percentage change in sales for each month compared to the previous year.

Table showing Total Sales and Sales Year-over-Year Percentage Change by month.

Calculating Sales Year-to-Date

Click Quick Measure on the Home ribbon.
In the Quick Measures dialog box, set the following:

  • Calculation: Year-to-date total
  • Base Value: Sum of Sales
  • Date: Date
Quick measures template for Year-to-date total.

This will display the total sales year-to-date.

Table showing Total Sales and Sales YoY% and Sales YTD by month.

Understanding Data Analysis Expressions (DAX)

What you’ve done is create DAX measures without writing a single formula. DAX, or Data Analysis Expressions, is the formula language in Power BI and Excel’s Power Pivot. It handles all calculations behind the scenes whenever you add a value field to a visual or use Quick Measures, which are pre-made formula templates.

Why It’s Useful:

  • Time-Saving: Quick Measures save time by providing ready-made calculations.
  • Ease of Use: You don’t need to learn DAX to perform advanced calculations.
  • Powerful Analytics: DAX enables complex data analysis and insights.

By using these steps, you can easily build a table of calculations in Power BI, making your data analysis more powerful and efficient.

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Adding More Visuals and Exploring Interactions

Enhancing your Power BI report with more visuals and understanding their interactions can provide deeper insights. Here’s how to do it:

Visualizing Sales by Province

Add a Filled Map Chart:

  • Select Filled Map in the Visualizations pane.
Filled Map in the Visualizations library.
  • Check the [Sales] field from the “InvoiceData” table.
  • Check the [Province] field from the “MasterCustomer” table.
Filled Map showing Sales by Province.

Understanding Filtering with Visuals

One of the powerful features of Power BI is that almost every visual can act as a filter. This is known as cross-filtering.

Cross-Filtering Example:

  • Click on the bar for “Supermarket” in the Bar Chart.
  • All calculations in the table will update to show values for “Supermarket.”
  • The Filled Map chart will also update to show only provinces where “Supermarket” sales occurred.
Power BI report cross-filtered by Supermarket Sales.

đź’ˇ To remove a filter, click the same item again to toggle off the filter or click any empty area of the visual.

Displaying Quantity by Month in a Line Chart

Add a Line Chart:

  • Select Line Chart in the Visualizations pane.
Line Chart in the Visualizations library.
  • Check the [Month] field in the Date Hierarchy.
  • Check the [Quantity] field from the “InvoiceData” table.
Line chart showing Quantity by Month.

Why It’s Useful:

  • Interactive Insights: Cross-filtering allows you to see how different data points relate to each other.
  • Dynamic Analysis: Visuals automatically update to reflect filtered data, providing dynamic and real-time analysis.
  • Clear Data Representation: Different chart types help in representing data clearly and making comparisons easier.

By adding and interacting with these visuals, you can create a comprehensive and interactive Power BI report that provides meaningful insights.

Finishing Touches

Adding the final touches to your Power BI report can make it more professional and informative. Here’s how to do it:

Adding a Report Title

A clear title helps in identifying the purpose of the report. It makes the report easier to understand at a glance.

  • Click the Text Box feature on the Home ribbon.
Text box in the Power BI ribbon.
  • Enter your desired report title and format it as needed.
Title added to the report using a text box.

Adding KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

KPIs highlight critical data points. They provide a snapshot of important values.

  • Select the Card visual from the Visualizations pane.
Card in the Visualizations library.
  • Set the analysis field to [Quantity] to track the total quantity sold.
Card visual showing Total Quantity.

Rename the Report

  • Double-click the page tab at the bottom.
  • Change the name from “Page 1” to “Report.”
Renaming a Power BI tab.
  • Click File -> Save As.
  • Choose a descriptive name for your report and save it.

By adding these finishing touches, your Power BI report will be polished, professional, and ready to share.

Publish Reports with Power BI Service

Publishing your Power BI report allows you to share it interactively with others.

Advantages of Using Power BI Service

  • Easy Sharing: You only need to send a link to the report, not the Power BI file itself.
  • Automatic Updates: When you update the report, viewers see the latest version without needing a new file or link.

How to Publish a Power BI Report

  • Click Publish in the upper-right corner of the Home ribbon.
Publish button on the Power BI ribbon.
  • Select your desired workspace in your Power BI Service account. For free accounts, choose “My workspace”.
Selecting a workspace to publish the report.
  • Once the upload is complete, you’ll receive a notification that the report has been successfully published.

View the Report:

  • Click the provided link to view the published report in a web browser.
  • This allows you to see what the viewers will see and check for any issues.
Report successfully published to Power BI Service.
Published Sales Report viewed in Power BI Service.

Sharing the Report with Others

  • Click the Share button at the top of the window.
  • In the sharing dialog box, enter the email address of the person you wish to share the report with, or copy the link to use in an email or instant message.
Share button in Power BI Service.

Additional Sharing Options:

Send Link dialog box.

By publishing and sharing your Power BI reports, you can collaborate more effectively and ensure your team always has access to the latest data insights.

Explore more amazing features of Power BI with our tutorials, or check out this FREE Power BI Quick Start Course.

Download the Practice Files

Enhance your learning experience by downloading our practice files. Follow the techniques discussed in real-time and learn Power BI with our hands-on examples. Download the practice files here and start applying what you’ve learned directly in Power BI.

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Leila Gharani

I'm a 6x Microsoft MVP with over 15 years of experience implementing and professionals on Management Information Systems of different sizes and nature.

My background is Masters in Economics, Economist, Consultant, Oracle HFM Accounting Systems Expert, SAP BW Project Manager. My passion is teaching, experimenting and sharing. I am also addicted to learning and enjoy taking online courses on a variety of topics.