Top Tips for Sharing Content Using Power BI

I have learnt a lot about sharing Power BI content over the last year since Power BI hit the main stream.  A lot of my learning has come from trial and error, and there are lots of things I wish I knew before I started.  Today I am sharing my top tips about how you can share, and when you should use each of the various methods

It is not easy to categorise the sharing approaches into logical buckets and there is quite a bit of overlap.  Hopefully my explanation below will make it easier to understand the options.

PBIX Workbooks

The most basic way to share your Power BI content is to simply share your PBIX workbook (created by Power BI Desktop) using traditional methods.  There are a few reasons why you might want to do this.

Reasons you might want to do it Things that might turn you off.
  • Everyone can download the software and use it for free (Windows users – sorry Mac boys and girls)
  • It has lots of new visualisations you can’t get in Excel
  • You don’t need your IT department to sign you up to the Power BI Service to get started (although you do need Admin Rights to install)
  • It is no harder to share a PBIX workbook than a Power Pivot Excel workbook.
  • Workbooks can get very large – hundreds of Mb so they can be hard to share if they are that big.
  • There are no Dashboard capabilities until you publish to Power BI Service.
  • You can’t stop sharing – once you send the workbook, the other party has it (not so with the Service).

So while you can do it this way, sharing via the Power BI Service is probably a better way to go.  Power BI Service was built for the explicit purpose of sharing, so why not use it – its free to get started.

My Workspace

Once you sign up to the Power BI Service, the default location where you will publish your workbooks is the “My Workspace” area.

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  • The workspace area is a place for you to store your Datasets, Reports and Dashboards.
  • You are the only person that can see the items in you own “My Workspace” (unless you explicitly share material)
  • Items that other people share with you will also be visible in your own “My Workspace”, but with a “shared with me” icon.

Sharing from My Workspace (use caution)

There are 3 ways you can share from My Workspace.  These methods of sharing are also available in other areas of Power BI (covered further down the page).  While you “can” share this way from My Workspace, be sure to read up on the downsides of sharing this way and consider the other options further down the page.

Here are the 3 options to share from My Workspace.

Share a Dashboard from My Workspace

Click on the ellipsis next to the dashboard to bring up the sharing menu.  You can share to individual email addresses or to Active Directory Groups.  It is possible to securely share a dashboard this way with people internal to your organisation (email domain) as well as with people outside of your organisation.

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Publish to Web from My Workspace

Sharing this way allows you to make the material publicly visible over the web.  You can get an embedding code to publish the material via a web page (see this example in a recent blog) or you can get a link that you can send to anyone. But be careful!  Even if you send the link to a single person, the material is available to anyone that has the link (or can find it, hack it etc) – no password required.

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Create a Content Pack from My Workspace

A Content Pack is a bundle of Datasets, Reports and Dashboards that can be distributed to defined users in your organisation.  When you create the Content Pack, you can specify individual users or groups of users via Active Directory.

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If someone wants to access this data shared with them as a Content Pack, they simply click “Get Data” and select the content pack from “My Organisation”

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The benefit of sharing via Content Packs is that you can bundle relevant material and share with only those that need it.  They can choose to access it only when they want it.

There are some downsides of sharing from My Workspace

Here are the pros and cons of sharing this way from My Workspace.  Remember it is possible to share using these methods from a Group Workspace too – more on that below.

Pros Cons
  • It is free for the first 2 options, but you need a Pro License to create a content pack (option 3).
  • It is easy to share very large workbooks with other users as long as they have an account too.
  • You can share with Mac users (via browser)
  • You can share with Mobile users (there are apps and browser solutions)
  • You can stop sharing the content at any time by going back into the share options in the service and removing the sharing approval.
  • It is difficult to easily spot the dashboards you have shared from the My Workspace Dashboard view.
  • My Workspace can get very crowded with ad hoc reports and dashboards for your personal use, and these can then get in the way of shared material.
  • If you have a role to share material within an organisation (eg Business Analyst sharing material), then what will happen when you go on leave?  No one else can access your workspace.
  • There are better ways of doing it by using Group Workspaces.

Group Workspaces

If you are serious about sharing material, then you really should start using Group Workspaces. Group Workspaces are a Pro Licence feature, but it is almost a must for any organisation serious about sharing content via Power BI.

The benefits of using Group Workspaces vs My Workspace include:

  • More than one person can publish, edit and manage all content within a Group Workspace.
  • One or more people can administer user access to the Group Workspace.
  • If the original author is not available (ie they are on holidays or they leave the company) then someone else can take ownership of the material without starting again from scratch.
  • You can have as many Group Workspaces as you need, and these can be based on any group categorisation that works for you and your organisation.
  • When you have your shared material in a Group Workspace, there is no confusion as to what is your personal material and what material you have loaded for the purpose of sharing (see below how you can categorise the Group Workspaces).

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Once you have decided to use a Group Workspace, you have the same sharing options as covered earlier with all the same benefits.

  • Share a Dashboard
  • Create and Share a Content Pack
  • Public Sharing – Publish to Web

Sharing Group Workspaces

The final method of sharing is to share the Group Workspace itself.  You can of course share the Group Workspace for the purpose of “administration”, but you can also share with the purpose of Group Collaboration and/or Content Sharing.  You have the ability to set access for individuals to be either an administrator or a member.  Admin always has full privileges. Members can be configured by an administrator to either be all “editors” or all “viewers” depending on the group requirements.  One limitation is that you can only share a Group Workspace with individual email address users, not an Active Directory group.  If you think that is just wrong (as I do), then please vote here to have this changed.

Hopefully this article has helped you gain a deeper understanding of the sharing options available with Power BI.  Microsoft has announced it is reviewing a new idea called  Private Publish to web, so keep an eye out for that, and vote for it if you like the idea.

Sharing Directly In Excel

As pointed out by Anthony (in the comments below), once you have access to shared data via Power BI, you will have access to another KILLER feature – direct access to the data from within Excel.  There was a new update on this today, and I blogged about it here. exceleratorbi.com.au/direct-connect-excel-power-bi-service/

July 13, 2016 6:55 am

10 Comments

  • Matt,

    Excellent article. It brings some clarity to a sometimes confusing subject.

    Question: Are companies putting their sensitive financial data on the cloud (ie ‘Publish to Web from My Workspace’)? How secure is it?

    The Power BI capabilities are great and I want to share dashboards via a browser but how do I address these security concerns?

    1. Certainly many companies are using Power BI and some are using it for sensitive financial data. Some are using internal SSAS Tabular servers and then using Power BI Service to access and display the data. In this use case, the data at rest is not in the cloud, but the data in transit IS in the cloud. Some see this is more secure. Each company needs to make its own assessment. There is a good article and white paper here
      powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/powerbi-admin-power-bi-security/

      Personally, I would not be making the decision myself, but getting the company information security manager to make a call.

  • Matt,

    A very useful summary of all the options. We’re considering using the facility to Publish to Web, but embedding the code on a company extranet page. We’d then give our customers a login and password to the pages of the extranet reserved for them. I’ve been concerned about how secure this is though. In your opinion, just how likely or easy is it really to find or hack a publicly shared link? (My opinion is that we’re not MI5, so very few would want to bother – but our IT department may feel differently.)

    1. I think the risk is low, but you have to balance that against the consequences if someone did access it. And could people copy the link once the accessed the extranet? The Private Publish to web is under review – consider using that. Plus direct share of dashboards also is secure and can be shared with external parties now.

  • Matt, thanks for the helpful information.

    Sharing Group Workspaces and Private Publish to Web just racked up a few of my votes. Really surprised that Sharing Group Workspaces (as of now) has only a few votes! If only people who have not voted yet would add their support, what a fantastic facilitator Group Workspaces would be!

  • Anthony Newell

    This is a great article and provides clarity amongst a sea of options

    There is an absolute killer feature which I will add to the above and is largely independent of Power BI for the end user / recipient (I.e. It has limited involvement for them)

    1) Permission a user to access your Group Workspace where you have published your data model
    2) Ensure user has the ‘Analyse in Excel’ workbook add-in downloaded from Power BI. This is a one off exercise and can be triggered by simply right clicking on the data model and clicking ‘analyse in excel’
    3) With the necessary plumbing in place you can now create a workbook using Analyse In Excel with a connection via OLAP to the Power BI hosted model. You simply give this workbook to the end user knowing they can refresh it and always have one version of the truth. If they are confident they can also create their own workbooks

    I’ve yearned for this type of thing for a while now and as soon as I heard about it, jumped on it. Having your data layer separated like this provides for thin client reporting workbooks connecting to their data source in Power BI. No need for Access databases, SSAS Tabular etc to host your data, Power BI provides the solution and is true ‘managed self-serve BI’. Tremendous

      1. Anthony Newell

        I just read it, fantastic !!!
        Am I right in thinking that if I’m the publisher only one Power BI pro licence is required?

        1. I don’t think it is related to who publishes it. In order to receive it via a content pack or group workspace, you need a pro licence. If you share via dashboard, the receiver can’t see the report or dataset.

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