Skip to content

Contact sales

By filling out this form and clicking submit, you acknowledge our privacy policy.

What is Power BI? A Microsoft Power Platform primer

Looking to learn Power BI? Dig into Power Platform, get a tutorial on how to use Power BI reports, and prepare for Power BI certification with ACG training.

Jun 08, 2023 • 11 Minute Read

Please set an alt value for this image...
  • Learning & Development
  • Data
  • azure

Looking to learn about Microsoft Power BI? In this post, we’ll cover the basics of Power BI and the Microsoft Power Platform, including Power BI reports and workspaces. We’ll also share resources to help you learn Power BI and prepare for Power BI certification and the PL-900: Microsoft Power Platform Fundamentals certification exam.


What is Microsoft Power Platform?

Microsoft Power Platform is a suite of business applications designed to help individuals easily create a variety of business solutions.

Power Platform includes the following applications:

  • Power Apps – used to build custom applications
  • Power Automate – used to automate processes and workflows
  • Power BI — used to visualize data and share insights
  • Power Virtual Agents – used to build chatbots without coding

All of the above can be used to make solutions inside the Power Platform. These tools use the same underlying components:

  • Connectors
  • AI Builder
  • Common Data Service

A big part of what makes Power Platform so amazing is its ability to integrate with existing Microsoft solutions and other tools, like Dynamics 365, Microsoft 365 (including Microsoft Teams), Microsoft Azure, and GitHub.

The Power Platform is designed to be used by citizen developers for low code/no code development. Translation: it’s made for anyone who wants to create solutions inside of the Power Platform . . . even if they don't have a computer science degree.

And Power Platform is really built for anyone. It’s intuitive and easy to use. You can learn Power BI quickly and start cooking up solutions inside Power Platform in no time.

Interested in upscaling or beginning your journey with app development? A Cloud Guru’s Azure Development Learning Paths offers custom courses fit for beginners and advanced gurus!

Next, we’ll look at an overview of each of the tools in our Power Platform tool chest before we get to the belle of the blog: Power BI.

What is Power Apps?

Power Apps is used to build applications with little-to-no code. There are three types of applications you can build with Power Apps:

  • Canvas Apps – Apps built with a drag-and-drop builder, from blank existing templates, or data sources. These can further be modified using Excel-like formulas.
  • Model-Driven Apps – Apps on data stored inside of the Common Data Service. These apps don't require us to write any code. You model data using relationships, forms, views, and business rules, and Power Apps will automatically create the interface based off of the data model.
  • Portal Apps – Apps that provide public-facing websites, which provide anonymous and authenticated browsing experiences, allowing users to interact with data held inside of the Common Data Service over the internet.

What is Power Virtual Agents?

Power Virtual Agents is a tool in the Power Platform that can be used to create chatbots to engage with customers or internal employees to provide some level of automated artificial intelligence and support.

What is Power Automate?

Power Automate can be used to automate workflows and processes. This is done using the flows inside of Power Automate that connect to data sources.

Power Automate flows can interact with data using connectors. Connectors are the bridge that provides that connection from our flow to our data sources. Flows are built on triggers to provide some sort of automated action. These triggers prompt flows to run.

What is Power BI?

Power BI is a service inside of Microsoft Power Platform used to analyze data and create visualizations to provide business intelligence (thus the “BI” in “Power BI”) to be used for making informed decisions.

Using Power BI, you can gather datasets from various data sources in the Common Data Service, Excel files, or cloud storage sources. You can bring these data sets together, load and transform them, and create visualizations for reports and dashboards.

These visualizations packed with meaningful data can be shared within an organization to provide a sense of collaboration and inform business decisions.

Cloud Dictionary

Get the Cloud Dictionary of Pain
Speaking cloud doesn’t have to be hard. We analyzed millions of responses to ID the concepts that trip people up. Grab this cloud guide for succinct definitions of the most painful cloud terms.

Power BI tools

  • Power BI Desktop — This tool connects and models data and creates reports and visualizations.
  • Power BI service — This cloud-based portal service is for sharing. You can publish and share datasets, reports, and dashboards into workspaces.
  • Power BI mobile — This tool consumes data via a mobile app so you can stay in the know on the go. Get, share, and collaborate on insights via a mobile app.

Power BI Desktop vs Power BI service

Let's take a look at how Power BI Desktop and Power BI service are different (and similar). This calls for a Venn diagram!

While we can pull in data sources to both Power BI Desktop and Power BI service, there are some differences.

  • Power BI Desktop has access to many different data sources; the Power BI service is a little bit more limited. (This is because Power BI Desktop is used to do most of the creating.)
  • You can transform data, model data, and use calculated columns inside of the Power BI Desktop application. In Power BI service, you get sharing features, such as dashboards — those single-page views your boss and your boss’ boss are going to love. These have tiles representing different visualizations and reports for getting KPIs from our info.
  • Power BI service also has workspaces to enable sharing of and collaboration on datasets, reports, visualizations, and dashboards. In the Power BI service, we can set up data flows and gateway connections.
  • In both Power BI Desktop and Power BI service we can create reports and visualizations and perform some level of filtering.

What's better than picking up new tech skills? Doing it for free. Check out this month's free cloud courses.

What are Power BI reports?

The building blocks of Power BI

Power BI is made up of several key building blocks.

  • Datasets — A collection of data, for example from Excel or a SQL database.
  • Visualizations — Visualizations are, well . . . visualizations (or pretty charts and graphs) that bring datasets to life.
  • Reports — Power BI reports are collections of different visualizations (it may be one or multiple) that have been created. Each report is attached to only one dataset. Reports can be filtered.
  • Dashboards — Dashboards can be used to share reports and visualizations in a single-page view with tiles that allow users to look at KPIs (key-performance indicators) from reports.
  • Workspaces — A collaborative space for dashboards, reports, and datasets that can be shared within an organization.

Power BI reports vs dashboards vs workspaces

• One or more pages
• Collection of visuals
• Allows filtering
• Single page view
• Collection of tiles
• Contains reports
• Overview of KPIs
• Collaborative space
• Contains datasets, reports, and dashboards
• App staging area

Power BI tutorial

Navigating Power BI

Here’s a look at the Power BI service.

In the Power BI service, you can create reports by manually entering or pasting data or pick a published dataset from a list of shared datasets. (This is why having shared datasets published inside of the Power BI service are useful: you can use these datasets to create reports directly from the Power BI service.)

As you can see in the screenshot above, we're limited with data sources in the Power BI service. This is because the desktop application is for doing most visualization and report creation from datasets. There you'll have much more access to various data sources.

By clicking on Datasets, you can see the datasets published in the Power BI service.

By clicking Apps, you can view the applications you’ve published.

Also under Apps, you can also view template applications available from the Microsoft AppSource. These template apps are awesome pre-packaged Power BI solutions. BYO data and you're ready to party.

In Workspaces, you can view (you guessed it) workspaces. Your default workspace is exclusive to you.

But you can also create collaborative workspaces to share access to reports, dashboards, and datasets with other users via email addresses.

You can add users by clicking Access in the workspace you want to add the user to.

The permissions you provide to users you share this workspace with will depend on what you select when you’re sharing access. Choose admin, member, contributor, or viewer.

How to learn Power BI

Looking to learn more about Power BI or get some Power BI training?

  • For an in-depth Power BI tutorial and to prepare for Power BI certification, check out our apprentice-level Azure Power BI course, PL-900 Microsoft Power Platform Fundamentals. This Azure Power BI course will give you a better understanding of the tools provided within the Power Platform, including Power BI. You’ll also learn how to create a Power App, flows, reports, dashboards, and chatbots.

Azure your success in the cloud

Transform your career with courses and real hands-on labs in Microsoft Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, and beyond.