BUSINESS INSIGHTS

Jun 06, 2017

What are Power BI Apps?

Javier Guillen Posted by Javier Guillen

Power BI Apps are a new way of sharing reports and dashboards – recently announced in the May 2017 Power BI update. In the future, Apps will replace Content Packs and are an evolution of sharing content with a large user base of consumers.

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Here are some of the most important differences between the existing Content Pack sharing option and Power BI Apps:

  • Power BI Apps have a 1-to-1 relationship with an App workspace. You cannot ‘exclude’ reports from being published if they exist on the workspace. This can help trace App components more easily compared to Content Packs.
  • Content Packs can be copied, whereas Power BI Apps can’t. Although copying may be helpful to users who want to edit the reports and create their own versions, the downside is that the copy is disconnected from the original and there is no way to re-sync them. With an App, users always have the ‘latest and greatest’ version of the reports (but no copies are allowed at the moment).
  • Previously, consumers would often get lost trying to find Content Packs as the Power BI service would place them on the user workspace. With Apps, there is a new link on the Power BI service navigation menu that takes you specifically to apps you have connected to. Now, within one workspace, users are not mixing reports that they may have created on their own with those that have been shared with them through an app, simplifying the navigation experience. 
  • App authors can customize the color and logo of a pack so that it becomes more attractive and informative to users.

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When should you use Power BI Apps?

Well, it depends. To answer this question, let’s step back a moment and review some recent developments.

In the May 2017 update, Microsoft announced a new licensing option for Power BI called “Premium”. This is a capacity license that is ideal for organizations with a broad group of consumers. The assumption is that some activities (such as data preparation, modeling and publishing) are not necessarily of interest to all individuals who want to benefit from Power BI. The distinction between “Power Users” (or even “Super Users”) and “Consumers” is real; hence being able to carve out licensing that targets a broad consumption of reports built by a smaller set of authors at an enterprise scale, is significant.

At the same time, many Power BI authors have been wondering how can they make a distinction between development and production environments. Although companies don’t always proactively plan for this while preparing to roll out Power BI, a phase of prototyping is normal in the Power BI development life cycle.

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With Power BI Apps, you can follow this process efficiently. A Super User (model author) will create an App workspace and invite other collaborators (Power Users) to develop reports on top of the model. Once the reports and dashboards are complete, they can be “packaged” into an App and published for a larger base of consumers.

This development cycle is appropriate for a number of reasons:

  • Currently, in App Workspaces, you cannot add security groups or distribution lists. Due to that, you have to add individuals (one at a time) when defining the group membership. Given that for each dataset/report/dashboard you would normally have a small group of ‘collaborators’, the app workspace model works well here.
  • Power BI Apps, in contrast, can be shared with entire groups of people (AAD security groups, for example). This makes it easy to deploy to hundreds or thousands of consumers.
  • Power BI Apps can be assigned to consumption capacity (under Premium licensing), so organizations avoid paying for every user accessing the report or dashboard.
  • Deployed Power BI apps are ‘read only’: They cannot be edited or modified by consumers. This is appropriate when the target audience of the App is consumers (as opposed to Super Users or Power Users).
  • Given that dashboard/reports that exist in App workspaces can be modified and consumers do not see those changes until publishing (or re-publishing), they serve as “staging” areas for development and QA prior to deployment to production.
  • Row-Level Security is applied only to read-only users. This should not be a problem for apps, given they benefit mostly consumers, who have read-only access. On the contrary, collaborators with editing rights on the App workspace will not see RLS applied to them – which is OK as they are helping to build the reporting asset.

Current Issues with Apps

As with every production evolution, it is not perfect. Here are two issues we have seen with the current offering:

  • There does not appear to be a way to know if the report published as an app is different from the one in the workspace. Knowing the last published date does not appear to be available either, even through Audit Logs.
  • Dashboards/reports that exist in Apps cannot be ‘personalized’ by users to create their own filtered versions of reports.

It is also worth noting that there is another way of sharing dashboards (outside of workspaces or apps/content packs): “Peer-to-peer shares” involve a single dashboard and, in a similar way to Apps or Content Packs, they can be used to distribute content to large audiences (except peer-to-peer shares cannot be distributed to O365 groups, whereas Content Packs can). Although the name may imply you are sharing with a single individual, in reality they allow you to share with entire groups of AD users.

Want to know more about Power BI Apps? Feel free to drop us a line and we will be happy to answer your questions.

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Javier Guillen

About The Author

Javier Guillen

Javier is a Principal at BlueGranite. He develops and delivers business analytics solutions with a strong adherence to best practice patterns. He has expertise in dimensional modeling, MDX / DAX / Cube Development (SSAS), Power Query, PowerPivot, and more.