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Creating Data Driven Subscriptions for Power BI Reports

Last updated on September 24, 2020

One of the features that has never made the leap from SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) on-premises to the cloud is data-driven subscriptions. Users can subscribe to reports, but a data-driven subscription allows individual subscriptions to be stored in a central location and parameterized, while delivering the reports to multiple locations. This article will describe a pattern for accomplishing this using SharePoint lists as the subscription store, and Power Automate as the automation tool, for a no-code solution to this requirement.

**Updated – Sept 24 2020** The new Power Automate “Export to File” power BI actions completely remove the need to create custom connectors (outlined below). I am leaving the steps in this post, because the approach can be used for other things, but these new actions make this whole process significantly easier, and cheaper. The Export to file actions are NOT premium actions in Power Automate.

Requirements

In order to implement this pattern it is necessary to have access to Power Automate and to SharePoint, both of which are available in Office 365. The custom connector described below uses the Power BI Rest API and the ExportTo function, which require a dedicated capacity (Premium) in Power BI to work. This pattern works with both interactive (pbix) and paginated reports. Paginated reports also require the use of a dedicated capacity. Data-driven subscriptions in SSRS were always an Enterprise feature on premises, so this requirement should come as no surprise.

Custom Connector

Currently, there are a number of actions available for Power BI within Power Automate. Unfortunately, none of these actions have the ability of rendering and saving a report, but that is something that the Power BI REST API can do. It is possible however to call this API using a custom connector in Power Automate.

Chris Webb recently put together a series of articles on using the Export function in the Power BI REST API with Power Automate. The first article outlines the process of creating the connector, as well as a downloadable Swagger (Open API) definition file that this pattern is based on. The second describes using it within Power Automate.

I won’t re-invent the wheel on the custom connector creation instructions here, just point you to the blogs above to create a connector. Once the custom connection is created, it will be possible to implement data-driven subscriptions.

Subscriptions

Subscriptions can be stored just about anywhere, but for the purposes of this example, we’re going to use a SharePoint list. What we want is the ability to specify the title of a report, what format we want it rendered in, and the destination. The Custom connector will require the workspace ID and the Report ID of the report in Power BI, in addition to the output format. In addition, we want to be able to take advantage of parameters in paginated reports, so our subscription definition needs to contain a parameter value pair as well.

The following SharePoint Columns will be used in a custom list:

Column NameColumn Type
TitleSingle line of text
Workspace GUIDSingle line of text
Report GUIDSingle line of text
File FormatChoice
Destination TypeChoice
DestinationSingle line of text
ParameterNameSingle line of text
ParameterValueSingle line of text

The choices for file format are the different output formats supported by the Export API. They are CSV, DOCX, IMAGE, MHTML, PDF, PNG, PPTX, XLSX, and XML. In my case I set the default to PDF as that is the most common format, but that choice is optional.

PowerAutomate supports a wide variety of file storage mechanisms, so the choices for destination type really depend on what destinations you want to support. In my case, I chose OneDrive for Business, SharePoint libraries, and email recipients. Therefore, one subscription could save to SharePoint while another delivers a file to an email user. These destinations will be reflected in the PowerAutomate flow created below.

Once the list is created, it can be populated with a few entries. In my example below, I am rendering reports from tyGraph for Twitter. Three are paginated reports going to each of the above destinations, and the last is an interactive (pbix) report being delivered to a SharePoint library.

The first three in the list are passing in a different parameter value to each report. Report parameters are not available to interactive reports, so these values are left empty for the interactive report.

The workspace GUID and the report GUID can be obtained by opening the report in a browser, and then inspecting the URL. This is true for both paginated and interactive reports.

Power Automate

Chris Webb’s post referenced above describes a pattern for rendering an export file from a Power Automate flow. We will use this within the pattern here.

The flow will iterate through the subscription list, and for each item found will render the report and save it to the desired output location. It can be created with any trigger, and for our purposes we are using the Recurrence trigger.

The first action in the flow is the SharePoint Get items action. Configure it to get all of the items from the subscription list created above.

We will need a name for the output file in multiple saving steps. It’s a good idea to create a variable for the output file name for ease of maintainability. We therefore initialize “Output File Name” as a String variable next.

We then create an “Apply to Each” Action from the control group and apply it to the “value” output from the “Get items” step above. This will iterate through each of our subscriptions.

Within the loop, we next apply the “Export to File” action from the custom connector created above. Instead of hardcoding the values however, we supply the values saved in the subscription. In addition, we pass in the parameter values taken from the subscription.

The same action can be used for both interactive and paginated reports. Interactive reports will simply ignore paginated specific options. Many options are available here, we are just utilizing a few of them. It should also be noted that this pattern only supports a single parameter/value pair. This is for simplicity’s sake, as the action will support multiple pairs.

It is also important to note that the settings of each of these custom actions must be changed to turn off the “Asynchronous Pattern” for the action. Without doing this, the action will fail at run time, even though it may test successfully when creating the custom connector.

In the next step, we set the value of the output file name variable that we set above. This will be called when we send the file to the destination.

In this case, we use the title, the current time, and the file format extension to create the file name. The exact formula is completely optional, but it’s a good idea to make the names unique to avoid overwriting past reports.

In the next step, we wait. Rendering takes some time, and one of the outputs above gives us an indication of how long we need to wait. In order to do so, we use the built in “Delay” action in Power Automate.

For the value of “Count” we select the “retry-after” output from the Export to file action above. It returns the number of seconds that the service estimates for the rendering of the report. This is just an estimate, and no guarantee, so it is possible that when we check on the status of the report, it will not be complete. Therefore, we need to repeat checks until it is. For that, we use a “Do Until” Action, available from the “Controls” section of the flow.

We check for the status of the report using the “Export Status” action of our custom connector. Therefore, we add this action into our loop and configure it appropriately, and tuning off the “Asynchronous Pattern” option as above. The “Export Status” action takes 3 arguments, the Workspace and Report GUIDs (that we get from the SharePoint list item) and exportId – which can be retrieved from the output of our “Export to File” action above as the “id” field.

The status reported as an output of this action will have 1 of 4 possible values: Succeeded, Failed, Running, or NotStarted . We want to continue checking as long as the status is neither “Successful” nor “Failed”. This is an advanced condition for the loop, so the Advanced option for it must be selected and the following code added:

@or(equals(body('Export_Status')?['status'], 'Succeeded'),equals(body('Export_Status')?['status'], 'Failed'))

Where Export_Status is the name of the action. Keep in mind that the language here is case sensitive.

The next action added is a condition where we inspect the value of the “status” output from the “Export Status” action. THe two conditions that we look for are Running or NotStarted. If either of these conditions are true, we need to wait for another estimated time interval. The entire loop will appear as below when configured.

Once the loop completes, we need to inspect the status field to see if it was successful, or if it failed. If it failed, we do nothing, but if it succeeds, we need to retrieve the report for storage in our destination. For this, we will add another condition AFTER the “Do Until” loop to inspect the status output.

Along the no branch, we add nothing, but if the output was successful, we retrieve the contents of the report with the “Get Export File” action of our custom connector. The “Get Export File” accepts the same arguments as the “Export Status” action, and has a single output – Body, which will contain the body of the report.

Once the body of the report has been retrieved, we need to send it to the destination. The destination will be determined from the “Destination Type” and “Destination” values from our subscription. For this, we use the “Switch” action from the Control section. In our case we have case branches for OneDrive for Business, SharePoint, and eMail. Fully configured, these branches appear as below.

Of course, your branches will reflect your possible destinations. The number of possible destinations is large and constantly evolving. In this way, this approach is much less constrained than the classic “data driven subscription” feature in SSRS which supported a fixed number of outputs.

Final Thoughts

While the classic Data Driven Subscriptions feature from SSRS Enterprise will likely not be returning, it is possible to recreate the capability with this approach. Its decoupled nature means that it is more flexible , allowing designer to add their own logic and destinations into the process.

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