The Power BI sharing story got a lot clearer this week with the changes in the service that go along with General Availability. These changes included the integration with Office 365 groups, which will in my opinion, be the preferred way to share Power BI content with others.
If you’re unfamiliar with Office 365 Groups, what you need to know is that Groups is not a product per se, but really an integration mechanism that binds together multiple elements of Office 365, and as of now, Power BI. When a group is created, a number of things happen – a distribution list is created in Exchange, a Site Collection is created in SharePoint containing that Group’s OneDrive, and an Azure Active Directory group is created for membership in AAD. Now, a Power BI workspace is created for that group as well.
How Power BI works with groups
If you’ve been working with the Power BI preview already, you are familiar with the personal workspace. This is the workspace that you see when you first log into the Power BI service, and until now, the only workspace that was available. Within the personal workspace, you can create datasets, reports, and dashboards. Dashboards can be shared to the personal workspace of other people within the organization, but now you can also switch to the workspace of an Office 365 Group. To do so, click on the Workspace selector in Power BI. Initially, it will be labelled “My Workspace”.
You’ll then be able to select from any of your Office 365 groups. All groups that you are a member of should appear here automatically, you don’t need to register them. Once selected, you’ll be working within the context of that group. If it’s empty, you’ll be prompted to add data, and if not, you’ll be taken to a default dashboard. Everything that you do at this point will be done within the context of that group, and will not affect your personal workspace. In addition, everything that you do here will be visible to all members of the group that use Power BI. There is no need to “share” anything.
Sharing to the personal dashboard vs sharing via groups
Groups represent a fundamental change to sharing in Power BI. The Personal Workspace is just that, personal. It is possible to share dashboards from here with colleagues, but the assumption is that you are the only person that may make changes. A Groups workspace turns that on its head, and assumes that everything is shared by default.
When you share a dashboard from the Personal Workspace, recipients can view the dashboard, and interact with the underlying reports. There is (currently) no mechanism to allow those recipients to make changes to those reports and dashboards. However, when working in the Groups workspace, any member of the group can make changes. Any changes made are also immediately visible to all other members of the group.
Update – 2015/09/26 – Groups can now share dashboards outwardly in the same manner as personal workspaces. Thanks Ajay for the comment.
Personal OneDrive vs Group One Drive
In its original incarnation, Power BI worked with Excel files stored in SharePoint Online document libraries, including OneDrive libraries. With this version, Power BI will refresh and render Excel workbooks with full fidelity as well, but now they MUST be stored in a OneDrive library. Each user receives a single OneDrive library through Office 365, and they may also have a OneDrive personal library. In addition, each group also has a OneDrive library, and these can be used as well. The way to use them is to connect to the workbook from within the Group’s workspace.
In order to connect to an Excel Workbook from the Personal Workspace, you click on “Get Data”, click the “Get” button in the Files section, and select from Local File, OneDrive – Business, or OneDrive Personal.
Selecting from Local File or OneDrive personal will import the contents of a workbook into a Power BI dataset. That dataset will be refreshable directly from OneDrive, or through the Personal Gateway if Local File was chosen. However, selecting OneDrive – Business will allow you to select your file, then give a further two options.
“Import” is the same process as OneDrive – personal, or local file – the date is imported from the workbook into the dataset. However “Connect” establishes a report connection between the Power BI service and the OneDrive file, allowing it to be rendered in the Power BI site through Excel Services.
Once this is done, the workbook will appear in the Reports section in Power BI with a small Excel icon beside it. Unlike other sources, no dataset or dashboard are created because the report is a self-contained entity.
The experience is quite similar within a Groups workspace, with one important difference – neither OneDrive-Personal nor OneDrive – Business are options.
Instead, we are presented with the Group’s OneDrive which makes sense given that we’re in the Group workspace. The group OneDrive is backed by Office 365 which means that it functions the same way as OneDrive – Business. Excel workbooks can either be imported or connected to.
Can we use Power BI with Team Sites like before?
As mentioned above, the original Power BI service rendered workbooks from any SharePoint Online document library. The new service works with OneDrive libraries only. This means that any workbooks that are currently stored in SharePoint Online and use Power BI features will need to be moved into Group based OneDrive, or personal OneDrive in order to be able to continue to take advantage of Power BI features. In other words, Groups are REALLY important to Power BI. The original Power BI for Office 365 service will continue to be available, but will shut down on December 31, 2015.
The V1 service allowed for the external sharing of workbooks through the external sharing facilities of SharePoint. However, due to licensing restrictions, the experience wasn’t optimal. If the data model was too large, the external user would not be able to open the workbook in a browser, and would instead be required to download it in its entirety in order to open it. This was because the external user would most likely not have a Power BI license. The V2 service allows users to share dashboards from their Personal Workspaces, and to collaborate fully in Group Workspaces, but there is currently no way to share Power BI content externally, or anonymously. This has been identified as a priority, but is not available yet.
I have no specific information about how this might be done, so I am free to speculate. I suspect that the Groups mechanism will be leveraged to accomplish external content sharing. At the moment, Office 365 groups do not allow for external members, but if they did, ths would solve the external sharing problem. I’m betting that this will be the approach.
Microsoft is betting a great deal on Office 365 groups, and Power BI is one of the first services to demonstrate this deep integration. If you’re already or will be invested in Power BI, I would strongly suggest that you get familiar with them.