The Difference Between Power BI Dashboards, Reports, and Apps

People new to the Power BI platform, and seasoned Power BI developers often use the terms Report and Dashboard interchangeably. However, the two terms actually refer to two separate feature sets of the Power BI platform. We’ll dive into exactly what each one does and explain how they’re different but closely related.

Power BI Dashboards are made up of visuals pinned from Power BI Reports. Reports are the lowest level of analysis that are published to the Power BI Service

One of the best features of Power BI is how flexible it is. There are multiple ways to present and share data. Unfortunately, with the more options that are available the more confusing it can be to know what each feature is and the difference between them.

Let’s roll!

Power BI Reports Explained

A Power BI Report is what most people using Power BI are used to interacting with. Reports are designed in Power BI Desktop, and get published to a PowerBI.com Workspace. Reports are typically made up of multiple charts, graphs, and tables displayed on multiple tabs. It’s similar to an Excel workbook in that it can be made up of a single or multiple report pages.

If you’ve ever created and published with Power BI, you probably created a Power BI Report. The following is a screenshot from Power BI Desktop that shows a Power BI Report under development.

Screenshot of a Power BI Report being developed in Power BI Desktop. It includes multiple visuals, slicers, and pages

Reports have several key features and benefits:

  • Multi-Page Layouts: Reports can consist of multiple pages, each offering a different set of visuals.
  • Interactive Elements: Users can interact with the data through filtering, slicing, and drilling down.
  • Designed and Published from Power BI Desktop: Reports are created using the Power BI Desktop App. They’re published to PowerBI.com where they’re split into a semantic model and a report.

Most people will interact with reports and switch between multiple tabs, explore, or drill through the data to gain a deeper understanding of the topic being presented.

Power BI Dashboards Explained

A Power BI Dashboard is a single page that offers a high-level view of key metrics, ideal for quick insights and decision making. Visualizations, charts and graphs are pinned to a dashboard from reports that were previously published to PowerBI.com

Power BI Dashboards can only be created from the Power BI Service. You can read more about how to create them with our in-depth article on creating Power BI dashboards.

The following screenshot shows a Power BI Dashboard being developed.

A Power BI Workspace that includes multiple semantic models, reports, and dashboards

On the surface a dashboard might look indistinguishable from a Report, but there are a few key differences and features of dashboards that you should be aware of that set them apart.

  • Dashboards are a Single Page – While reports give you the ability to have multiple tabs and pages, dashboards are single page only.
  • Dashboards Present Links to Other Reports – You cannot drill down or expand visuals in a dashboard. When you click on a visual it links to the underlying report.
  • Visuals are Pinned from a Report to a Dashboard – Visuals are pinned from a report to a dashboard, meaning that the visual must already exist in a published report to be added to a dashboard.
  • Dashboards are Stand Alone Views – Dashboards can only be created in the Power BI Service, they cannot be made from Power BI Desktop. They are separate views from reports and can be shared independently.

Dashboards are Intended for High Level Views and KPIs.

The biggest difference between the Reports and Dashboards are their use cases. You can combine KPIs and charts from multiple reports into a single dashboard page. This gives business leaders the ability to see key metrics, and charts all on one page.

When there is a metric they want to learn more about and see detail, they can click on it and view the more comprehensive report that provides more detail and the ability to explore the topic in more detail.

Power BI Workspaces Include Dashboards and Reports

Power BI Dashboards and Reports are both available in Power BI Workspaces. A Power BI Workspace is a collection of reports, dashboards, and semantic models (Data models) that are shared with a group of users. Workspaces are shared with teams or user groups who will all have access to the items saved on that workspace.

The following screenshot of a workspace shows the different reports, semantic models, and dashboards that are available to users who can access it.

Workspaces are collections of reports, and dashboards that are shared with a common group of users. Another way to think of it is that an Accounting team could have a workspace to view relevant information that they only have access to and a Sales team might have access to a different set of reports that are only relevant to them.

As an added layer of security, each person or group assigned to a workspace can has an assigned Role. The role determines who can edit reports, see underlying data, or only view published reports and dashboards.

Microsoft provides a detailed guide of access Roles in workspaces in Power BI that’s a good reference guide for those interested in data governance.

Power BI Apps Explained

Power BI Apps compliment Workspaces, Reports, Dashboards and provided another way to consolidate and share data with Power BI viewers. Rather than consolidating data from multiple reports into a single page like you would with a Dashboard, Power BI Apps allow you to aggregate full pages from multiple reports into a single viewing experience.

Apps exist outside of the standard Workspace and can be shared with different audiences who may only be interested in seeing a set of curated pages that exist across multiple reports.

Adam from Guy in a Cube goes into some detail about what a Power BI App is, and how security works differently than normal reports and dashboards. They allow you to create one App and then limit which pages can be seen based on audience.

Apps have gained in popularity over recent years, and they’re worth having a decent understanding of. They’re another way that Power BI provides options for presenting data along with a method to create once and re-use many different times.

Conclusion

Power BI Workspaces, Apps, Reports, and Dashboards are all different ways that present data. When comparing Reports and Dashboards they are similarly both saved to a Power BI Workspace, or a collection of presentations of data that are only accessible to people that have access to the workspace.

Dashboards are made up of visuals that have already been published to reports. In this way, you can think of a dashboard as a snapshot of data that’s available in more depth in a report. It’s a one-page summary of the most important information but only at a high level.

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