Follow this step-by-step guide on creating and customizing dashboards in Microsoft’s Power BI. You’ll also learn how to set up and manage dashboard alerts.

Microsoft Power BI logo shown by apple pencil on the iPad Pro tablet screen. Man using application on the tablet. December 2020, San Francisco, USA.
Image: vladim_ka/Adobe Stock

Microsoft’s Power BI dashboards tell a story and reveal key insights and patterns that could otherwise be lost in data sheets. Using dashboards, organizations can make better, more informed and faster decisions. The good news is you don’t need to be an IT expert to create a Power BI dashboard.

Dashboards can be built in Power BI from one or several reports by importing datasets or duplicating an existing dashboard. Unlike reports — which may have multiple pages — dashboards are a single-page canvas. These dashboards can be updated to show the latest data but they cannot be filtered like reports, nor can they be edited.

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What to consider before creating a dashboard in Power BI

Before building a dashboard, you should think about what information you need to highlight. For example, a sales-focused organization may want its dashboard to include data on total sales, best-sold products, sales over time, units by sale, sales by region and top segments.

Also, each organization should personalize its dashboard according to its goals, operations and efficiencies; there is no one-size-fits-all solution or approach.

An important note is dashboards are a Power BI service, and it’s not available in Power BI Desktop.

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How to create a dashboard from a report

Dashboards are created from reports. If you don’t have your reports in Power BI, you can import your dataset as an Excel file.

How to import your Excel dataset file

  1. Open the Power BI service in your browser.
  2. From the navigation pane, select My Workspace and then click Get Data at the bottom of the menu.
  3. Under Files, select Get.
  4. Find your Excel file and click Connect.
  5. Select Import and the file will automatically be imported.

Building a dashboard from a report

Now that you have your report on Power BI, you can start building your dashboard. Dashboards are created by pinning tiles from a report to a new dashboard. It is possible to pin an entire report to a dashboard or pin individual tiles from one or several reports.

How build a dashboard

  1. Select and open the Excel file report that will be part of the new dashboard.
  2. Select More options (…) > Edit, to open the report in the Editing view.
  3. Hover over a visualization, this will reveal the hidden options. Select the Pin icon to add the tile to the dashboard (Figure A).
  4. Select New Dashboard, then name it (Figure B).
  5. Click on Go To Dashboard.

Figure A

Image: Ray Fernandez/TechRepublic.

Figure B

Image: Ray Fernandez/TechRepublic.

The tile you pinned should now be the only visualization in your new dashboard. To pin more tiles, return to a report and repeat the process. Remember when adding more tiles to click on Existing Dashboard, and select the name of your new dashboard from the drop-down menu.

How to design a dashboard in Power BI

Once the tiles are added to a Power BI dashboard they can be easily modified and personalized. To resize tiles, the bottom right corner of the tile must be dragged, just like resizing an image on a photo editor. The placement, appearance and behavior of titles can also be modified.

How to change the title of the tile

  1. Select the More Options Menu (…) found in the upper-right corner of the title.
  2. Select Edit Details to open the Tile Details window.
  3. Change the title of the tile and add a subtitle if required.

In the same Tile Details window, users can change the behavior of the tile. Power BI sets the default behavior for each tile to direct users to the source report. However, that behavior can be changed for users to be directed to another dashboard, or report, by changing the default hyperlink in the Tile Details window.

How to change the behavior of a tile

  1. In the Tile Details window select Set Custom Link.
  2. Select Link and select where you want the tile to redirect users from the dropdown menu.
  3. Select Apply.

Dashboards are all about clear insight. Graphs, charts and other types of visualizations are key. There is a wide range of visualizations available on Power BI that can be combined to create a dashboard that not only looks good but drives performance and analysis.

How to change the type of visualization of a tile

  1. Open the report that has the visualization you want to change.
  2. Select the visualization to make it active. Note that when the visualization is selected it should show handles and a border.
  3. In the Visualizations pane, find and select the new type of visualization.
  4. Pin the Tile with the new visualization to your dashboard by clicking on the Pin icon.

Through the More Options Menu (…) users can also add comments, copy the visual as an image, open in focus mode, export, view insights, delete the title and manage alerts.

How to set alerts in Power BI

Alerts are a useful feature for Power BI dashboards. Each tile can manage alerts, and these can be available to anyone who has access to the dashboard. For example, a logistic manager may configure personalized alerts for each worker in different locations to make a supply chain run smoothly. Alerts are sent to the Notification Center of Power BI, but users can also configure alerts to be sent to emails.

How to set and manage alerts

  1. Select the More Options Menu (…).
  2. Click Manage Alerts.
  3. Click Add Alert Rule. Make sure the Active switch is set to On (Figure C).
  4. Set the threshold for the alert. Thresholds can be Above, Below, or Specific.
  5. Set the frequency of the alert.
  6. Save and close.

Figure C

Image: Ray Fernandez/TechRepublic.

The theme of a dashboard can also be changed. Power BI has three themes to choose from: Light, Dark or Color-blind friendly. A dashboard’s theme can also be personalized by selecting the Custom theme option. To change the theme select the edit dropdown menu, then the Dashboard theme, choose the theme, and click Save (Figure D).

Figure D

Microsoft Power BI. Image: Microsoft

As endpoints become the new workplace, dashboards need to work efficiently across all devices including mobile. With Power BI users can personalize a dashboard for mobile viewing.

How to customize a dashboard for mobile view

  1. Select View, then click on Mobile Layout.
  2. Power BI will show you an emulated mobile version of the dashboard. Here you can resize tiles, change information and move tiles. The mobile view can also be customized according to the different devices used to view the dashboard.

Power BI has several more advanced features for dashboards. From configuring real-time data to data classification or monitoring sales, each organization can make the most of its data by building its dashboard.