Building blocks of Power BI


In Microsoft Power BI, there are basic building blocks that make up the reports and dashboards consumed by end users. Think of it similarly to the basic construction materials that can be used to build homes or other structures.

Here are the basic building blocks in Power BI:

  • Reports consist of visualizations and datasets created with Power BI Desktop application.
  • Dashboards consist of tiles from report visualizations created in the online Power BI service.


A visualization (or visual) is a visual representation of data, like a chart, a color-coded map, or other interesting things you can create to represent your data visually. Power BI has all sorts of visualization types, and more are coming all the time. The following image shows a collection of different visualizations that were created in Power BI.

A screenshot of sample Power BI dashboard with various visualizations

Visualizations can be simple, like a single number that represents something significant. Visuals can also be complex, like a gradient-colored map that shows voter sentiment about a certain social issue or concern. The goal of a visual is to present data in a way that provides context and insights, both of which would probably be difficult to discern from a raw table of numbers or text.


A dataset is a collection of data that Power BI uses to create its visualizations.

You can have a simple dataset that's based on a single table from a Microsoft Excel workbook, similar to what's shown in the following image.

A screenshot of an Excel file with contents from a date table

Datasets can also be a combination of many different sources, which you can filter and combine to provide a unique collection of data (a dataset) for use in Power BI.

For example, you can create a dataset from three database fields, one website table, an Excel table, and online results of an email marketing campaign. That unique combination is still considered a single dataset, even though it was pulled together from many different sources.

Filtering data before bringing it into Power BI lets you focus on the data that matters to you. For example, you can filter your contact database so that only customers who received emails from the marketing campaign are included in the dataset. You can then create visuals based on that subset (the filtered collection) of customers who were included in the campaign. Filtering helps you focus your data—and your efforts.

You can create a Power BI report from almost any data, thanks to the many available data connectors, such as Excel, a Microsoft SQL Server database, Azure, Oracle, Facebook, Salesforce, and MailChimp.

After you have a dataset, you can begin creating visualizations that show different portions of it in different ways, and gain insights based on what you see. That's where reports come in.


In Power BI, a report is a collection of visualizations on one or more pages. As with other reports you've seen or created, Power BI reports combine related data. The following image shows a report in Power BI Desktop—in this case, it's the second page in a five-page report.

Screenshot of a report in Power BI Desktop.

Reports let you create many visualizations, on multiple pages if necessary, and let you arrange those visualizations in whatever way best tells your story.

You might have a report about quarterly sales, product growth in a particular segment, or migration patterns of polar bears. Whatever your subject, reports let you gather and organize your visualizations onto one page (or more).


When you're ready to share a report, or a collection of visualizations, you can create a Power BI dashboard. Much like the dashboard in a car, a dashboard is a selected group of visuals that provide quick and important insight into the data or story you're trying to present.

Dashboards are limited to a single page, and allow users to follow a visual to the underlying report. Users interact with dashboards through the Power BI service or on a mobile device.


In Power BI, a tile is a single visualization on a dashboard. It's the rectangular box that holds an individual visual. In the following image, you see one tile, which is also surrounded by other tiles.

Screenshot of a Power BI dashboard with tiles and a single tile highlighted.

When you're creating a dashboard in Power BI, you can move or arrange tiles however you want. You can make them bigger, change their height or width, and snuggle them up to other tiles.

When you're viewing, or consuming, a dashboard or report—which means you're not the creator or owner, but the report or dashboard has been shared with you—you can interact with it, but you can't change the size of the tiles or their arrangement.

All together now

Let's review the building blocks of Power BI:

  • Power BI Desktop lets you build datasets and use visuals to make reports.
  • The online Power BI service brings together reports, dashboards, and tools for easy distribution and management of your Power BI content.

Understanding the Power BI basics empowers you to create datasets and design reports. Your reports don't have to be complex to be interesting and informative. Power BI offers easy ways to design reports from a single Excel sheet.

Power BI is also scalable, allowing you to create datasets from various data sources, even incorporating custom code. The dataset can then be used to design interactive reports and dashboards that emphasize crucial data for informed business decisions.

No matter how you use Power BI, it all starts with datasets and visuals. These are the foundation for your reports that share insights and dashboards that present the most important data upfront.