Friday 6 March 2020

Power BI Dashboards

Power BI Dashboards are particularly powerful reports that have more to them than meets the eye. In this blog post, I look a bit more closely at Microsoft’s own definition of a Power BI dashboard. This is what they say:

A Power BI dashboard is a single page, often called a canvas, that tells a story through visualizations.

Intuitively, we understand what a dashboard is – we’ve all got them in our cars. But what’s a Power BI dashboard? Let’s unpick Microsoft’s definition …

Power BI dashboard 

A dashboard isn’t a regular report. Power BI dashboards are created using reports that have already been created. Power BI reports are created using data from one or more systems. So, that means that a Power BI dashboard is made up of elements from one or more reports, perhaps from different parts of the organization, using data from a number of different sources.

The dashboard is updated when the underlying report is updated, so you always have the latest information. That’s powerful! We might be used to our car dashboards always being up to date, but sadly it’s not always true of our business reports.

Single Page

The analogy with a car dashboard only goes so far. Modern cars do allow you to change the view on the dashboard, which you could argue is like changing the page. A Power BI dashboard, however, is limited to a single page. That’s not for a technical reason, rather it’s to limit the data and visuals you can add. By constraining the dashboard to a single page, you are forced to choose only those visuals that are important and necessary.

As anyone who has ever written an academic essay knows, when there is a limit, somehow the final version is better for it!


Canvases are normally found in artists’ studios, waiting for a masterpiece to be painted. The Power BI canvas is also blank – waiting for a picture of sorts. In contrast to the checked page of Excel, Power BI starts with a white canvas. It doesn’t suggest lists of numbers, rather it encourages visuals to be created and positioned for the greatest impact.

If you’ve ever tried to create a dashboard using a spreadsheet, you will know how difficult it is to design something that looks good. The Power BI blank canvas, on the other hand, is easy to align, position, and move visuals to where they make the most sense.

Tells a Story

Story telling has become fashionable business notion, even though most CEOs are more comfortable with numbers and charts.

However, stories do have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that’s a useful idea when it comes to designing dashboards. The beginning is where we’ve come from. The middle is where we are now, and sometimes why we are where we are. And the end is what we want to achieve, or the target.

To tell the story we can use comparisons to last year, last quarter, etc. Or comparisons to target, or a key performance indicator. Although the CEO might not recognise it as a story, it gives a logical flow and sense to the data.


Visuals make data easier and faster to understand. They are great at comparisons – large blocks and small blocks are recognised by the brain a lot faster than a table of figures.

That’s not to say that everything should be shown on a chart or a pie chart. When the number is important, prominence and size might win out over fancy and visual. Headline performance indicators such as revenue or profit for the period might be simply stated – big and bold.

Visuals can clarify and enhance understanding, but if they don’t think about simplifying and highlighting only what’s important.

So that’s a Power BI dashboard, from the horse’s mouth, as it were. Power BI dashboards have power and punch, and can be used by departments and businesses to keep up to date with important data.

If you’d like to find out how you could be using Power BI dashboards within your organisation, get in touch.

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