Power BI Ecosystem Report Authoring Tools Demystified

Power BI Reporting Tools Confusion

There are a lot of discussions these days around Power BI tools to create reports and for sure many of you may have already downloaded and worked with some of them if not all of them. You may also already thought that some of the tools’ names are confusingly similar. I recently had an interesting conversation with fellow who has a lot of SSRS report writing background. I was talking about Paginated reports and said, I downloaded the latest version of Power BI Report Builder… that he immidiately said, wait a second…

  • John: Power BI Report Builder? Oh I see, that’s the one that you can create paginated reports with then you can deploy those reports into an SSRS instance.
  • me: NOPE! That’s not the case I’m afraid.
  • John: Oh I know, I meant Power BI Report Server, you can deploy the reports to an instance of Power BI Report Server. I knew it!
  • me: NO! That’s not what I’m talking about…
  • John: What the…?

I bet some of you had similar conversation with a friend or a customer. OK, in this post I explain a little bit about report authoring tools available to you and your organisation to get the most out of your Power BI ecosystem.

Here is a list of all reporting tools currently available to you:

  • Power BI Service: It is a SaaS (Software as a Service) offering from Microsoft in the cloud. The users in an organisation, based on their access rights, may be able to create and publish data, reports, dashboards in Power BI Service. The users can also schedule data refreshes on the published data as well as securely sharing and distributing the contents. While creating or editing reports is possible in Power BI Service, it is strongly recommended to avoid this method for several reasons. The most obvious one is that the changes you make in a report may be soon get overwritten by someone else that republishes the same report from Power BI Desktop. Check this blog post from SQLChick to see why you should avoid creating or editing reports directly from Power BI Service. The reports are downloadable in PBIX format. Use Power BI Service here.
  • Power BI Desktop: It is a desktop report authoring tool that can be used to connect to, or loading data from, varies types of data sources, preparing, transforming and cleansing that data and at last visualising the data. Power BI Desktop is the predominant report authoring tool with a lot more functionalities and flexibility than Power BI Service. For instance, setting up Role Level Security (RLS) is NOT available in Power BI Service. The format of the report file is PBIX. Download Power BI Desktop from here.
  • Power BI Report Builder (Paginated): Paginated reports aka “pixel perfect reports”, as the name resembles, are formatted in a way to fit perfectly on a page. That report page might later be printed. You have exact control over the page formatting to display your data in tables or charts. The reports are not as interactive as Power BI Desktop reports are. Paginated reports are based on RDL technology which is standard report format in SQL Server Reporting Services. The tool for developing paginated report in Power BI ecosystem is Power BI Report Builder. The reports file type is RDL. You can currently publish Paginated reports only to a Workspace that is backed with a premium capacity. Download Power BI Report Builder from here.
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What is Power BI Documenter

Power BI Documenter Logo (Small)

On Saturday, 9th June 2018, we announced the existence of Power BI Documenter. As the name resembles, Power BI Documenter is a tool to help individuals and businesses to document their Power BI Desktop models. Everyone who already have several Power BI Desktop reports probably realized that documenting the solutions is not as easy as how creating a report in Power BI Desktop is. The issue is more visible in larger organisations with several Power BI Developers who are busy enough with a big list of tasks that are assigned to them on a day to day basis. Therefore, there is no time left to take care of the documentation. Every IT expert knows how important is to have proper documentation. We at Data Vizioner decided to do something tangible about this issue. So we started the project several months ago with the vision of creating web app to help individuals and businesses to keep their Power BI documentation on track. In this post I’m not going to explain how you can easily start documenting your Power BI Desktop reports using Power BI Documenter. You can learn more about Power BI Documenter and how to use it here. Despite the fact that the current version of Power BI Documenter is the very first version of the app with lots of limitations, it indeed can help users with their Power BI documentation tasks. All you need to do is to export the Power BI Desktop files (PBIX) to Power BI Template format (PBIT) and upload it to Power BI Documenter web app. Continue reading “What is Power BI Documenter”

Power BI Desktop Query Parameters, Part2 – Dynamic Data Masking and Query Parameters

Power BI Desktop and SQL Server Dynamic Data Masking

As I promised in my earlier post, in this article I show you how to leverage your Power BI Desktop model using Query Parameters on top of SQL Server 2016 Dynamic Data Masking (DDM). I also explain very briefly how to enable DDM on DimCustomer table from AdventureWorksDW2016CTP3 database. We will then create a Power BI Desktop model with Query Parameters on top of DimCustomer table. You will also learn how to create a Power BI Template so that you can use it in the future for deployment.

Note: If you want to learn about using a List output in Power BI Desktop Query Parameters have a look at the next post of these series “Power BI Desktop Query Parameters, Part 3, List Output“.

Use Cases

In the previous post I explained how to create dynamic data sources using Query Parameters. You also learnt how to use Query Parameters in Filter Rows. In this post you learn :

  1. Using Query Parameters on top of SQL Server Dynamic Data Masking (DDM)
  2. Query Parameters in Power BI Template


Just like the Part1 of Power BI Query Parameters, you require to meet the following requirements to be able to follow this post:

  1. The latest version of Power BI Desktop (Version: 2.34.4372.322 64-bit (April 2016) or later)
  2. SQL Server 2016 (You can download SQL Server 2016 Developer Edition for free)
  3. Adventure Works 2016 CTP3


I’m not going to provide much details about DDM as you can find lots of information here. But, to make you a bit familiar with Dynamic Data Masking I explain it very briefly.

Dynamic Data Masking (DDM)

Dynamic Data Masking (DDM) is a new feature available in SQL Server 2016 and also Azure SQL Database. DDM is basically a way to prevent sensitive data to be exposed to non-privileged users. It is a data protection feature which hides sensitive data in the result set of a query. You can easily enable DDM on an existing table or enable it on a new table you’re creating. Suppose you have two groups of users in your retail database. Sales Persons and Sales Managers. You have a table of customers which in this post it is DimCustomer from AdventureWorksDW2016CTP3. This table contains sensitive data like customers’ email addresses, phone numbers and their residential adders. Based on your company policy, the members of Sales Persons group should NOT be able to see sensitive data, but, they should be able to all other data. On the other hand the members of Sales Managers group can see all customers’ data. To prevent Sales Persons to see sensitive data you can enable Dynamic Data Masking on the sensitive columns on DimCustomer table. In that case when a sales person queries the table he/she will see masked data. For instance he see uXXX@XXX.com rather than user@domain.com.

Create a table with DDM on some columns

It’s easy, just put “MASKED WITH (FUNCTION = ‘Mask_Function’)” in column definition. So it should look like this:

CREATE TABLE Table_Name   (ID int IDENTITY PRIMARY KEY,    Masked_Column1 varchar(100) MASKED WITH (FUNCTION = ‘Mask_Function’),    Masked_Column2 varchar(100) MASKED WITH (FUNCTION = ‘Mask_Function’),




Alter an existing table and enable DDM on desired columns

As you guessed you have to use “ALTER TABLE” then “ALTER COLUMN”. Your T-SQL should look like:






For more information please refer to MSDN.

Power BI Template

A template is basically a Power BI file that represents an instance of a predefined Power BI Desktop which includes all definitions of the Data Model, Reports, Queries and parameters, but, not includes any data. Creating Power BI Templates is a great way to ease the deployment of existing models. Creating templates is very easy, you just click File –> Export –> Power BI Template. We will look at this more in details through this article.


You are asked to implement a new level of security on customers’ data (DimCustomer on AdventureWorksDW2016CTP3 database) so that just privileged users can see the customers’ email, phone numbers and residential address. Privileged users are all members of “SalesManager” database role. You are also asked to prevent “SalesPerson” database role to see sensitive data. But, all members of both “SalesManager” and “SalesPerson” database roles can query DimCustomer table. The users should NOT have SQL Server logins.

Continue reading “Power BI Desktop Query Parameters, Part2 – Dynamic Data Masking and Query Parameters”