Team file sharing and version control may be managed through Power BI workspace integration with OneDrive and SharePoint team sites. In this post, I will show you how to get started and setup a new project.
In this demonstration, I’m going to show you how to set up a workspace and a team collaboration site so that you can share Power BI files among members of your team and manage version control. In another post, we’ll discuss the nuances and the differences in version control, build processes and DevOps comparing a Business Intelligence project with an application development project – and how those are different experiences. An important lesson is to learn how to work with this tool the way that it was designed to be used rather than to try to force Power BI to work with incompatible build management and version control tools. Power BI, along with companion technologies like Analysis Services and Reporting Services, can participate in an application life cycle (ALM) and continuous integration (CI) framework but sometimes not in the way we might imagine. This post addresses a piece of that larger puzzle.
Get Started in the Office Portal
If your organization uses Office 365, you have all the tools that you need. First thing is to go to the Office Portal at office.com. Click on the App menu and choose “SharePoint”. Here, we’re going to create a new site. I’m going to choose the Team Site template and this is going to be for my Contoso Sales project. We’ll give the site the name: “Contoso Sales Project” and click “Next”. The only other thing I really need to do here is add some users as owners to this site. You can add an office group or you can add users later on. I’ll go ahead and add a couple of users and we’ll finish so that creates the site in SharePoint Online. Here, you see my new site. What happens is in Azure Active Directory, a new group is created for this site and we don’t need to do anything extra. You’re going to see that here in the Power BI portal.
Create a New Workspace and Assign a OneDrive Group Alias
I’m going to create a new workspace for development. Depending on the formality of your project, you could have a DEV a TEST and a Production workspace. You can create one or perhaps two workspaces for a project. I’ll postfix the name to indicate that this is going to be my DEV workspace. In the Workspace Settings, I’m going to choose the Contoso Sales Project group that was automatically created for my site as my workspace OneDrive group. That gives every member of that group access to this shared space and gives me the ability to sync files with this workspace.
Add a Folder and Setup Sync
Let’s go back to SharePoint Online and view the team site. Since the site was just setup, you’ll see that it shows up at the top of the most recent list. The next thing that I’m going to do is add a folder that I can sync with my desktop so I can share files with other members of my team. We’ll go to the Documents library within the new site and here I’m going to add a new folder. I’ll click new and folder and we’ll give the folder a name so this is going to me my Contoso Sales Project Files folder. We’ll create that folder and then the next thing I’m going to do is configure that folder to sync with my desktop. Each member of your team can do the same thing which will enable them to put copies of the files within this synched folder onto their desktops. You always want to use Power BI Desktop to work in a local file folder. So, there’s my my synced folder on my desktop. It’s probably a good idea to add that to my Windows Quick Launch bar or add it to my Favorites so that I can get to it quickly.
I’ll put a PBIX file into this folder and in the future, I’ll go to do all of my Power BI development work. I have a file from an existing project that I’ll use for simplicity sake. I’m just going to add a .PBIX file and designate this is my dataset file. In another post, I’ll talk about separating datasets from reports – which is something that I routinely do, especially in larger more formal projects. I’ll go ahead and just copy and paste a .PBIX file and then rename that file eventually I’ll have one dataset .PBIX file that will contain all of my data, and that’s what this file is for. It currently contains a report with pages in it. When I make a change to that file, it immediately synchs – which you can see in the OneDrive app. If you just click on the OneDrive icon, you’ll see that that will sync-up. This is a fairly small file so it goes pretty quickly.
Publish a File from the Synchronized Folder
Back to the workspace: I’m on the Datasets page and I’m going to click “Get Data” which takes us to a page where we can see the Files tile. I’m going to click “Get” on that tileand that’s going to show me that there’s a new OneDrive tile with the name of the new team site. I’ll click that and it takes me to the team site where I’ll see the folder that I had created. I click that and now I see the .PBIX file.
When I choose “Connect”, that actually imports the file as a new dataset in the service. Using this method to publish the dataset will keep that file synced up and any changes I make will automatically be deployed. There is no more need to deploy updated dataset or report files from Power BI desktop. This file will remain synced-up all of the time. I can set-up a gateway, schedule refresh and all of the other things that I would normally do with a Power BI file as if I had deployed it from Desktop. Using this method, it’s going to remain synched-up through this SharePoint Online folder, which is managed through the OneDrive For Business application.
Testing and Demonstrating Synchronization
I’m going to open this file in Power BI Desktop and just make a simple change and save the file. We should see that it automatically gets synched-up. I’ll do that a couple of times and then we can go take a look at the automatic version control that takes place through SharePoint Online. OneDrive For Business is actually SharePoint Online under the hood. When you create a team site, it essentially creates a OneDrive For Business folder. That’s how all of that magic happens.
Incidentally, while synching the file – as you can see, I just got an alert and an invitation from SharePoint that welcomes me to the site. Each member of your group will automatically get an invitation like this with a link to the folder that I’ve shared with them. I’ve changed the folder view to large icons and you can see the little green check box icon that shows that that file is synced-up with my desktop.
Make sure to always open the .PBIX file from the synced folder on your computer rather than from the SharePoint site through your browser. If you make a change to the file in Power BI Desktop, you’ll see the changes in seconds to minutes, depending on the file size. It doesn’t really matter what kind of change I make… I’ll just go to the data model diagram view and make a change… I moved a table around (imagine that I’m adding a measure or adding a relationship, adding into the table anything that would constitute a change)… this flags this file and causes me to be prompted to save it. Now we go back to File Explorer and notice the little sync icon which I’m going to get for a few seconds in this case. Because it’s a small file, now it’s synced-up again.
Edit Local Files in the Synchronized Folder
After making changes, always close Power BI Desktop so the file isn’t locked by the application. That releases the file so that it can be locked momentarily by the OneDrive process and synched-up with the online service. You can watch the progress here in the OneDrive app. If this were a large file, you’d see a little progress bar and it might take a couple of minutes to synchronize. All members of your team will see the new file here in the file system afterward.
Using Version Control and Team Collaboration Features
From File Explorer, choose the “View Online” menu option to go to the SharePoint library in your browser. You can use the ellipsis menu next to the file name to check-out the file. This prevents changes by other team members while you have it locked. You can use the “Version History” menu option like I’m doing here. You can see that every single change generates a new version of the file. If I have admin access – as I do here – I could choose a version and restore or revert back to that version. You have complete control here so this gives us a really good version control story for Power BI and it gives us the ability to collaborate as members of a team.
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