When it comes to sharing finished reports, one solution is to turn reports into PDF files and email attachments to end users. This solution works well, as it provides high-quality printing and easy access to consumers.
However, there are drawbacks as well: numbers are merely the snapshots of a moment and if not updated regularly might quickly become outdated; the second problem is the lack of security, as nobody knows where these PDFs might end up when left unchecked.
In search of the perfect data presentation, Microsoft introduced paginated reports in Power BI to help users share information in real-time and in a clear way. Let us look at what they are and how we can benefit from using paginated reports together with Power BI.
Brief history of paginated reports
About a year and a half ago, paginated reports, which are essentially the SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), were introduced in Power BI.
The reports are called “paginated,” because they can be nicely formatted, fit perfectly on a page, and produce multiple pages. Generally, paginated reporting is used when there is a need to share pixel-perfect, printable reports for better operational reporting.
For a long time, when using traditional reporting tools, such as SSRS, to produce pixel-perfect, paginated reports, analysts sacrificed interactivity and a true analytical capacity. A SSRS report can pinpoint a problem, but not really help you decide on a course of action. The snapshot view of traditional reporting is not enough to fill the needs of complex, modern businesses.
When Tableau came along, it introduced a much-needed interactivity element; however, the software still relies on the flat-table backend, and essentially, is “just fundamentally another tool on top of SQL,” said Rob Collie from the P3 Microsoft Data Platform consultancy firm in one of his articles.
The introduction of Power BI added the revolutionary next step – a true analytical model engine together with interactivity. The only missing part was the ability to create pixel-perfect, paginated reports.
Using Power BI together with paginated reports
When using Power BI and paginated reports one gets a full-package integration – highly interactive reports with the analytical model under the hood of Power BI together with the ability to create pixel-perfect, paginated reports.
With the paginated reports, users can send not only PDFs, but export data to Excel. For example, it was not possible to correctly export a matrix to Excel, as the output was a flat Excel file, which made no sense. Another great option is the ability to export unlimited number of rows, while traditional Power BI reports have the limit of 150 000 rows. Thirdly, Power BI paginated reports have row and column-level security applied, which provides extra convenience and safety.
The only big caveat when using the integrated environment is that one needs a Power BI Premium license. Some argue that USD $5,000 a month is a steep price to pay. The alternative would be using two different tools separately – Power BI Pro and an SSRS server. Depending on a number of user licenses, the second option might be cheaper, and it will give you the same capabilities, but separately.