Power BI: Sharing with External Users

Article Updated: June 11, 2019

Introduction

I recently had the following question from a client: “If I want to share a Power BI report with an external user, how can I do that?”. The process is documented on the Microsoft Power BI blog and on Microsoft Docs but I still needed to break down the options to make them clear so I thought I would share.

As much as I hate to comment on Microsoft licensing, this does involve brining up licensing, so I need to mention:

I am not a Microsoft licensing expert. Period.

Mike Hatheway

So, I will only comment on licensing as it relates to this specific example. And even then, I can only hope I’m right.  

Before you Share in Power BI

Before you even consider sharing in Power BI, you need to know this: Sharing requires a Power BI Pro license.

“But Mike, what if I only want to share a read-only version of the Power BI report to 5 people in my organization?”

Anonymous

Oh, in that case you don’t need Power BI Pro at all. Just kidding, that also requires a Power BI Pro license for the sharer, and all 5 readers.

My general rule is: If you are going to share in Power BI, or if you are going to consume something that is shared, you will need Power BI Pro. That is, unless you have Premium capacity (more on that later).     

Enable External Sharing

It kind of goes without saying that you will need to enable overall external sharing from the Power BI Admin interface. This was enabled by default in my Development tenant.  

The 3 Licensing Options

There are three licensing options for sharing content with an external user:

  1. The content is allocated to Power BI Premium capacity
  2. Share with an external user that has a Power BI Pro license
  3. Invite an external user and assign them a Power BI Pro license

The Content is Allocated to Power BI Premium Capacity

Unless you are a company that is investing heavily in Power BI, or you are sharing with many internal/external users, Premium capacity probably isn’t the solution you are looking for if you are reading this article.

Premium capacity starts at $4,995 (USD) per month for the P1 nodes. In comparison, you could license at least 499 Power BI Pro users for that cost. So, if you are sharing with less than 499 users (internally and externally) it’s probably cheaper to use Power BI Pro licenses.   

If you are using Premium capacity, all you need to do is to ensure that the app workspace containing your report has the dedicated capacity option enabled. Then you can share your report with anyone.

Share with an External User That Has a Power BI Pro License

If you share a report with a user from an organization that has Office 365, and that user has a Power BI Pro license assigned to them in their O365 tenant, you are done. The user will receive the link to the content and will be able to view the content.

Invite an External User and Assign Them a Power BI Pro License

I generally end up describing this option it like this:

This means you invite someone from the outside your organization, they accept the invitation, and then you assign that external user a Power BI Pro license inside your tenant. Your organization will be paying $10 (USD)/month for a user that’s not “in your company”, but I guess when it comes to BI, that’s just “the cost of doing business”.

Note: Assigning a Power BI Pro license to an external user in your tenant does not give them a license in their tenant. It just allows them to access content in your tenant that has been shared with them.   

Assigning the License

To assign the license (as a tenant admin) you would need to go to the Microsoft 365 Admin Center > Users > Active Users, and find/select the external user.

Once the user is selected (check box) choose the More button and select Edit product licenses

At this point you should be able to assign a Power BI License to the external user by toggling the switch to On and clicking Save.

The Other Sharing Option (not really)

This option doesn’t work for 95+% of the business scenarios I’ve encountered. The option is called “Publish to web” and it basically involves creating a way to easily embed reports into websites. There is no security applied here, so you’re not going to want to use this method for supplying your clients or partners with sensitive data of any kind.  

Conclusion

Power BI is a great tool, but if you are doing anything outside making reports for yourself, the Power BI Free license won’t be enough. This includes external sharing, so if you are making a business case to move your external reporting to Power BI, it may be a good idea to ensure you have a way to recoup or disperse the cost of licensing external users. Some companies build the cost into their fees, and others work with their partners to ensure they have the right licensing on both sides so that they can work together. All of these are valid options, it’s just good to know you need to plan for them.

Author: Mike Hatheway

I'm a husband, father of twins, and a digital transformation consultant specializing in Office 365. Generally focused on SharePoint, PowerApps, Flow, Teams, and PowerBI. I hold several Microsoft certifications including MCSD: App Builder and MCSE: Data management and Analyics. I work at Bulletproof Solutions.

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