Sometimes, in order to innovate, we have to take a step back before we take two steps forward. What that statement means in the context of this article is a mystery and for many of us such is the difference between Content Packs and Power BI Apps.
Microsoft revealed Power BI Apps in this blog post which resulted in immediate confusion for many customers with respect to the optimal way to bundle and distribute Power BI content. I will attempt to clear up some of this confusion below assuming that you have read the blog and have a basic understanding of Power BI Apps functionality.
At the first glance, Power BI Apps appear as a simple repackaging of the existing functionality:
App Workspaces seem to be rebadged Power BI Groups
- The App creation process is very reminiscent of that of a content pack
The main reason for the confusion is the fact that the newly released features are not quite robust enough to replace the old functionality yet, so, in the short term, we need to define some parameters for when to use Apps vs Content Packs. Here is a list of considerations for using the new versus the old feature set:
Groups did just get rebadged to App Workspaces for now. The issue in play is that every time a new Group/App Workspace is created in Power BI, a new Office 365 Group is created as well. This is good and bad. Good because Office 365 Groups are very powerful from collaboration perspective particularly when you factor in the capabilities offered by Microsoft Teams. Bad is because Office 365 administrators don’t seem to appreciate when someone other than them has power to create Office 365 groups. Looks like this dependency on Office 365 Groups will soon go away. For now, however, we do not have any other choice but to use App Workspaces for everything.
Content Packs are fairly functional but they have three major drawbacks
- No formal support for Application Lifecycle Management (ALM)
- No ability to push content to end users
- End users have a hard time distinguishing shared content
Power BI Apps promise to solve all three issues above. However, there is no well-defined roadmap announced publicly for (a), (b) is expected to be addressed soon and with respect to (c) we have a whole new section in the Power BI interface where the Apps can be deployed and easily managed. So, if we don’t think about it, why would we ever want to continue using Content Packs? Unfortunately, there is a very good reason for it as you can see below in #3
- Unlike Content Packs, Apps do not currently allow users to pick and choose content that will get bundled into an App. Essentially, the entire content of the Group/App Workspace gets bundled. This means that today we would have to create an Office 365 Group (Power BI Group or App Workspace, we can use these three today interchangeably) for every bundle of content that we need to share with the end users. Also, consider that we should plan for Development, Testing and Production versions of those groups/environments to make sure that we can have necessary governance protocols suitable for a larger organization. I think for a small organization or a small department with a small number of apps/content packs the idea of Apps is not a bad one even with the current limitations; however, for a larger organization that has over a hundred potential content developers, I believe that Content Pack may be a better option for the next few months until we are able to use one App Workspace to support multiple Power BI Apps
As modeling and data visualization capabilities of Power BI become more and more robust and as the product gains even more mind share with the information workers, Application Lifecycle Management starts to dominate best practices conversations with respect to Power BI deployments. I am excited that the product is adding more and more features in support for ALM; however, I advise that companies carefully consider the aforementioned points as they decide to adopt Power BI Apps in their organizations.