How To Add Your Own ArcGIS Reference Layers for Power BI

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After progressing past my initial excitement with the new ArcGIS Maps for Power BI, I wanted to explore how to add my own custom layers to my maps. One of the great features of the ArcGIS visual is that you can add a reference layer that sits on top of your basemap but below your data — for “reference”. It’s not simply a visual layer though. You can click on a feature in the reference layer and view data associated with that layer.

When adding a reference layer, you can use either the provided options or search among the thousands of layers on ArcGIS Online. The ability to search also means that you can provide your own custom reference layers simply by creating and sharing them first in ArcGIS Online.


I had done a lot of work converting files to TopoJSON for the Power BI Shape Map this summer, and I had many Shapefiles and GeoJSON files that I had obtained for conversion efforts or for other mapping projects. For this tutorial, I used a GeoJSON file of Michigan State Park Campgrounds that I originally found at In only a few simple steps, I added my layer to ArcGIS Online and was able to use it in Power BI.

Make sure that you have the following two prerequisites done, and then follow the six steps below to add your own custom layer:


  1. ArcGIS – Have an ArcGIS Online account or sign up for the 60 day free trial
  2. Power BI – Use the latest version of Power BI Desktop that includes ArcGIS Maps for Power BI, get your data in, add the ArcGIS visual to the report canvas, and drag some data into the field well


Step 1 – Sign in to ArcGIS Online and go to My Content.  Select Add Item  and then choose From my computer (Note that you can also select the web or application option if applicable).


Step 2 – Choose the source file from your computer, add a Title, add some Tags, and then click the ADD ITEM button.


Step 3 – Once the file is available, you should see a series of buttons to the right of the screen in ArcGIS Online. Perform any layer edits you might want in ArcGIS or leave the layer as it is, and then click the Share button when you are ready.


Step 4 – Choose the option to share with Everyone (public), and then click the OK button. By default your own organization will be checked when you select Everyone.


Step 5 – Switch over to Power BI and click on the In-Focus Edit Mode icon in the top right corner of the ArcGIS visual. Select the Reference layer option and then click ArcGIS to search for the publicly shared ArcGIS layers.


Step 6 Search for your layer based on title or tags. Select your layer and check the box next to Add (which changes to Remove once selected).



You should now see your own reference data on the map in Power BI! Just to be sure that I was not fooling myself and using someone else’s layer, I edited the MichiganStateParkCampgrounds layer in ArcGIS Online. I added spaces to my title and appended Power BI Test to the end, searched again in Power BI, and confirmed that I was indeed using my own custom reference layer in Power BI!



UPDATE 10/5/2016: An experienced ArcGIS user (which I’m not) pointed out in the comments to another post that you can refine your search by owner or other criteria. For more detail, see the Esri search documentation. For example, using my example above, I could have typed owner:DavidA2 to see only my ArcGIS account’s shared layers.


Read 10 Ways to Create Maps in Microsoft Power BI.

18 thoughts on “How To Add Your Own ArcGIS Reference Layers for Power BI

  1. That’s very informative. Thank you. I have subscribed to ArcGIS. May be you know how to do it; is there any way to ArcGIS premium contents which are available on the arcgis online site as a map layer?

  2. One more nuance about ArcGIS Online. A user might discover some publicly available content on the ArcGIS Online portal and think it should be available to them in the Power BI visualization. The only type of content currently available to Power BI is what is known as a “feature layer”. So if you’re poking around the the ArcGIS Online portal make sure you select “Search for Layers” on the drop-down associated with the search box. Then you know that whatever you see in the results are available in Power BI.

  3. Hi. I followed your instructions to the tee. But simply cannot find my content when searching in PBI. I shared, ensured its public, searched on tags and title as well as my name as owner, but nadda 🙁
    Any ideas?

  4. Hey,
    I have exactly followed these steps to add my own layer that I made public in Arcgis Online. But when I come to step 6 to search by tag or layer name, the layer didn’t show up! what might went wrong?
    Many thanks in advance.

    • Is it resolved? I am having the same issue, can’t see the new layer. I also can’t find anything from my owner name

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