Exploring Excel 2013 for BI Tip #16: Exposing “Values” from a Tabular Model

19 06 2014

As I mentioned in my original post, Exploring Excel 2013 as Microsoft’s BI Client, I will be posting tips regularly about using Excel 2013.  Much of the content will be a result of my daily interactions with business users and other BI devs.  In order to not forget what I learn or discover, I write it down … here.  I hope you too will discover something new you can use.  Enjoy!

From Power Pivot to SSAS Tabular

As companies move through the cycle of building Excel based solutions for business intelligence and analytics, they eventually end up with a SQL Server Analysis Services Tabular Model. The tabular model comes into play when you need more data in your model or want to support more granular security.

Up to this point, users have been happily using Power Pivot models in Excel to build their analysis solutions. However, once the model is deployed to tabular some functionality or interaction with the model changes in significant ways.

To summarize this point, power users or data modelers will create Power Pivot models in Excel. These models may or may not be deployed SharePoint, but they need to take them to the next level. You can migrate a Power Pivot model to tabular with ease by using the import option in SQL Server Data Tools.

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Interacting with Power Pivot

I started by creating a simple Power Pivot model using Adventure Works DW data based on the Internet Sales fact table. I am using seven tables in my model as shown here.

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I am not going to add any calculated measures to the model because Power Pivot allows me to use the data as it sets. Next we create a pivot table based on this model. I dropped the Fiscal Year onto rows and added OrderQuantity and ExtendedAmount to the values region. When OrderQuantity and ExtendedAmount are added to the pivot table, Excel defaults to a sum calculation when working with the data. Basically Excel creates the calculation for you based on what it knows about the data.

The point here is that I have data that can be used as values without doing any additional work with the model. I saved the workbook, closed Excel and moved on to the next step.

Interacting with Tabular

First we need to convert the Power Pivot model to a tabular model. Which is done by importing the model we just saved in SQL Server Data Tools. Once we have the project open, we need to deploy the model to a SSAS tabular instance so we can connect to it with Excel.

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Now that it has been deployed to SSAS we can reopen our workbook and add a connection to the tabular model. In the field list we notice three differences now that the model is tabular.

1. The SUM symbol (sigma) is used to highlight values or measures that can be calculated.

2. The values we created in the Power Pivot model show up here.

3. In the Values section, “_No measures defined” is shown.

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When working with multidimensional models, the Values section are represented the same. That makes sense as the connection that Excel is using is based on MDX not DAX. This significantly changes the user experience.

Let’s add a new measure to our Power Pivot model and try to do the same in the tabular model. We can still drop the DiscountAmount into the values section in our pivot table based on Power Pivot. However, when we try to do the same on tabular we get an error saying that we cannot add it to that area of the report.

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In order for us to use DiscountAmount as a measure we will need to create an OLAP measure (See Excel Tip #8 for details) to use it in this Excel workbook or we will need to add it as a calculated measure in tabular and redeploy for it to be available.

What’s Happening

Because Excel treats a tabular model the same as a multidimensional model in SSAS you will need to add calculated measures for all measures you want to use as values in pivot tables in Excel. Multidimensional models are highly structured using the dimension and measure group techniques. While tabular “feels” like Power Pivot, to be used by Excel it needs to appear structured like multidimensional cubes.

Making this more interesting is that Excel uses MDX to communicate with tabular models, not DAX. As a result, we are able to use the OLAP tools in the PivotTable Tools ribbon.

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This option is not available when working with Power Pivot models in Excel.

Impact to Users

Overall the impact to users, in particular power users and report builders, is that they have less “freedom” to design when using a tabular model. If they want to add more calculations, they need to be familiar with MDX. Furthermore, if they want the calculations to be generally available they need to work with IT to deploy updated models.

Hopefully we will see DAX supported interaction with SSAS in the future, but for the moment you need to understand how tabular and Power Pivot differ when using pivot tables in Excel.





2013 – A Year In Review

2 01 2014

It is in our nature as humans to look back in order to understand where we have been.

Warning – some of this blog contains stuff about my family… In case you only want the technical stuff.

Family Fun

This past year has been very interesting for me personally and professionally. In the past year, my youngest, Mikayla, has entered Junior High officially taking our family out of elementary schools. Mikalya joined me at the SQL Saturday event in Omaha. At the same time, my oldest, Kristyna, is now a senior at Burnsville Senior High School. Both of my boys, Alex a junior and Andrew a freshman, are both taller than me and staying active. Alex joined us at the Minnesota SQL Saturday and did a lot of volunteering. Andrew probably had the best event of all as he joined me at SQL Saturday in Fargo. There he got to see Bill Gates in person. I am proud of all of them, they are great kids. This was also the year I celebrated 20 years with the woman I love, Sheila. Without her support, I would not have been able to get this far in my career as well. Yep, it has been a busy year personally. Soon there will be lots of college, marriage, and maybe even grandkids. Wow, I must be getting old.

Magenic and the Server Development Practice

2013 is my first full year as a Practice Lead at Magenic. I started out as the Practice Lead for our Business Intelligence and Data Practice. In August, my role expanded to include SharePoint, Biztalk, and TFS. This allows us to focus server technologies at Magenic. Along  the way, I have had to learn a lot about VMs (still a work in progress). I really enjoy working with the pros across the company that we have. We some very talented BI, SharePoint and BizTalk consultants including a few virtual TSPs in SQL Server, Business Intelligence, and BizTalk.

During this past year, I have traveled around the country to consult, to speak, and to meet customers. I have had the privilege of speaking at multiple SQL Saturdays, Modern Apps Live, SQL Live, and Code Mastery events. It has been fun. I almost made it to all of our offices including the locations we opened this year. I made it to Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston, New York City, and San Francisco. Still need to get out to Los Angelos and Manila.

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While it has been hard at times, the travel experience has been good overall. I try to keep my speaking engagements up to date, maybe I will see some of you next year.

This year I also authored outside of the blog. Chuck Whittemore (The Insight Analyst)The Changing World of Business Intelligence: Leading with Microsoft Excel - Custom Software Development White Paper and I coauthored a white paper on Leading with Excel: The Changing World of Business Intelligence. This was a fun project where we bring together Microsoft Excel and Microsoft BI in a real world way. We continue to successfully work this strategy with our customers and it was the impetus for my Excel BI Tips blog post series. I SQL Server Analysis Services 2012 Cube Development Cookbookalso had the privilege to coauthor a book that is just being released: SQL Server Analysis Services 2012 Cube Development Cookbook by Packt Publishing. This the third book I have worked on and it has been a while since was last published so this was a good experience for me. I still don’t know if I would take an entire project on, but maybe someday.

This year wraps up with me becoming a virtual TSP with Microsoft to further support their efforts with SQL Server and Business Intelligence in the marketplace.

One other thing that has been interesting for me is that with the release of Power Pivot and SQL Server Analysis Services Tabular Model, I am seeing a huge shift in how I work with and sell BI. I have always worked with cubes, but now I see the in-memory space as a more compelling and leading edge solution that will continue to change what my career will look like. While I had a lot of fun being a cube and MDX wizard, the ability to deliver results to business users in a timely fashion with great visualizations is actually more fun. The more things change …

Happy New Year!

I hope you and your family had much to look back and celebrate this year. I thank God for the blessings of a great company to work for and an awesome family to be with.





The Changing World of BI, A New White Paper for Magenic

19 06 2013

MagenicLogo2012x70tallIn the ever changing landscape that is Business Intelligence (or is that Business Analytics?), a fellow business analyst from Magenic, Chuck Whittemore (B), and I authored a white paper based on our experiences over the past months.

What I think makes our work unique, a BI architect and a business analyst came together to show our worlds colliding in the age of modern BI tools.  While the goal has always been to bring the data to the users and let them work with it as creatively as possible, the tools to do this were IT focused.  What we see now is that with the advent of in-memory, client-side BI tools, users are now able to get to this on their own.  Microsoft has invested heavily in Excel to make it a first-class BI tool.  Our paper discusses this disruptive nature of the new tools and how Excel is being pushed to the next level.  After all, Excel is everywhere already.

Enjoy the read and I welcome your feedback.

The Changing World of Business Intelligence: Leading with Microsoft Excel








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