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.





Exploring Excel 2013 for BI Tip #11: Color Scales

28 08 2013

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!

Using Color Scales

In the last tip we covered using conditional formatting with Data Bars. Next up is Color Scales.

What Are Color Scales?

Color Scales are a conditional formatting feature that can be applied to cells in Excel.  Color scales “color” the cell based on the data that the formatting is applied to.  The color scale feature works with pivot tables and standard cells in Excel.  Our focus will be on using color scale with pivot tables.

You will find the option to add data bars on the Conditional Formatting button on the HOME ribbon as shown below.

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First starting with a single column, we can use use Quick Analysis or the Ribbon to apply our Color Scale rules. While the data bar used size to highlight the differences in the data, color scales will, obviously, use color. The most common color scale to use is to use Red for lower numbers to green for higher with yellow or white in the middle. Let’s apply that to our column of data.

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This is particularly effective when working with percentages or other values where red can mean “bad”.  Keep in mind that you can change the order of the color scaling so that a higher number can be red as well.  You can also use two color scales when that is all that is needed.  I have used two color scales in cases where only two values are present such as a Boolean value.

When setting up the formatting, you may notice a “box” in the corner.  This can be used to tell Excel how to apply the formatting.

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This works great when you pick the first cell in question then use this short cut to set the formatting based on how you want to apply the changes. The  only rule type that applies in this scenario is the “Format all cells based on their values” which options are shown in the shortcut.

While a very simple visualization technique it can be to highlight differences in a compelling way.

Next tip will cover Icon Sets. See you then.





Exploring Excel 2013 for BI Tip #9: Adding Calculated Members

25 06 2013

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!

Adding Calculated Members to the Excel 2013 Workbook

In my last tip (#8), I discussed using calculated measures.  In this tip, I will talk about creating a calculated member.  The primary difference is that a member becomes a part of a dimension and can be used as a filter, column header, row header, or even a slicer.

In my simple example, I want to created an aggregated set of categories used in my polls called “Cool Cats” which contained the Fun, Entertainment, and Sports categories and puts my new member in the Poll Category attribute hierarchy.  I will use this to see how many submissions there were in these categories.

As before, you can create and manage calculated members from the ANALYZE tab in the PIVOTTABLE TOOLS ribbon.  Use the OLAP Tools menu and select the MDX Calculated Member option.  If you have already created the member, use the Manage Calculations option to edit existing members and measures.

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The New Calculated Member dialog is different from the dialog used to edit the member.  Let’s start with the create dialog as noted below.

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(1) Assign your measure a name.  It will have to be unique in the context of the the Parent Hierarchy.

(2) Assign the Parent Hierarchy and Parent Member.  This establishes where you plan to locate the new member.  As you can see you can choose any hierarchy you use in your cube.  The Parent Member property lets you choose that first level within the hierarchy.  In my case, I am choosing the Poll Category attribute hierarchy and the All member as the parent.

(3) Create your member with MDX.  Because you are creating a member, it is important that your MDX resolves to a member.  As a side note I used a set initially which passed the Test MDX operation, but displayed as #VALUE in Excel.

(4) Test MDX will allow you verify you have no syntax errors in your member creation.  However, as I noted in step 3 it is not flawless, so you may still have issues even though it is valid syntax.

A couple of important concepts. In my situation, the Cool Cats member stopped at the top level.  If I put this in the Category hierarchy which has multiple levels, Cool Cats would have no children as it is a stand alone member.  However, when applied at a filter level it will filter results properly. The image below shows the filter in use.

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Now when I pull the Poll Category hierarchy into the pivot table you will see that Cool Cats is a peer member and has the valid value.  By default Excel will not calculate the Grand Total with those members twice.

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You will need to be prepared to properly call this out for your users so the understand how calculated members operate in this scenario.

A common use case for creating calculated members is to create date members that aren’t easily created or tested.  This will allow you to work out the member and how it affects the user experience.





Exploring Excel 2013 for BI Tip #8: Adding Calculated Measures

20 06 2013

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!

Adding Calculated Measures to the Excel 2013 Workbook

If you have worked with SQL Server Analysis Services in the past you already know what calculated measures are.  More importantly, you know how to update the MDXScript without requiring a cube refresh.  (If you are unaware of this, check out the BIDS Helper project on CodePlex.)

A calculated measure uses existing measures and MDX to provide additional, shared calculations in a cube.  However, there are many times that the ability to create a calculated measure in Excel would be great.  In Excel 2013, this is now possible.

Once you have connected to a cube using a pivot table, you can add calculated measures using the OLAP Tools menu on the ANALYZE tab.

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When you select the MDX Calculated Measure item, it will open an MDX dialog designer in which you can create a measure.  (MDX Calculated Members are will be in the next tip.)

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Before we create our measure, let’s talk about the ancillary parts such as the name, folder and measure group.  You will want to give your measure a name.  It needs to be unique within the work you are doing and unique from other measures in the cube or you will get an error.

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The folder and measure group are really optional.  It really depends on how you want display the new measures in the Excel Fields window.  I would recommend that folders are used when large volumes of measures are being used.  It is a great way to organize the measures into consumable, related groups for your users.

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When you designate the measure group, the measure and folder will be put in the same group as the measure group.  This is appropriate when the measure is related exclusively to the measure group, conceptually if not technically. I usually will only do this if all of the measures come from the same measure group (technically related) or if the user understands that the measure “should” be a part of the measure group even if it is dependent on measures outside of the current measure group (conceptually).

Next, you create the measure.  The Fields and Items tab contains the measures and dimensions available while the Functions tab has the MDX functions you can use.  Use the Test MDX button to verify syntax prior to saving the measure.

The really nice part is that this measure is now contained within the workbook.  It does not get published back to the server.  However, if the measure becomes popular, you can use the MDX from this measure to create a new measure on the server.  It will be business verified before being published.  By using Excel to create calculated measures, you also prevent a glut of single use measures from being created on the server.

Finally, to manage created measures, use the Manage Calculations option on the OLAP Tools menu.  It will open a dialog with all of the calculated measures and calculated members created with this data connection in the workbook.  In my scenario, I used the MyVote Cube connection to create the measure.  Basically, the pivot table is associated with a connection and that is the defacto filter for this list.

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Use Excel to test MDX simply.  This will allow you to create measures, verify data, then deploy working code.  It is a great addition to the product.

Next up… Calculated Members.





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





Exploring Excel 2013 for BI Tip #2: Show Details

13 02 2013

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!

Show Details

So, you have connected Excel to your SSAS cube.  You really wish you could easily drill to details using Excel.   You can do this in Excel 2013 by double clicking the cell or right clicking the cell to get the shortcut menu which includes the option as well.

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It is really cool that you can just double-click the cell and get there directly.  By default, it returns the first thousand rows of detail from the underlying cube data.

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You can change this in the connection options for your SSAS connection.

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One “gotcha” on this is that It doesn’t work on a calculated cell, but it works fine on standard measures.  If you use a lot of calculated members, you will get the error in both cases.  So if this option is important for the users of a specific calculation, you may need to get it into cube as a standard, not calculated, measure.





Exploring Excel 2013 for BI Tip #1: Quick Explore

8 02 2013

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!

Quick Explore

So, you have connected Excel to your SSAS cube.  You really wish you could cross drill easily in the product.  If you have used PerformancePoint Services you know the process.  Right click on the bar or cell and then choose the dimension to drill to using the information you clicked on as a starting point.  You can now do this in Excel 2013 using Quick Explore.  Here’s how to do it.

1. Click on a cell and hover over it.

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2. Click the Quick Explore button a.k.a. magnifying glass and lightning bolt.  That will pop up the following dialog box.

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In this box, you can see that the cell has focus on “Boston” based on context and is drilling into the Geography hierarchy of the Client dimension based on the selected filters and slice of data we are focused on.

3. Click the Drill To target.  Excel will create a new view of the Pivot Table with the Drill to on the row as shown here with the filter still in place.

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4. Going back…  One of those frustrating things with this is how do I go back to my original view.  Ironically, you use Undo.  This will reset the view back to the previous.  So, if you choose to drill into this data again and again, you have to Undo that many operations to get back to the starting point.  Of course, can click the arrow by the arrow to see your “bread crumb” and pick where you want to go back to as well.

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Until the next tip…








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