Excel BI Tip #26: Using a Data Spreadsheet or Tab

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 and later.  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!

Data Sheet or Tab in Excel

With a lot of the dashboard designs in Excel I work on, we often use CUBE formulas and other calculations and functions to get the data ready for the presentation area. One of the key things we do is create a sheet in the workbook, or tab, that will allow you to hold this data. This allows us to refer to cells on the data tab in our visualizations without trying to support visualization techniques along with calculations.

The most common scenario is when I want to present numbers in the visualization that are not in a pivot chart or pivot table. By keeping this in the data tab I have maximum flexibility in the visualization.

Let’s look at the following example using Adventure Works data (from http://msftdbprodsamples.codeplex.com/). We will create the following “data box” visualization using a data tab.


First, get the data into data sheet using a pivot table. Once we have the data we want to present there, we flatten the pivot table (see Excel BI Tip #18 for details). Now we can refer to the fields we need using the data tab. In the following images you can see the data box referring to data on the data tab which uses the CUBE functions to get the data.

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As you can see, this allows us to contain a lot of data that is used for processing without cluttering up the visualization.

Hiding the Data Sheet from Users

Using a data sheet also means we need to hide this sheet from our users. You can hide the sheet in Excel directly. This is most useful when the workbook will be shared as a workbook. However, if you deploy the workbook to SharePoint or Office 365, you can use the Internet Settings to only make ranges or sheets visible depending on your implementation. I prefer this process as it allows dashboard designers to easily access the data without needing to be concerned with hiding the data sheet once they are done. (Refer to Excel BI Tip #21 for more about using ranges.)

When used in SharePoint or Office 365, their is no impact to the visualizations which use the data sheet. While not visible or available to the user, the data sheet stills supports the visualization as expected. In scenarios I have delivered, this technique has allowed for extensive data manipulation and formatting to present data in meaningful ways.