Excel Tip #30: Excel Services Visual Limitations – Displaying Images

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!

Introducing Brian Wright – Guest Blogger

Brian Wright

Today, I am happy to announce that Brian will be joining DataOnWheels as a guest blogger. I have worked with Brian over the past couple of years and his Excel visualization skills are great. I look forward to his contributions to the Excel Tips series and other BI related topics. Thanks Brian.

Hello Data on Wheels Readers! Let’s start this blog post by letting you know a few things about myself. First, I am not a professional writer, blogger, or ever social guru, but I am passionate about what I do. I love data visualization. Watching boring data come to life in a visual report or dashboard is my “thing”. Secondly, when things don’t work the way I think they should, I become obsessed in finding out a way around it.

Images Are Not Displayed in Excel Services

That is what leads us to this blog post today. In the limited environment I work within, Excel Services is used quite often in our BI suite of tools. When I realized that the ever so important images I was adding in my Excel workbooks would not show on Excel Services, my obsession kicked in.

Here is the trick or hack. (Using the word hack makes me look much cooler in my kid’s eyes). Wherever you want your picture within your workbook, simply add a chart. Yes, you read correct, simply add a chart.

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Using Charts to Display Images

The trick here is not to link the chart to any type of data at all. Just leave it blank. Right Click on the blank chart and navigate to “Format Chart Area”. Navigate to the fill area and select “Pattern or Texture Fill”.

Next, click on the File Button and select your image. Your image will now show as a background image in your chart. Save and then voila!

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Once Excel Services displays your workbook, you will be pleasantly surprised to see your image right where you want it!

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.

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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.

Excel Tip #21: Hiding Scrollbars in Excel Services Web Part

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!

The Issue – Scrollbars in Excel Services Web Part

In SharePoint and Office365, we have the ability to add Excel dashboards we have created to our BI site. This is easily done by editing your dashboard page and adding the Excel Services web part. Here is the example I use based on the MyVote application analytics. When deployed as an entire workbook, you will see the tabs at the bottom and the vertical and horizontal scrollbars.

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The first place to look to solve this issue is in the web part properties.

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In the first group of settings, we can hide the toolbar. In our view there is no recognizable or relevant changes. We had navigation only turned on, but have now changed it to None. We will skip the Navigation options and check out the next two sections – Appearance and Layout.

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Here we can adjust the size in appearance. We made this change, but the scroll bars did not go away.

So what do we do now?

Using Named Ranges

After doing a lot of searching online, I came across this option. By using Named Ranges in Excel we can hide scrollbars. While other options were sometimes brought up, the named range option has worked as expected.

Creating a Named Range

Our first step is to create a named range. Highlight the cells you want to include in your web part. In my case, I am highlighting the A1 through M39 range. Once you have the area selected, choose the FORMULAS tab and click Define Name. You can also create ranges using the Name Manager. The name manager is most helpful when modifying or removing existing ranges.

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In the New Name dialog, specify a name. In my case I use Dashboard if only one Excel range will be used. If you plan to create more ranges for implementation throughout SharePoint, the key is remembering what you named the range. In the web part property settings, there is no look up for the ranges. You will need to get the spelling correct in order for it to be used.

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Making the Named Range Visible

In order to make named ranges available in Excel Services, you need to change your Browser View Options. You can find the Browser View Options on the FILE menu in Excel. When you open the FILE menu, you will see Browser View Options at the bottom. This option controls how Excel operates in Excel Services on SharePoint and Office 365.

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In the dialog you will see two tabs – Show and Parameters. For this post we are only concerned with Show. I will expand on this fully in a later blog. In our scenario, we need to change from Entire Workbook to Items in the Workbook. Then we can select the named range we created in Excel. Once you have done this, the only part of the workbook that will be visible in a web part is the named range. You will get an error unless you specify the range.

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Once you make the change, save the workbook back to Excel.

Updating the Web Part to Use the Named Range

The next step is to update the web part to use the named range. Go back to the page we are working in and edit the web part. (Be aware if you only have one named range exposed to Excel Services, it will update the site accordingly.) In the Named Item area add the name of your named range and it will be what is shown in this web part.

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Resetting the Size to Eliminate Remaining Scrollbars

The final step is to go into the Appearance section and updating the Height and Width settings until the scrollbars are gone.

Limitations Using Named Ranges

While this does solve a very annoying visual issue and user experience is improved, we do lose some functionality. For example, if you happen to use links in your worksheets to link to other worksheets within the workbook, these no longer work. Also, if you want to use multiple sheets on your dashboard or portal, you will need to add additional web parts or pages to support other named regions. Overall, the user experience trumps these limitations and lead to a really nice dashboard.

Here is the cleaned up dashboard view:

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Excel BI Tip #20: Wingdings–an Excel Services Supported Indicator Alternative

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!

Wingdings? Really? How did we get here?

As you have seen from previous tips, I have been working with customers to build dashboards using Excel 2013 in SharePoint 2013. I am a big fan of conditional formatting. However, one of my customers wanted to use a specific design which used triangles as images on their dashboard to indicate whether the trend was improving or worsening. What you may not know is that drawing shapes and textboxes are among the objects not supported in Excel Services.

Here is what it looks like in Excel:

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Here is what it looks like in Excel Services – note the warning bar at the top:

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This led me to my first option – use indicators in conditional formatting, it has a similar image.

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As you can see it starts out fairly small, not the large shape we want to display. So, we added the indicator into a merged cell and increased the font size. You can see the image is pixelated.

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Making matters worse, when you upload it to Excel Services it will not honor the font size.

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Winging it with Wingdings

For some reason, yet unknown, it occurred to me to use Wingdings. Wingdings are TrueType fonts which make them “scalable” because you can specify the font size. In this case we are looking for an upward facing triangle and down facing triangle. So the first thing we needed to do was try to find out if those symbols existed. Here is one of the clearest cheatsheets I found for Wingdings font set: http://speakingppt.com/2011/10/31/finally-a-printable-character-map-of-the-wingdings-fonts/. Bruce has created a PowerPoint slide which is easy to follow. Whether you use, his or look it up on your own, you will find that in Windings 3, the letters “p” and “q” are the directional triangles that we need (p and q). Now let’s build our visualization with Wingdings (and no, I can’t believe I said that as well).

The key to using wingdings is that you need place the font representing what you are looking for in the field as shown here. You can see that the value in the cell is “p” but the wingding font gives us the triangle.

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Not only can you affect size, you can change the color.

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But the end goal was to have this work in Excel Services. So I can save this sheet to my Office 365 SharePoint site. As you can see here, it works as desired.

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Here is how you can put this to practical use. Let’s say we want to use a green smiley (Wingdings – J) and a red frown (Wingdings – L) based on our value. Greater than or equal to .5 or 50% will be smiling and less than .5 will be frowning. Assuming that the value we are evaluating is in K5, we would use the following formula to set the value:

=IF(K5>=0.5, “J”, “L”)

This sets the text value that we want to use. Because we are using a character value in the field, we can use conditional formatting to set the appropriate color by using the Highlight Cells Rules – Text That Contains… option. You will create two rules, one for J and one for L. You can use a default setting or create a custom format to change the color.

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By using Wingdings and Webdings, you will be able to further enhance your dashboards with a variety of symbols. I hope you have fun with your dashboards and get to tell your users or designers that, yes, you do use Wingdings! Enjoy winging it!

Note: The target environment needs to support the Wingding fonts. We have seen this not work when using iPads for instance. Be sure to consider and test your target environments for this solution.