Excel Tip #22: Combo Charts – Out of the Box Functionality

24 03 2015

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!

Creating a Combo Chart

Excel supports a couple of options for overlaying lines on bars or columns. The most common method is to use the combo chart. In this option, you would put metrics into the chart and then select which is the bar and which is the line. This is particularly helpful when using different types of metrics such as counts and percentages. To set this up, you create the initial chart with the metrics you want and then change the type. In the example below I have text and email usage counts with internet usage as a percentage in a column chart.

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Select the Change Chart Type option on the PIVOTCHART TOOLS menu.

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In the dialog that is opened, choose Combo Chart at the bottom. Excel will separate the values into lines and columns. In my case, it picked correctly, but be sure to check as it does not do what you want all the time. Because I am using percentages and counts, I want to have a secondary axis. My result is below. We can now look at percentages and counts in the same chart.

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This functionality can only be used with column charts and lines or areas. The value is being able to show two types of data on the same chart. Up next, we will look at overlaying charts in Excel which gives you more design options for your dashboard.





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

10 02 2015

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.





Excel BI Tip #18: Using CUBE Functions to Break Out of Pivot Tables

27 01 2015

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 Need to Break Out of Pivot Tables

Pivot tables are a great way for users to interact with data from an analytical source such as SSAS Multidimensional Models, SSAS Tabular Models, and Power Pivot Models. Users can connect to the data model and start working with the data. However, when building dashboards, we often need to display content in different ways – such as a header or clarifying value on a sheet. I have done this by creating a single cell pivot table but I do not think that is the best way to accomplish this. What I really wanted to do is put the value into a cell, but have it still honor slicers or filters. In this post, we will take a simple pivot table with a slicer and decompose it using CUBE functions within Excel and create dynamic cell values which respond to the slicer even after the pivot table has been decomposed.

A Look at Our Starting Point

We are going to start with a simple pivot table with a matching slicer. In the example, we have categories on columns and the gender of poll authors on rows. We are measuring the number of polls created. The slicer will show which polls have had a response [1] versus those with no responses yet [0].

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We are going to decompose this table and show how it allows you to move the cells around while retaining the connection to the underlying data.

Decomposing the Table

The first step is to select the table and open the analyze tab on the ribbon. (NOTE: I have reduced the size of my window to make the next steps clearer. The ribbon will adjust with the size of the window.)

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On the Analyze ribbon select OLAP Tools and Convert to Formulas.

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The result is that your pivot table will “disappear” and all the selected values will be created using formulas as shown here.

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The next sections will look at how the table was converted and how we can use the results.

A Look at the Formulas

The pivot table is converted to formulas. You can see the formulas for any of the cells by clicking the cell with the formula bar visible. Let’s look at how each area was converted. We are going to start with the first cell on the upper left and work our way through the cells from left to right and then down the rows.

“Count of Poll ID”

This is the name of the measure we added to the pivot table. Here is the formula:

=CUBEMEMBER(“ThisWorkbookDataModel”,”[Measures].[Count of PollID]”)

The CUBEMEMBER function returns the name of the member, in this case, “Count of PollID”. The basic syntax includes the name of the connection as it is referred to in the data connections of the workbook – “ThisWorkbookDataModel”. In our example, the name is that of the Power Pivot model in the background. If you connect to a server based model, you would provide a name with the connection or use the default name. The next portion is the member.

One important note, if you are familiar with MDX and multidimensional models, you will understand the syntax quite quickly. If you have never worked with MDX, you may find the syntax complex or confusing. The Measures dimension referred to here, will apply to any values in the Values section of the Pivot Table fields window.

Finally, you can add a caption if you choose to the value. This will change what is shown in the field. For instance, if I add a caption of “Poll Counts”, it will show “Poll Counts” in the field. This on way to clean up a database name to look more user friendly.

“Column Labels” and “Row Labels”

These are converted to text values in the sheet and provide no value

“Entertainment”, “Fun”, and the Other Category Headers

These are created the same way as the Count of PollID was created. Here is the formula for “Entertainment”.

=CUBEMEMBER(“ThisWorkbookDataModel”,”[Category].[CategoryName].&[Entertainment]”)

As you can see the connection is the same, however the structure of the value is different. In this case, it is [Dimension].[Hierarchy].[Member]. The ampersand (&) signifies that the member is the key. Sometimes a number will show up here. You can see the structure that is used based on what is displayed in the Pivot Table Fields window as shown here.

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“Grand Total” (Column and Row)

The Grand Total headers both use captions. The actual syntax uses the “ALL” member of the hierarchy being displayed. Here is the example from the column Grand Total header.

=CUBEMEMBER(“ThisWorkbookDataModel”,”[Category].[CategoryName].[All]”,”Grand Total”)

Those familiar with MDX will note that this is a standard way to roll up the data in a cube. Excel uses the same key word here to roll up all the values from the category to total.

“F” and “M”

The gender labels also use the CUBEMEMBER function as shown here.

=CUBEMEMBER(“ThisWorkbookDataModel”,”[Poll Owner].[Gender].&[F]”)

As you can see, it uses the Poll Owner as the dimension and Gender as the hierarchy.

The Values or Numbers in the Table

The values section is the last part of the conversion or decomposition to review. It is also the most interesting. Up to this point we have been using the CUBEMEMBER function. The values use the CUBEVALUE function. For those familiar with MDX, each value cell represents a tuple. A tuple is an address for a value in a cell of an analytic structure. When you click inside the cell, then inside the formula bar you can see how the value is created.

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Here is the formula:

=CUBEVALUE(“ThisWorkbookDataModel”,$B$4,$B8,C$5,Slicer_Poll_Has_Submissions)

Let’s break this down now.

The first parameter is the connection name which is the same as we saw in the CUBEMEMBER function. Next we have three cell references. $B$4 refers to value or [Measures].[Count of PollID] which is the first cell we evaluated. The next reference, $B8, is to row header or [Poll Owner].[Gender].&[F]. The third refers to the current column header which is Entertainment or [Category].[CategoryName].&[Entertainment] which is in cell C$5. The final reference is to the slicer. We will discuss that more in detail in a moment.

The actual value being sent to the underlying data model is

=CUBEVALUE(“ThisWorkbookDataModel”,”[Measures].[Count of PollID]”,[Poll Owner].[Gender].&[F],[Category].[CategoryName].&[Entertainment],[Poll].[Poll Has Submissions].[ALL])

What is important about understanding this is that you can change everything around. You can move the headers, etc, and refer directly to the measure you want or you can move header and use the new cell reference. The cell does not even need to be on the same sheet which is the ultimate level of flexibility.

A quick note on the slicer. The is a filter object that has background reference to the data. The name used in the formula is “Slicer_Poll_Has_Submissions”. It is constructed from the name of the slicer as found in the Slicer Options dialog with a Slicer prefix and underscores to replace spaces. Our slicer is named Poll Has Submissions and was converted to Slicer_Poll_Has_Submissions in the formula.

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Converting Filters

We used a slicer to provide built in filtering to our formulas. If you have a filter you will be provided with a choice. You can either leave the filter intact or convert the filter. Let’s look at both options.

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Here is the pivot table we will be using for these examples:

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The filter is for Poll Has Submissions. We are looking at completed polls for each category.

Leaving the Filter

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As you can see the filter remained intact while the rest of the table was converted to formulas. The primary difference is that the filter reference in the formula for CUBEVALUE is the cell that the filter shows the value in.

=CUBEVALUE(“ThisWorkbookDataModel”,$C$13,$B18,C$15)

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This is nice if you want to use the filter format and not a slicer to enable users to filter the value. You can also map that same cell to the other values we were looking at as it returns the member value just like the slicer. Because the filter still functions as a pivot table, when you select the filter you get the Pivot Table ribbon. From here you can move the filter to the position on the worksheet you desire.

Converting the Filter

When you choose to convert the filter, it converts the filter value to the currently selected value. In the case of this example we have All selected and the ALL member is selected.

=CUBEMEMBER(“ThisWorkbookDataModel”,”[Poll].[Poll Has Submissions].[All]”)

What Does It Mean to Me?

By pulling apart an existing table that has data you want to display, you are able to move the cells around and be more creative in your dashboard design. For example, we can highlight the number of polls related to sports created by men. Then we can create an entire dashboard with other details around this without dealing with a pivot table.

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Have fun creating more creative dashboards with these functions.





Excel Apps – Not Quite Ready for Primetime

22 01 2015

While this is not a regular Excel tip, but it is about Excel. In my Excel BI Tips series, I am always looking for ways to build Excel dashboards or do BI work with Excel that will help everyone. In this case, I am going to discuss a new feature in Excel 2013 and Office 2013 and some of the drawbacks we discovered while trying to bring dashboards into production on SharePoint.

Excel Apps, What Is That?

With the introduction of Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013, Microsoft added the capability to create apps that can be used in the various Office applications to provide enhanced capabilities. I was most interested in the ability to bring in new visualizations in Excel that could be used for creating dashboards on my projects. One of the key advantages of using them, was that they worked when deployed to Excel Services in SharePoint without installing anything on SharePoint.

Here some examples of visualizations I planned to use.

Gauges by DataVis Design

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People Graph by Microsoft

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Modern Chart by Microsoft

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Bing Maps by Microsoft

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There are a number of other visualization options that are free or for some charge as well as other functions. You can find more of them and more information about Office Apps here.

Initial User Experience Is Poor

After getting a couple of these visualizations in a dashboard over the period of a couple of weeks were were ready to deploy the dashboards for user acceptance. Each user who opens the dashboard will have to clear the following install message from each app when they load the dashboard.

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While not a “big” deal for savvy users, this is really an unacceptable user experience for less savvy or less patient users. Furthermore, this could easily turn into a support nightmare as each new user is likely to call or email support regardless of the amount of instructions provided. Given that some of our audience was likely going to be executives, we determined that this would not work for us and would actually reflect poorly on our project.

Ongoing User Experience Issue

So, if you decide to move forward with these apps, you dashboard can look pretty good. However, this brings up a more long term issue. Each of the visualizations created have one or more settings buttons that remain visible, even after deployment. For instance, the gauges have a “gear” and a “question mark.” One the first requests we got from power users reviewing the dashboard was to hide them. As far as I can tell this is not possible. Next, the question was “why doesn’t the question mark contain information about the metric being displayed?” Great question, but the question mark is there to provide information about the gauge not the content. Once again, users don’t need that information. These issues reinforced our decision to remove them from our executive level dashboards and not recommend their use in other dashboards.

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Concluding Thoughts

I am not sure if the problem lies in the way the apps were created or with what Microsoft has enabled in the API designs. In the end, these visualizations need to have a “deployment view” or something similar that will hide all this as well as deploy cleanly for end users. These apps do provide some cool visualizations that are not readily available elsewhere, but they need to be cleaner or more elegant for use in general dashboards deployed in SharePoint. Understanding these nuances will hopefully help you make the better decisions about dashboard design in Excel with Office Apps.





Excel BI Tip #17: Using the Timeline Filter

20 01 2015

 

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!

Before I go much further, I wanted to call out an update to this series. I am planning to continue to cover more about Excel and Power BI components in Excel through these tips as we move forward. The focus will continue to be on Excel 2013 and beyond. So look for “sub series” around Power BI tools such as Power Pivot, Power Query, and Power Map as they are now integral parts of the Excel BI story.

Introducing the Timeline Filter

The Timeline Filter is a great visual filtering tool that can be used with pivot tables, pivot charts and data from Analysis Services and Power Pivot. It is the best way to allow users to have “range” query capabilities in Excel. It breaks down a date into Years, Quarters, Months and Days. The Timeline was first released with Excel 2013.

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imageYou can find the Timeline filter in the same area on the ribbons as the Slicer filter or by right-clicking the fields area used with pivot tables and charts. If you have a valid date in your model, the option will be available in this area. However, if you have no valid dates, it will not be available. This is by far the most frustrating part of working with this filter. I will go through what I have discovered about getting a date that can be used with this filter in the next section.

When you can use it, Timeline filters greatly enhance the look and feel and the ease of use for Excel dashboards and analytics.

Getting a “Date” Value the Timeline Can Use

First of all, this will be the most frustrating part of working with this filter. The Timeline requires a date field, not a date dimension. This means that traditional cubes will have the least success working with this feature unless the cube design is modified. Typically, we create date dimensions that use a surrogate key that is a integer data type. Even when we choose to make this a “smart” key (e.g. 20120131 = YYYYMMDD), the value we place in the related fact tables is an integer. However, we often include an actual date as an attribute so there can be workarounds. If you are working with a cube design that has no dates typed as dates, it is likely you will be unable to use this filter.

The key point is that the Timeline must have a date value in order to be implemented. The Timeline will work with any field that is a date.

Adding a Timeline to a Pivot Table

In my example, I will be using a Power Pivot model in Excel. This is not built on a star schema, but the model has a date table that will be used in one of the demos as well. My starting pivot table will be from one table that summarizes polls by state (I am using the MyVote sample data from Modern Apps Live). As you can see in the screenshot below, it has states and the sum of submissions.

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The next step is to add a Timeline filter. If we right-click the PollSubmissionDate field, we will see the option for adding it as a Timeline. image

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Voila! We have a Timeline that works with our pivot table. In the next section, we will break down the parts of the filter and its options.

Timeline Parts and Options

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The Timeline Caption and Header properties affect the same section. In our current Timeline, we have a caption of “PollSubmissionDate” which is the name of the field. This is the default when creating the Timeline. You can change the header by changing the caption. If you do not what to show the header, unselect the Header box in the options.

The other three options also allow you to hide or show features in the Timeline. By default, all of the features are showing.

The Scrollbar is located at the bottom of the Timeline. It allows users to scroll through the available dates in the filter. This is helpful when dealing with a underlying large date range.

The Selection Label is the portion that shows what has been selected in text form. In the example above, you can see that Jan-Feb 2014 has been selected and that is what is shown in the label. I find that this reinforces to the user what they have selected. If the label is not visible, then the bar under the dates is the only way to see what has been selected and that is not always clear to users.

The last option that can be turned on or off is the Time Level. This is the drop down list that shows Years, Quarters, Months, and Days. This can be used to change the granularity of the selection bar. Depending on the implementation, you may want to limit the Timeline to a particular view. However, if you are using this dynamically and the data exists to support all of those levels, then you are best served giving users the option to select the granularity of the selection bar.

The truly “cool” feature is the selection bar. Users can “grab” the edges to expand or contract the range of dates they wish to see. As they change the granularity with the time level, they are able to select days, months, quarters, or years. This truly allows for dynamic range filtering which has typically been very difficult to implement in a simple fashion in Excel.

Connecting the Filter to a Second Pivot Table

As with slicers, we can have the Timeline filter apply to multiple objects in the workbook through Report Connections. Let’s add another pivot table and try to apply the date and you will see the issue. In this example, we are adding the PollResponseCount from the PollResponse table with the ResponseDate.

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By right-clicking the ResponseDate, I am able to confirm that it is a candidate for a Timeline filter. Let’s see if we can create a connection with our Timeline filter.

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As you can see in our example, by adding PivotTable2 from Sheet1 we have filtered the data in the second pivot table. The data is now limited to the January and February of 2014. Of course, we should change our caption now as the filter will apply to multiple data sets and different date fields.

Post Publication Update from Chris Webb (@technitrain). There are additional limitations when using the Timeline filter with SSAS multidimensional. See Teo Lachev’s blog post on the topic.





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 #15: Locking Slicer Position

18 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!

The Issue

A picture, or in this case two pictures, are worth a thousand words. I created a pivot table from Power Pivot and then added two slicers above the pivot table. The pivot table contains a date hierarchy which can be expanded and collapsed. During this process the slicer moves around which is not optimal when you are creating a visualization in Excel such as a dashboard. Here are the screenshots which highlight the issue.

How I set it up:

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What happens when the date gets expanded:

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How to Fix the Slicer Position

Right click the slicer you want to keep from moving, in my case that is the second one. I first looked in the settings, but saw nothing. I stumbled onto the Size and Properties option which opened the Format Slicer slide out menu. If you expand the Properties section select “Don’t move or size with cells” option, the slicer will no longer move.

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This is just one more way to use slicers to improve the user experience in your Excel dashboards and reports.








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