Vending Machine or Kitchen: Two Kinds of Self-Service

Preface:  Breaking the Consulting “Rulebook”

Power Pivot Allows Us to Set a Much Higher Bar - and Then Clear It

This may seem bold:  Starting about six months ago, whenever I find myself in a room with spreadsheet/business/database people, one of the first things I tell them is that Power Pivot won’t just change their work, it will change their LIVES.  That’s right – I tell them, with a straight face, that this business technology will actually make them happier.

That violates one of the unwritten rules of consulting, which is to underpromise and overdeliver – set expectations low enough that no one ever has reason to complain or be disappointed.

I understand why it’s traditionally a good practice to “set the bar low.”  I get it.  I truly do.

“Consumer with Choices” vs. “Empowered Producer” is a BIG Difference

But Power Pivot is different.  Yes, in the truly breakthrough, transformational sense – you knew I was going to say that.  But different in another critical sense as well – it requires (and incents!) the analyst types on the Business side to participate to a degree unlike with any other BI tool.

No matter how they are marketed, every other BI tool I have ever seen treats the business user as a glorified Consumer.  Yes, Business Objects and Cognos for sure, but I’m also looking at you, Tableau and Qlikview and Spotfire.

 

Two Different Kinds of Self Service.  Only Self-Service Modeling Truly Changes the Game.

Power Pivot transcends that Consumer role and “deputizes” a subset of the Business users as Producers.  Producers of reports and dashboards, yes, just like with those other tools.  But even more importantly:  these Power Pivot-equipped business users become producers of models.  And models are crucial!  Because if you don’t have good models, you simply don’t have your numbers.

That Model Producer role is where the difference occurs.  It’s where you find the revolutionary benefits I am constantly observing and talking about.  It’s also where the happy occurs, too.

Future and “In Training” Model Producers, Do I Have Your Attention?

Power Pivot - Success, Career, and HappyThe trick is that most Model-Producers-to-Be are skeptics, of necessity.  The “Excel Pro’’ gets lied to perhaps more than any other professional demographic.  Lies like ‘’I need a report from you but it will only take you five minutes” and “this BI tool we just bought will remove the need for your long hours in Excel” – the Excel Pro is fed a steady diet thereof.

And while *I* know that This Time It’s Different, and that they truly stand on the cusp of an amazing professional transformation, they do not.  So when I am facing a group of these folks, typically early in the morning, I need to wake them up.  I owe it to them to wake them up. 

So I hit them with a statement Far Outside of Normal – a statement I happen to know to be true.  They start to pay attention.  Cautiously of course, but I only need the door to be open a crack.

Coming Next Week:  Tales From the Inbox

Everything I said above is absolutely true, but the “trigger” for writing all of it is elsewhere:  in my email inbox.

So stay tuned for some inspiring stories.

10 Responses to Vending Machine or Kitchen: Two Kinds of Self-Service

  1. John says:

    We love Tableau. It handles insane amounts of data without crashing, calculates and graphs. I like the concept of PowerPivot, but it’s been misdeployed (only for Enterprise, and not on by default), misexecuted (PowerPivot crashes where Tableau coasts with our huge data). Not to mention PowerView is stuck on Silverlight.

    I still keep up with PowerPivot for hope one day Microsoft will just swallow Tableau or something. I see a lot of hype posts about PowerPivot. It’s so easy to show off Tableau, and it’s no wonder CNBC, NYT, etc. use it.

    • powerpivotpro says:

      I’ve got no problem with Tableau. It does a decent job with data/numbers, and a freaking fantastic job at visualization.

      Power Pivot is the opposite – it does a decent job at visualization, and a freaking fantastic job with data/numbers (as long as you are running 64-bit, that is – because I agree that 32-bit is not stable enough for serious work).

      If you force me to choose, I’d take Power Pivot over Tableau, because in my experience, having the numbers is more important. It’s hard to visualize numbers you don’t have, unless you take “visualize” to mean “imagine.”

      Of course, it would be nice NOT to have to choose. I agree it would be fantastic for MS to buy Tableau and marry them up. I have zero hope that will ever happen, however, as Tableau will be too proud to sell high, and MS too proud to pay up. Power View is still too shallow and unpolished to be a serious visualization threat, and arguably even worse is that it doesn’t cooperate with the rest of Excel. Don’t get me started on the Silverlight debacle.

      What I really want is to get Tableau-style charting added to Excel, 64-bit Excel to be easy to get and install (with Power Pivot included), and some overall ease-of-use improvements made. I’m a man of modest needs :p

      • Lubos Pribulla says:

        As far as I know you can import PowerPivot model into Tableau. I did it with Excel 2010 at least. I liked that combination!

      • John says:

        That would be awesome :) We reserver Tableau for our big data analysis, but I try to keep it in a pivot if possible. People underestimate Tableau for analysis though. Data blending is invaluable and makes comparing many to many relationships so easy compared to PowerPivot.

  2. Roy French says:

    Rob,

    I just read your post and had to add.

    I am a 50 year old OFO (only finance officer) and I have programed FORTRAN on punch cards; calculated a column in VisiCalc; keystroke macro’s in 123; and I have produced financial models in Excel for years, but Power Pivot is extraordinary. I signed on with a small business last year and was asked to “get to the profitability of the business.” I have not produced spreadsheets in a few years and last March looked up a pivot table challenge on the web, Power Pivot came up in my search. I spent the next week on the web and the Powerpivot(Pro) site, I bought DFPP and did not talk to my family for days. I now have profitability down to the employee level!

    In all seriousness, I only have about four hours a week to devote to BI. Each month, after I close the sales journal and my time ticket register I dump them into my data model and start drilling. You may not find a market to consult with $10 million companies, but your school should be filled with users like myself.

    Your site is tremendous and the Power Pivot community is most helpful.

    • powerpivotpro says:

      Roy – first of all, thank you for this:

      “I bought DFPP and did not talk to my family for days.”

      Screenshotted :)

      Second, I recently corresponded with Dan Fylstra, founder of the VisiCalc company back in the day and current President of the company that makes Solver. He also gave me a killer quote about DFPP (DAX Formulas for Power Pivot), so you veteran types are definitely seeing what I am seeing. We are in good company, all of us :)

      Third, I have found that the needs of big companies and small companies don’t differ very much. Some of our clients are indeed one-person shops, but we also do have several clients in the $1B, $10B, and $20B revenue ranges. In a vacuum, I can’t tell the difference between the billion-dollar firms’ work and the small biz work. And that’s pretty amazing – not what I expected to find, but the truth.

    • Steven Rutt says:

      Roy,
      My experience is very similar to yours. I’ve been in finance for the past 10+ years and have lived most of my life in Excel. I never would have considered myself a BI person, but PowerPivot has opened my world to that and has helped me bridge that gap with ease by not having to learn how to write SQL. I am able to build financial models that go to the most granular level which allows me to provide insights and validation on numerous business questions. I’ve been with my new company now for 3 months and our CEO had a question that no one could really answer and I was able to take a data set that has been used for the past 3-4 years and transform that data using PowerPivot to provide a view that answered his question. I never would have ventured into the land of BI if it were not for PowerPivot.

  3. Rob, I had a very similar email conversation just this last week with one of your readers about PP. I truly believe the lack of speedy uptake of PP is directly related to the fact that so many people have “heard it all before” and are understandably skeptical. In addition lots of companies have large sunk investments. But I agree with you – this time it is different. We should be somewhat grateful for small blessings – it would be an uncontrolled avalanche if everyone “got it” already. Maybe a slow steady burn is a good thing.

    I sat with a customer today and we stepped through some interactive charts I built recently. We worked through some scenarios together, and then he left me for 45 mins while I updated the capabilities of the charts with our shared learnings. I then delivered him back a “twice as good, actionable charting tool” that made him say “wow” – 2 hours work in total. All of the benefit came from changing the data model on the fly as required, then adding it to charts and slicers etc

    In my view, there is more than enough visualisation capabilities in standard Excel when used with the data mashing power of PP to cover most needs (not all, but most).

  4. Ken Raetz says:

    Rob, I recall a conversation we had once where you stated that Excel may not have the best visualization, but for most scenarios, it is “good enough.” I too would love to see additional visualization capabilities and hope to see Microsoft have a truly integrated visualization tool. In the meantime, we are also seeing peoples’ lives changed. One recent project we completed was to replace a company’s 300-worksheet Excel workbook, which took them 1-2 days every 2 weeks to refresh. (Lots of import, copy/paste, manipulate, etc.). I see two main benefits:

    1. Automate and simplify what previously was believed to be non-automatable. In other words, repair the broken processes people have built up in Excel.

    2. Create unbelievably complex and highly functional data models, with rich calculations (like time-based calcs: MTD, QTD, YTD), with relative ease.

    We’ve literally seen peoples’ faces light up when they talk about using PowerPivot. It is very rewarding!

  5. Claire says:

    Hello, thanks Rob for the post. I am working for a european subsidiary of a world famous FMCG $b company and manage now after a few months of building & re-building improved models to achieve great things (thanks for your books & post, they help a lot… though I would love video maybe even more, I think I would get even more out of spoken words backed up with table visuals :-)

    I fully relate to the over-selling part. I have been so enthusiastic about it that colleagues call my models “the big monster” … they even don’t want to participate & help in any ways just by fear that i could take away their work! My struggle now is to make the most of all the information I have in order to very quickly analyze what’s happening.
    Being at the heart of the “vending machine” (building the models) as well as the kitchen chef (building the most powerful piloting dashboards & reports updated un no time), & the master of ceremony (presenting & discussing the business status @ leadership level) is for sure a great experience, our headcount being limited, but also a great challenge to fit it all in a very fast moving business (I’ve got my head “spinning” from time to time). Thanks for your help & support along the way! Wishing there were more enthusiastic people around me as we can find in this place, it would feel even more like “success & Happy” as per your drawing above:-)

Leave a Comment or Question