Interview with Chris Finlan of Microsoft

Post by Rob Collie

A Kindred Spirit Revealed!

Rob Collie of PowerPivotPro and Chris Finlan of Microsoft

Me and Chris Last Week at the Microsoft Offices in D.C.
(Their Electronic Signs Are Awkwardly Truthful.)

For about a year I have been working closely with a Microsoft employee named Chris Finlan, the BI TSP for Microsoft’s Mid Atlantic Sales District.  Loosely translated, that means that when it comes to Business Intelligence, he’s the “go to” resource for all of the Enterprise sales teams in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.

On the face of it, that may sound like “well of COURSE you two work closely together – he sells MS BI, and you teach/help people to use it.”  But there are a LOT of technologies in the MS BI stack, and we (at PowerPivotPro) are specialists in the New Wave – not just the newer technologies like Power Pivot and Power BI, but also in the way that the tools are positioned, evangelized, and sold.

Even though we’re 100% aligned with Microsoft’s direction, it takes time for habits to change – both for large companies AND the software sales teams who work with them.  Neither is particularly incented to take risks – the consequences of a failed experiment are high.  So, it’s natural that not everyone has rushed to embrace the New Wave as the total paradigm shift that it is.

The traditional Microsoft BI sales strategy can be loosely characterized as “top down” (pitch/sell the software to the people who write big checks) whereas I think Power Pivot is often better pitched bottom-up (prove its value to a single department or group of users, and the checks come later).  Neither is an “incorrect” approach of course, and they are not mutually exclusive.  In particular, I’ve long believed that “bottom-up” messaging can be an effective part of a “top-down” engagement.

But changes to the script require a LOT of confidence.  The “game” just isn’t set up to reward experimentation.  So ultimately, it often requires someone who’s wired a bit differently.

Rob's Face When he Got Chris's EmailIn my world at least, that person first “surfaced” in an email I received about a year ago.  Chris just dropped me a note and said “hey I’ve been adapting some of the messaging on your website for use with customers, and it’s been working.  Can we have a phone call at some point?”

And at that moment I scrambled for the phone.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Chris and I talk probably three times a week, cooperate on multiple customer engagements, ran classes in Philly (last year) and DC (last week), hatched Insight Center (more on this below), and generally just pester the hell out of each other all week long.

On to the Interview!

Read the Rest

A New Kind of Secret Formula: BI Director Leaves Coca-Cola to Become Power Pivot Professional

Matt Allington

This Man Just Walked Away from His 25-Year Career at Coca-Cola
to Become a Power Pivot Professional.
(And the Short List of Rob’s Favorite People Grows by One)

I Am Not Making This Up

Seriously, this is the Truth.  Matt Allington, pictured above, was until recently the BI Director for the entire Asia-Pacific region at Coca-Cola.

And he recently turned in his resignation – to join OUR ranks.  He sees the same sort of promise here that I first glimpsed in early 2010 – that “New and Better Way” thing.

From Coca-Cola to PowerPivotThis isn’t just an “Excel Pro.”  No, this is someone who has “been around the block” with data tools of all shapes and sizes.  A savvy and respected leader from the BI profession – and not from a small company.

I’m torn on how to describe my reaction.  On one hand, of course, I am not surprised.  When you truly believe in something (as I DO with this Power Pivot stuff), you’re never really shocked when someone else agrees with you.  If you are, you didn’t really believe all that deeply or honestly right?

But at the same time?  HOLY SHIT EVERYONE, the BI Director for Coca-Cola Asia Pacific just jumped ship for the Power Pivot revolution!!!!  Anyone know how many synonyms there are for “awesome?”  Cuz I think I’m going to use every one of them.

An Unexpected Client Development

Back in September, I got an email from a guy named Matt who wanted some quick help with Power Pivot.  Then I noticed as his email address, and THEN I noticed his title.  Hey, I was flattered to help.

Read the Rest

Self Serve BI Adoption: the Relative Roles of People, Technology, the Business, and IT

Guest Post by Tim Rodman, currently blogging about Acumatica ERP @

Self-Service BI and Power Pivot Barriers To Entry
They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom Self-Service BI and Power Pivot.

Brief Intro from Rob:  Tim has a great “backstory.”  He found out about Power Pivot in the “usual” way – via a completely random coincidence.  I taught a private class to a firm here in town a couple years back, and one of the attendees (a guy named Andy) lived a few houses down the street from Tim.  Sitting outside at a summer barbecue, Andy mentioned Power Pivot to Tim, Tim said “what’s that?” and six months later Tim was a speaker at our Modern Excel User group.  I think he has some very interesting things to say here – very introspective and honest.  Worth a read for everyone.

Take it away Tim…

I’ve been thinking lately about Self-Service BI and barriers to entry. Now, when it comes to Self-Service BI, much of the focus is on the technology. Do you want to go with Microsoft, Tableau, something else? It seems to me like most of the content on the subject of Self-Service BI is focused on comparing the different technology offerings. I personally don’t know much about the gory details related to the technology behind these products, but I do think that too much attention is given to the technology and not enough attention is given to the people.

In my opinion, PEOPLE are the biggest barrier to entering the Self-Service BI age, not technology.  Note: for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on Power Pivot since this is appearing on a Power Pivot blog.

Read the Rest

What is Power Pivot’s #1 Competitor?

Tableau Versus Excel.  Not Tableau versus Power Pivot.  That is telling, ye?

This Picture is a Hint.  An Admittedly Annoying Hint That Hounds me on Facebook.

“OK, way to make it super-obvious, Rob.  It’s Tableau, right?”

Actually, no.  It’s not Tableau.  And the Tableau advertisement above basically proves my point.

By far, the biggest “competitor” to Power Pivot is…  Excel itself. 

In other words, lack of awareness that Power Pivot even EXISTS is still the biggest “competitor” to Power Pivot today.

The Tableau marketing department is smart.  They know that “normal” Excel is their chief competitor.  And they know that “normal” Excel has some frustrating weaknesses when it comes to data analysis.

So they go right for the throat.  I salute and admire their savvy.  Which brings me to a movie quote.

Read the Rest

Power Pivot IS Enterprise BI: GNET’s Neelesh Raheja

Following Up on the Industrial-Strength Reality of our Favorite Toolset

8 Days is Average Time it Take for IT to Add a Column to a Report

A GNET Slide That I Plan to Steal.

Last week’s post about Power Pivot jobs at GNET really drew a lot of interest.  I was thrilled to see so many resumes come in.  A number of people were/are even willing to relocate across the country!  We swamped “poor” Neelesh, heh heh.  Good stuff folks.

But I also got a lot of questions – about their methodology, how to prepare oneself to play the “BIM” role in that system, how to get your own organization to see the promise of this approach, etc.

So I thought I’d interview Neelesh for the blog.  He accepted, and here we are Smile

Bill Hader wore a PowerPivotPro visor in "Hot Rod???"  SWEET!

Confirmation like this almost makes me jealous

True story:  In college, I (Rob) majored in Computer Science, Math, and Philosophy.  Trust me, that sounds more impressive than it was – I “gamed” the university system quite well and took a lighter course load overall than any of my friends.  (I graduated Magna Cum Lazy.)

So I wrote a lot of Philosophy papers while my more responsible peers were learning to program in C++.  Which was fine, because I was a lot better at Philosophy papers than I was at programming.

In a few of those papers, I thought I “invented” a new concept that was groundbreaking.  Something that would shake the world of Philosophy to its very core.  Old men in tweed suits were going to carry me around on their shoulders chanting my name.  But then, back in reality, I discovered, a few weeks later, that some well-known philosopher had written about precisely that same thing decades ago.  Happened more than once.

Read the Rest

My Power Pivot Journey: Personal > Team > Organizational BI

Guest Post by Avichal Singh

Intro from Rob:  an exciting guest post for sure…  a Power Pivot “adoption story” from inside Microsoft itself!  Over my years in Redmond, I met MANY Excel pros who were working at MS as analysts in the financial and accounting units.  Today, card-carrying Excel Pro Avichal Singh shares the progression of one such team, and how he helped “grow” the usage of Power Pivot all the way to the border of “traditional BI.”  It’s a fascinating glimpse at potential futures – both for Excel pros and their organizations.

Take it away, Avichal…


by Avichal Singh

If you have seen any of the promotional material for SQL Server/PowerPivot, it’s likely you have come across the slide which speaks to the spectrum of Personal BI, Team BI and Organizational BI. My journey started at personal BI, and I didn’t quite know then, how far it would take me.

Source: Analysis Services & PowerPivot Blog

UPDATE Jul 2014: Now you can also watch the video version of my story.

My Power Pivot Journey: Personal > Team > Organizational BI
Read the Rest

My Conversion to PowerPivot: Guest Post By Geoff McNeely


Intro from Rob:  I may be hopped up on painkillers at the moment, but when a story needs to be told as badly as this one does, I can still spot it.  This is precisely the kind of transformation I see as the future for determined Excel Pros.  Let’s call it The Journey.  And it’s always good to hear from folks who are already on that journey, and proving that it’s a reality.  So I’m gonna get out of the way – mostly! – and let Geoff tell us his tale.

Hi there folks. I’m Geoff McNeely (@geoster on Twitter, or find me on LinkedIn) and I’ve guzzled the Kool-Aid. I’ve been using PowerPivot for several months now, I have Rob’s book, and I gave my first peer presentation on PowerPivot in May. Go ahead and call me an evangelist. I’m a believer!

So when Rob gave me the opportunity to write a guest post it was like one of those moments…you know, like will I go crawl under a rock and forget I ever aspired to write anything, or will I engage and make it happen?

I’m gonna go with “Engage, Maverick!”

Read the Rest

The Ideal PowerPivot Professional: How to Hire, Grow, or Become One


…But Don’t Expect Us to Wear Suits OK?

Got a great question in email yesterday from a potential training/consulting client.  Paraphrasing:

“…what’s the best way for our company to get the required PowerPivot/Financial analysis skills? Should we be hiring for them, developing them in-house or outsourcing them to other organizations?”

As I was replying to the email I realized this was a good topic to discuss publicly.  How should your organization find the right PowerPivot people?

The answer to this question, of course, is also quite relevant to the budding PowerPivot professional – the “Supply side” of the equation if you will – and therefore the majority of people reading this.  But I am going to approach the question from the employer side – the Demand side – because I think that’s the best way to answer the question for both parties.

Read the Rest
  • 1
  • 2