Power Pivot is a Ferrari, not a Pontiac Aztec

April 17, 2014

Guest Post by Seth Strandin

Early in my Power Pivot journey, I found Rob’s “What is PowerPivot?” post.  Here’s an excerpt from that post:

1. It’s a Free Extension to Excel 2010 and 2013, Built by Microsoft

Yeah, it’s free, and it’s from Microsoft, as opposed to a third party.  It dramatically extends the powers of “normal” Excel, and more importantly, the powers of people who use it:  people like me, and probably you too if you are reading this.

It snaps right into Excel as if it had been there from the beginning:


After spending some “quality time” with Power Pivot, I now believe Rob is wrong about that.  Here’s what I think that post should say instead:

Power Pivot is NOT just an extension or add-in to Excel, it’s a new animal that only uses Excel as its UI!

Perhaps it’s a subtle distinction, but in many ways I think it’s a crucial one.  I will explain. 

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The Much-Overlooked Producer/Consumer Dynamic

April 15, 2014

pot brain simmerA Long-Simmering Observation

Today I’d like to take a break from Power Pivot magic tricks and share some thoughts about “the state of data.” 

The particular observation I’d like to share is far from complex, but I think it’s being “missed” by many of the “players” of our game, so even though it’s simple, it’s worth talking about.

Let’s start with an old prediction about Tablets.  I think Tablets quite literally provide a window into the heart of the matter.


The Rumors of the Tablet’s Death Were Greatly Exaggerated

tombstone 2A couple years ago, a colleague of mine assured me that the world’s fascination with tablets (iPad, Surface, etc.) would be over shortly.  We’d all be back to using laptops in a few years and the whole tablet form factor would be a memory.  I didn’t give it much thought at the time one way or another – it struck me as bold, but there were other things to discuss so I moved on.

At this point I think we can say the Market has spoken, the verdict is in, and his prediction proven profoundly wrong.

With the recent announcement of Office for iPad, in fact, we’re seeing the world turned SO upside down that MS actually invested tremendous effort in re-tooling their flagship desktop suite to run on their arch-enemy’s tablet.  Again, I’d like to stress, it was Microsoft – of Redmond, Washington – who did this.

Oh, what’s that?  Power Pivot doesn’t run on Office for iPad?  Should we be bothered by that?  Heck no.  Let me explain why not…

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What is “Modern Excel?”

February 20, 2014

Modern Excel:  Is it Just Power Pivot?

So we started this User Group…

…and, you know, it’s a real thing.  We’ve got active chapters now in five US cities, a sense of “blueprint” for spreading it rapidly to many more cities worldwide, and nearly 700 members in the LinkedIn group.  (What, you haven’t joined yet?  Darth Formulus finds your lack of faith… disturbing.  A problem easily remedied yes?)

But wouldn’t you know it.  All you analytical types started asking “hey, what IS Modern Excel, exactly?  What is considered ‘fair game’ to discuss at meetings?”  “And what the heck is the point of this LinkedIn group – you’ve made virtually no announcements whatsoever.”

Ambiguity?  That will never satisfy humans with Compulsive Data Crunching Disease.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I thrive on this sort of thing.

As an aside, constantly being forced to be precise (by my peers) at Microsoft is one of the most formative and useful experiences of my life to date.  My first 22 years on the planet had been fueled strictly by Instinctive Conviction – which in hindsight is merely another form of “coasting.”  But I’ve since come to believe that if you cannot communicate your opinions effectively, not only will their impact be forever limited, but actually, even YOU don’t understand what you THINK you do.  Sloppy communication often masks sloppy thinking.  22-year old Rob arrived in Redmond with an ample supply of both.  It was as much fun as a multi-year waterboarding, but they straightened me out.

Excel 2007 Desktop is a BIG Dividing Line

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What is Power Pivot’s #1 Competitor?

January 21, 2014

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.

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Lost in a Polar Vortex of Google Spreadsheets

January 9, 2014

Well folks it’s been one of “those” weeks.  Who would have thought travel would be disrupted by subzero temperatures combined with driving snow and wind?

My trip to the airport on Monday was just that – a trip to the airport with a lengthy stay…  at the airport.  And then a cab ride home once the airlines finally dropped all pretense of launching planes.

So my consulting engagement that was supposed to be this Tue/Wed is now this Thu/Fri.  Good news is that it’s in Florida – where they consider 55F “cold.” 


Scenes From the Cleveland Airport When the Sun is Setting On Your Travel Plans

But Good News!  The future of Google Spreadsheets vs. Excel!

Semi-presciently, I wrote a rant of sorts in response to a question Oz du Soleil asked me in email a couple weeks back – will Google Docs ever “beat” Excel?

It’s somewhat of a debate between me, Bill Jelen, and a few others.

He’s posting the responses in a series.  Apparently I’m in part three, which isn’t yet posted at the time of writing, but probably will be when you see this.

So head over to Oz’s site and see what’s shaking.

Part one and part two, already posted, are available by clicking, you know, those links.

BI Production Systems in Four Weeks or Less: Part Two of Interview with Neelesh Raheja of GNET

December 10, 2013

Part One is Available Here

Neelesh Raheja of GNET

ROB:  Traditionally, BI consulting firms “do BI” for their clients.  How do you incorporate something that is inherently “self-service” into your approach?  I think this is an unspoken worry in the BI industry:  what is the mission of BI consultants in a world where your clients are supposed to be “doing” the BI?

NEELESH:  We arm our clients with both the “tech” know-how AND the strategy know-how to manage their environment and continue to execute on their BI strategy after we are gone.  We can never replace the collective wisdom and expertise that the business possesses.  The point when everything changes, when this really takes off for our clients, is when the business information modeler, the Excel pro, gets sufficient Power Pivot training and environmental support.  They start providing answers with dramatically improved speed and quality, but even more importantly, the quality of everyone’s questions rapidly rises as well.

ROB:  Excel Pros.  Power Pivot.  Music to my ears.  You’re on a roll, don’t let me interrupt.

NEELESH:  We’ve always had business information modelers.  We’ve just never had sufficient tools for them.  Data capacity, auto-refresh, and the portability of logic that you talk about – while Excel is an incredibly flexible tool, it’s been missing those key ingredients until Power Pivot. 

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Power Pivot IS Enterprise BI: GNET’s Neelesh Raheja

December 5, 2013

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.

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The Dramatic Impact of the 2013 SKU Decisions

November 21, 2013

Impact of the Power Pivot not included in all versions of Office 2013 decision, visualized dramatically.

This is a Pretty Dramatic Dip and Recovery.  What Else Could Explain It?  I’m all ears.

No DAX Required

Nothing fancy here, just a chart of page views of a very specific page on this site – the What is PowerPivot? page.  I use that page as an indicator of new interest – most people viewing it are “early” in their Power Pivot journeys. 

That dip starting in February is incredible.  What else could explain it other than the decision to remove Power Pivot from most “flavors” of 2013?  Eight months later, after Power Pivot re-appeared in Excel 2013 Standalone, we’re back to the same “slope” of the line that we had in February.  Maybe a little better.

Of course, Power Pivot usage was STILL growing, a LOT, during the dip.  And in fact growing by a lot more than the same months in 2012.  It’s just that the RATE of growth fell during those months.  The faucet of new users was still flowing, and flowing fast.  It was just “turned down” from full speed for a few months.

But imagine where we’d be WITHOUT this 6-8 month dip in growth rate.  The curve leading up to February looks awfully exponential doesn’t it?  Let’s take a look…

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Rise of the “Business Modeler”

October 31, 2013


Get it?  Business Modelers?

This is My Vote

I really enjoyed the response to Tuesday’s post.  A lot of good suggestions, debate, and discussion.

Summary of the responses:

  1. No one likes the word “formuleer.”  OK, I’m cool with that.  I’d made it up anyway.  Yeah that article never had the word formuleer in its title – I doctored the image.
  2. Some people doubt whether we (Excel pros becoming Power Pivot pros) need a new name, and I understand their thinking, but I’ve seen too much of this market to be swayed.
  3. A lot of support for a descriptive name.  As in, nothing fancy like “formuleer” or even “data scientist.”  Just describe what we do.  Make it more substantive than just a buzzword.
  4. A lot of suggested new names along the lines of “BI Developer” and “BI Architect” – and I like those.  They reflect what a Power Pivot pro does.  But we already have those titles in the world today, and they tend to mean “data warehouse and SSRS architect.”  We are different.

In the course of reading all of those comments yesterday, it popped into my head.

We are Business Modelers.

My Reasoning

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Are we data scientists in hiding? Or “formuleers?”

October 29, 2013

***Update:  I think we are “Business Modelers”

Today’s post reflects my recent thinking after pondering the excellent discussion on this post.

Two recent articles

The other day I was emailed an article on TDWI (The Data Warehousing Institute) with a really intriguing title:  “Are Data Scientists Hidden Within Your Company?”

This article on data science hints at the Excel pro "hidden resource" theme, but then barely misses it.

I Mean, How Can I NOT Read an Article With That Title???
(Click for the article)

Formuleers?  Formuleering?  Hmm...  Read on for my tentative thoughts.

And Whoa!  “Formuleers” are the new Data Scientists?  I.  Am.  Intrigued.
(Click for the article)

Excel Pros!  We need a new name!

When I recently visited my former colleagues at Microsoft out in Seattle, we had an interesting discussion about “renaming” the Excel Pro.

I mean, “Excel Pro” is descriptive and all, and it’s fine for us to use amongst ourselves.  But it sure as hell isn’t sexy – not the sort of thing we want to use to market ourselves.  I mean, just say the words “Data Scientist” and you see what I mean.  “Excel Pro” is very much…  lacking, isn’t it?

And it undersells what we can do as Power Pivot Pros.  BIG TIME.

Power Pivot Pros Should “Run” BI

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Compulsive Data Crunching Disease Pt1 (Relevant Even if You Don’t Like Football, I Promise!)

September 5, 2013


This spreadsheet-wielding Scrooge was the logo of my fantasy football team (“Mighty Ebenezer”) circa 2001.  Yes, I had this art custom commissioned for that purpose.
Yes, that is really, REALLY sick.  And simultaneously PURE FREAKING AWESOME.

Let’s start here:  Football Season is Spreadsheet Season.  Yes, even more spreadsheets than usual, even for me.   And football season starts tonight here in the US.  So it’s high time I tell you this story.

Even if you don’t care about American Football, or sports in general, I suspect you may still find the story itself to be interesting.

Deep down, this story is actually about a trait shared by probably everyone reading this.  And there is a TWIST in this story, a BIG one.  So go get another cup of coffee.  I will wait.

Scene:  Rob Collie, 1996-1997.  And Lots of Losing.

My Microsoft Badge Photo – Taken at New Employee Orientation, July 22, 1996My Microsoft Badge Photo – Taken at New Employee Orientation, July 22, 1996

I started at Microsoft in July 1996, fresh out of college.  I was raw, lazy, and unskilled.  I had never really applied myself to anything.  I had a computer science degree but had scrupulously avoided learning how to program.  I got the job largely because I was decent at logic puzzles, which were the MS interview du jour.

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My Power Pivot Journey: Personal > Team > Organizational BI

September 3, 2013

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 www.linkedin.com/in/avichalsingh/

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

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