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Report Flexibility, with Control

Sometimes we want to let report users modify the structure of a report but to govern exactly what they can and can’t do. While Grids can be restricted at a granular level to enable and disable functionality, that approach still requires some degree of product knowledge by the user.

XLCubed provides the XL3SetProperty() formula, which enables manipulation of many of the core objects such as Grids, Slicers and Small Multiples. It means report users can have simple slicer selections to change the structure of a report, what’s being displayed in a chart, or to vary the chart type. It gives flexibility within the report, but requires no product knowledge from the end user which can be crucial when delivering web reports on a widespread basis.

One common example of usage is where the hierarchy to be viewed in a grid needs to change based on the measure a user selects (depending on the structure of the cube some measures may not be applicable for all hierarchies). Typically that would need to be handled in two Grids, but we can use XL3SetProperty to bring this together, and also to give user choice on the associated Small Multiple Chart view.

The final published report is shown below:

 

S1

 

If the user selects an “Internet” measure, we show Customer Geography on rows, whereas a “Reseller” measure should show Reseller Type on rows. The same logic applies to the Small Multiple chart. In the screenshot below, the user has selected Reseller Gross Profit as the measure, and ‘Stacked Column’ as the chart type. You can see that the hierarchy on rows has been switched, as has the split within the individual charts, allowing the user to easily vary their view of the data with simple button selectors.

 

S2

 

This is implemented through the following key points:

  • A lookup table in Excel to determine what hierarchy is applicable for each measure
  • An Excel list showing the available chart types – this is used in the Chart Type slicer
    • The chart slicer outputs its selection into cell $AG$10
  • The measure slicer is linked directly to the grid and the small multiple, but also outputs its selection to an Excel cell ($A$B4)
  • A vlookup determines which hierarchy to use based on the selected measure
  • Three XL3SetProperty() formulae now control what is displayed based on user selections:
    • $AB$7 – sets the grid rows
    • $AB$8 – sets the small multiple columns
    • $AB$7 – sets the chart type

 

Formulae

 

The approach gives a deep level of access to the key XLCubed reporting objects, and enables controlled flexibility within web and mobile-delivered reports. No programming is needed, just a mid-level understanding of Excel itself, and XLCubed.

This is just one example of what the approach can achieve – it’s really limited only by imagination. See XL3SetProperty() for more detail, or contact us if you’d like the example workbook.

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Categories: Blog, Charts, Reporting, Uncategorized, Visualization.

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Cell-Linked Decomposition view

In displaying the key and often high level information required, many reports raise lots of additional questions in terms of why a specific number is ‘too high’ or ‘too low’, or how the number is comprised. XLCubed provides lots of ways for power users to further explore and visualise this, but in this blog we’ll take a look at one of the simplest and easiest to implement within a report – a cell-linked decomposition view, or a dynamic breakout.

The scenario below is a fairly straightforward Regional Sales report which will be deployed to management through XLCubed Web. When users click on a sales number for a specific region and month we want to provide them with a ranking to show the top 10 products which were contributing to that revenue. We provide a number of ways to achieve that but this is by far the simplest:

Select any of the values returned in the Grid and then either use the ‘Breakout’ option on the Grid Ribbon, or right click and choose XLCubed – Breakout Value. You now specify where to position the resulting breakout, which hierarchy to decompose the number by, at what level, and how many ranked items to show.

BODialog

 

In this example we’ve chosen the top 10 Products at the SubCategory level. The result is shown below. The green cell in the original grid is the cell the user has selected and is ‘tracked’, so when another cell in the grid is selected the breakout updates accordingly, meaning users can easily explore the makeup of their data.

 

BO Result1

 

The breakout result can be further decomposed by running another breakout, this time on the product subcategory. In the published example below we’ve run an additional breakout showing the top ranked products in the selected subcategory.

WebBO

 

The report user can now simply click on the values which are of interest to see the associated product sales breakdown, and it’s something which can be built in minutes by the report designer.

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Finding a needle in a haystack – Member Searching made easy!

Searching for specific elements of large hierarchies can be a real pain in many Analysis Services client tools, and we often hear of it as a major frustration in Pivot Tables where dialogs can be cumbersome and prone to locking up.

XLCubed has both a Quicksearch and an Advanced search in the Member Selector, but in this blog we’ll show how to link the search dynamically to an Excel cell (or a web entry cell on a published report) and to retain the search as a dynamic part of the report rather than a point in time selection.

Let’s say we are a retailer with a large product hierarchy running to tens or hundreds of thousands of products. The naming convention means groups of products can be searched by a partial match on their name, and as a report designer we’d like the users to be able to type the search in as quickly and easily as possible rather than go into a custom search dialog. Here’s how:

Below is the final result in Excel, a simple list-report where the user just types the text they want to search the hierarchy for, and matching products are shown on the rows of the report.

Search1

 

We start with a regular grid, putting Product Categories on rows, and then in the Member Selector we can either select a specific level or set of data to be searched, or go to the Advanced tab and select the whole hierarchy as shown below.

EditHierarchy

 

 

In the advanced dialog, click on the binoculars:

Binoculars

 

to add a search, and then in the dialog below you can either type a search term directly in the ‘Search Value’ or reference an Excel cell, in this case $C$3. ‘Search By’ allows you to specify exact match, begins, contains etc.

Search2

 

At this point it’s worth mentioning that while in this case we are just searching by the name of the product (MEMBER_CAPTION) we could also chose to search by any member properties which exist.

So having done that we simply type the search string into $C$3 and we get the matching products straight away – couldn’t be easier.

To make this available for web deployed reports there are two additional steps:

  • Make $C$3 available for web input. To do that right click on the cell and choose Format cells, and then on the protection tab uncheck ‘locked’.
  • Add a search or refresh hyperlink or button so that the web user can refresh the report when they’ve typed the search term. This can be handled using either XL3Link() or XL3Picturelink and the process is described in our previous blog.

The web version is shown below:

Websearch

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Click & Submit!

We’ve had a few queries recently where customers want to provide web reports with a number of slicer choices, and to have the report refresh just once when all selections are made, rather than the default refresh after each selection. It can be achieved in a couple of ways in XLCubed, read on for more…

The key to this approach work is the ‘Wait for Submit on Web’ option on the slicer properties, shown below on the Behaviour tab of the slicer designer:

sub1

This means when the slicer is changed it does not refresh the report straight away, and if you set this on multiple slicers users can then press the ‘submit changes’ button on the toolbar shown below after they’ve made their selections.

sub2

 

Alternatively, and to make it more obvious for web users you can have them click on some text or an image in the report itself to call the refresh, as in the examples below.

I’ve created a simple report below with five different slicers.  Note the “Refresh“ to the right, created using XL3Link().

sub3

 

The XL3Link statement is available from the Insert Formula menu on the XLCubed ribbon:

 

sub4

 

It’s most often used to move the focus to another area of the report while passing parameters to enabled linked-analysis in a multi-sheet report. However, here we can use it to call a refresh.

We can leave the “Link to” parameter blank, and also the Target and Value cells. The last parameter, LinkType calls SubmitChanges on the web, so the syntax will look like below (you will need to update the XL3Link statement to include this parameter):

=XL3Link(,”Refresh”,3)

There is more guidance on the general use of XL3Link on our Wiki at: http://www.xlcubed.com/help/XL3Link

So when we publish our report to our web server we can change the slicer choices as required but it’s only when we click the Refresh button that the report is refreshed.

sub5

 

If we’d prefer to display an image for the user to click on rather than text we can use XL3PictureLink in a similar way.  When using XL3PictureLink we can display any picture – we’ve used a generic refresh icon but it could easily be a more corporate-applicable image:

sub6

XL3PictureLInk is also available from the Insert Formula menu on the XLCubed ribbon:

sub7

Browse in the window above to locate the Picture file to insert and remember to check the Perform a Submit Changes on Web box.

There is more guidance on XL3PictureLink on our Wiki at: http://www.xlcubed.com/help/Picture_Links

This is the published report using XL3PictureLink, the user makes the required selections and clicks refresh.sub8

 

So it’s as easy as that – two ways to ensure that your users can change multiple slicers on web-published reports before calling the refresh, and without you having to direct them to the standard submit changes on web button.

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Bump Charts in XLCubed

So today’s blog is about adding Bump Charts in Excel using v8 XLCubed.

Initially a Bump Chart looks the same as a line chart – the difference is they plot the rank position rather than the actual value.

Let’s imagine that I sell a product in a marketplace with 10 other competitors. I may like to see how the rank position of my product and the competition changes over time to check if I’m gaining or losing market position. It’s a common scenario in pharma, where we have a good customer base.

You will usually want dates on the category axis so the trends are shown across time. The series then holds the items to be compared, in this case the products.

BBC1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our example has been set up with Measures on Headers, Product Categories on Series and Date Calendar on Categories.  For more information on using Small Multiples in XLCubed please visit Small Multiple Charts.

The currently selected measure is Reseller Order Quantities (selected though the Measures slicer)

BBC2

 

 

 

 

for the eleven months prior to April 2008 (selected through the Date slicer)

 

BBC3

 

 

 

for a subset of products.

Looking at the bump chart you can see that I’ve selected Road Bikes and Mountain Bikes for easy comparison.  You can quickly see that the rank position for Road Bikes dropped quite dramatically from May 2007, picked up again in September before dropping again in November and rising in December through to February 2008.  The change for Mountain Bikes, on the other hand, was less dramatic, rising and falling slightly, steadying in February 2008 before dropping again the following month.

To create a bump chart just select Line – Bump as the Chart Type on your Small Multiple chart. The neat part is that all the rankings are worked out for you behind the scenes, without the need for lots of complex Excel gymnastics trying to work through the full result set month by month.

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Workbook slicers – all for one and one for all!

So this is our second blog on the new features of XLCubed v8 – today we’re going to run through workbook slicers.

Workbook slicers allow the user to create the slicers at the workbook level so that they can be displayed for any/all sheets.

There’s a slicer pane which can be arranged horizontally or vertically and stays in place when you navigate to another sheet.  This means that if you have a multi-sheet workbook you only need to define one set of slicers.  These can then configured to be shown or hidden for individual sheets as required.

Turn the slicer pane on by selecting Workbook slicers from the XLCubed ribbon, Slicers tab:

 

ws1

Within the slicer pane there’s an Add Slicer button – this brings up the standard design form for adding slicers.

The Edit layout button brings up the window below.  It allows you to configure the order in which slicers will appear on the pane, which sheets they will be visible on and the padding between individual slicers.  You can also set a background fill colour from here.

ws2

The screenshot above shows that the Date.Calendar slicer is available on a number of sheets.  Selecting a slicer choice on one sheet will refresh the other sheets where the slicer is also available:

ws7

Once added, you link workbook slicers to your report in the same way as embedded slicers.  You can link directly to grids and other XLCubed objects and output their selection to Excel cell locations for use by formulae.

Their positioning on the web is fixed but if you find the slicers are taking up too much screen space you can make your slicer selections and then use this icon to toggle the Slicer Pane off:

ws4

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Excel heat maps made easy!

With the recent release of version 8 we’re going to blog about a number of the new features, starting with how to create a heat map in Excel.

Here’s a fairly large table showing sales for thirty six products across twenty six US states:

 v8B1

There’s a lot of data here but it’s not giving us any helpful information as the table is too large to see any pattern or comparison.

A heat map could be a useful way to give a quick visual picture of the spread of the sales volume. Let’s add a simple heat map, new in version 8 of XLCubed.

Select the data area in the table, and then from the XLCubed ribbon select the InCell-Chart group, and heat map:

v8B2

 

As we have already selected the data area to be charted this prompt is already showing the correct cell locations.

Choose the formula destination (where the formula controlling the chart will be located), and the Chart destination (where the top left cell in the chart area will be located).

We can now define the look of the heat map in the Chart Format dialog:

v8B3

 

 

We have set the low and high colours to define a blue colour gradient.

Outlying values could potentially skew the chart so you have the option to exclude these by setting minimum and maximum values.  Select the icon to use, squares in our case, and the number of steps or bands to split the range of values into.

We have pre-arranged the Excel cell sizes to be squares, and this is the resulting heat map:

v8B4

 

You can now quickly assimilate the spread of values in a glance, and note the higher sales volumes in Maine, Michigan and Missouri for Road, Touring and Mountain Bikes.

To alter the formatting of the chart simply double click on any one of the squares in the heat map, or on the chart formula to bring up the formatting dialog.

If you are not already a user of XLCubed you can get started with an evaluation of XLCubed by going to our registration page.

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Some Excel BI myths debunked – #6: Excel based BI can’t handle report sharing and distribution

Here we continue our theme on the myths which get propagated about Excel based BI. The next argument is that Excel BI cannot handle widespread report sharing and distribution. Base case we actually agree with this one, and that’s why we invested in developing XLCubed Web Edition specifically to address it.

Understandably, sharing an Excel workbook around hundreds or thousands of users is not something which many companies will consider. A web based distribution approach is much lighter and easier to manage. The drawback is that most web based report design environments lack the flexibility and latent user skill base of Excel. XLCubed provides a simple way to push data-connected reports developed in Excel to a portal based environment, where report consumers don’t require any software installed locally, other than a browser. The reports can also be accessed interactively through our native mobile apps for Apple, Android and Windows phone 8.

XLCubed Web is self-sufficient and does not require SharePoint. For customers with SharePoint and keen to retain it as a centralised environment – no problem, XLCubed Web can integrate so tightly within SharePoint the end users won’t even know it’s there.

Excel based users can become web and mobile report designers in minutes. XLCubed uses Excel as a key part of the BI solution rather than as the entire BI solution, and it’s that which allows us to address the sharing problem, along with the other myths we have identified in this blog series.

 from any version of Excel:

ipxl

…to web…

ipwb

…to mobile.

ipip

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Categories: Analytics, BI, Charts, Dashboard, Excel Tricks, Reporting, Sparklines, Table Design, UI Design, Uncategorized, Visualization.

Custom drill paths for Analysis Services reporting

Any business report will answer a predefined set of questions, but it will often give rise to many additional queries and chains of thought as the user wants to explore any oddities or anomalies in more depth.

As a report designer you want to provide flexibility in your reports. You may want to create a customised drill down behaviour which you know is how the report users naturally think of the data. Similarly giving users the ability to ‘drill across’ into other hierarchies is a great way of providing chain of thought interactivity, but the sheer complexity and number of hierarchies in many corporate cubes these days means a vanilla ‘drill across’ may be problematic. In the hands of users relatively unfamiliar with the data model drill across can be a shortcut to a support ticket:

  • What is the difference between hierarchy ‘a’ & hierarchy ‘b’?
  • What is hierarchy ‘c’?
  • When I drill across into hierarchy ‘d’ it hangs?
    • that’ll be the 8 million skus in the attribute hierarchy you’ve picked…

We recently worked closely with a customer to implement a solution in XLCubed v7.6 for exactly these types of issue. Many thanks to Thomas Zeutschler at Henkel AG for the inspiration!

Flex Report extends a concept which Henkel had developed in-house to deliver report level flexibility of the drill path, while retaining control over what the user can do. Non-technical report developers can easily define the drilling behaviour for a report (for example from Country -> Promotion -> Product Category), and also to provide controlled ‘Drill Across’ options where the users have a choice of 5 or 6 meaningful levels to drill into, rather than the 200 which may exist in the cube. The difference in usability can be stark, as in the example below.

ExpandTo

The end result is report consumers with guided and controlled flexibility in data exploration. This type of reporting can be delivered from a potentially broad group of business users who have the flexibility to develop sophisticated reporting applications without the need to go back to IT each time they want to create a slightly modified drill path. We are finding that both the deliverable reports and the report development process itself resonates with many businesses. Take a look at this video for an introduction: Flex Reporting

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Some Excel BI myths debunked – #5 Real-time data exploration

#5: Lack of Real-time data exploration

The argument is often made that Excel is too inflexible to answer spur of the moment questions quickly and effectively. The scenario given is that you’re in a meeting with your Excel workbook, and someone asks a related question not currently accounted for. How embarrassing to have to look at your back up folder of printed Excel workbooks… Really? It may escape the attention of some, but Excel is actually an electronic product too so as a first point you wouldn’t need to dust off an enormous binder of printed reports.

That aside, the overall argument has some merit in specific cases. If Excel is acting as both the datastore and the presentation tool you have a problem. If the data you need isn’t in the workbook, you’re bang out of luck.

There are two key requirements to address the issue in Excel. Firstly the data needs to be stored outside the workbook; in the case of XLCubed that’s in AS cubes or tabular models. This means when the data isn’t currently visible in the workbook it can still easily be queried and brought into play.

Secondly, while it’s a huge step having the data in a cube, that in itself isn’t enough. You need to be able to get it out quickly, easily and flexibly and to display it as information rather than just data. There are significant limitations with pivot tables when used to report on a cube and XLCubed addresses these while adding a lot more capability on top. The additional data you need to answer the question is readily available, and you have tools to do something meaningful with it using slice and dice tabular reporting, interactive charting and straightforward user calculations.

So when someone asks the question in meeting, you can explore it interactively and on the spot. And in Excel.

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