Workbook Aspects – Same Report, Different View

A common scenario in business reporting is for different users to want reports to open with ‘their’ view on the data. So for a particular Store or business unit.

Many back-ends already support setting Default Members for different users and groups, for example Analysis Services allows this, but as XLCubed can connect to an increasing number of back-ends we can’t rely on this and sometimes a single report user may have different combinations of views on data (for example, a set of store/product group combinations)

Version 9.2 of XLCubed has added Workbook Aspects to help with this, allowing users to store their own slicer selections and quickly switch between those and also to set the default for when the report is loaded.

With this feature you can define the aspects at a report level, shared by all users, and also allow users to define their own private aspects.

Workbook aspects are closely tied with Web Parameters. These are simple to setup in XLCubed and allow a cell or range of cells to be defined as parameters. In this case we need to define 2 parameters “Location” and “Product Type”:

 

Once the web parameters have been defined you can link them to directly to slicers by selecting them as the output range of the slicer:

You can setup workbook aspects to work in 2 ways, a predefined list of aspects and/or the option for the end user to store the “current” view as a new aspect. Additionally the report user can select which aspect is shown when the report first loads.

Once the report is viewed, then there are simple options to let users switch between the aspects, create personal aspects and set the default aspect.

 

It provides a very fast way for users to switch between common data selections, particularly where there are a lot of separate slicers in the overall report.

Aspects are not just limited to slicers, as long as a web parameter has been setup on a range then it can be stored in an aspect, with the use of the XL3SetProperty and XL3Link formula this gives you massive scope for allowing a high-level of report customisation.

 

Data Mashups 101

In an ideal world for report designers, all the data required for a report is available in one data source, and the structure and hierarchies perfectly match the reporting needs. Sadly, the world isn’t always ideal (just ask Theresa May…).

We often see scenarios where users are reporting numerical data from Analysis Services but want to include descriptive or textual information held elsewhere. People have approached this in different ways, but XLCubed’s mashup capability can make it a much more streamlined and maintainable process.

Mashups can be used to build analytic models, but in this simplest, 101 case, they give an easy way to build list type reports across two or more data sources.

Take the example below based on Reseller sales, where the cells in blue are from Analysis Services, and those in green are from SQL Server. The SQL data relates to Reseller Banking details in this case but could be credit history or any other required information. The report is filtered by a slicer allowing users to show only Resellers in the selected country.

The process of setting this up is straightforward. Firstly you’ll need to add a connection to the Analysis Services model, and one to the SQL database. With that done you need to then add a third connection, a ‘Data Mashup’:

On choosing Data Mashup you’ll be asked to select 2 or more connections to use – so choose the two existing connections.

As this is a simple list report, we’ll use an XLCubed Table. When you add the Table and choose the Data Mashup Connection, you’ll be asked to define the 2 queries, and then how they join together. To create the join you’ll need to be able to match on one or more fields, in this case the Reseller Name (yes, a key would be better…).

The query from Analysis Services will be in the form of a Grid, and you’ll need the column you want to join on to be positioned in rows, with the other data elements required on columns. The query from SQL will be a standard SQL query.

The screenshot below shows the Mashup dialog with the two data sources and their query definitions. When you select the second connection you can define the join by selecting the two (or more) joining fields as shown circled in green.

With that done, you’re good to go.

By default, the join is an ‘inner join’ which means only data which exists in both data sets will be returned. This can be changed to a left or right outer join where required.

With the steps above, we have a mashup report, but it’s returning all matching rows – we likely want to add some filters for a specific country or month. Here you can use a Slicer, or an Excel cell as preferred. While the join type is an inner join, the filter can be applied to either of the data sources – it’s normally easiest on the Analysis Services side, which also has the benefit that you can potentially filter by data groupings which do not exist in the SQL source.

To do this, simply add an XLCubed slicer as normal, then go to the Table Design, edit the Analysis Services connection and in the Designer add the slicer to the selection for the required hierarchy.

We’ve seen this approach save users a lot of time and maintenance effort – hopefully it helps streamline your reporting process.

Christmas Dashboard

Ever wondered how Santa Claus keeps track of the North Pole’s toy production all year round? He uses XLCubed of course! Take a look at the dashboard below….

Santa Christmas Dashboard Desktop

There are a few key features of this dashboard:

Charts and Viewports

The areas displaying charts and the grid are brought onto the dashboard using paged viewports. This allows us to create a viewport that displays a chart (which will scale with the size of the screen) and then add a label overlay to give a centred title of fixed size.

The paged viewports also have a white background colour and grey border, to contrast with the dashboard sheet which has a light grey background. This gives the appearance of a card based design.

Map-Driven Grid

In the top left is an XLCubed map that is plotting world countries. Clicking on the map outputs the selection to an Excel cell which filters the grid in the bottom left.

The label above the grid uses an Excel range as part of its text so that the country that has been selected is visible to the user.

Responsive Design

Santa can even view the dashboard on his phone while he is out in his sleigh…

Santa Christmas Dashboard Mobile

Merry Christmas!

Dashboard Designs: Responsive Navigation Bars

Many would believe that Excel is a static environment and not suited for making responsive mobile reports. XLCubed users know better. With XLCubed’s Dashboard Designer, it is possible to create dashboards that are not only interactive and data-connected, but also responsive to fit any device.

If you are new to XLCubed Dashboards, read this article to learn how to get started. For those that have used this feature before, you may be wondering how to make dashboard designs that are both user-friendly and best display your data.

One often needed dashboard feature is the use of a navigation bar. For small devices in particular, it is difficult to portray everything in one screen, so having a system in which users can tab through pages is useful.  With XLCubed, reports are designed in Excel which inherently has tabs. As useful as this may be, for mobile reports this is not the most intuitive. Users expect simple navigation clearly displayed at the top of the page.

Below is an example of a dashboard that uses a responsive navigation bar.

Desktop view:

 

Phone view:

XLCubed dashboard portrait phone

The dashboard uses a paged viewport that displays an Excel range with the navigation design. Each page has a different viewport pointing to a different range so that the current page appears to be highlighted.

The viewport remains responsive to screen size by using the ‘scale to fit’ with ‘lock aspect ratio’ option and setting the background colour of the viewport to be the same as the colour of the navigation bar. This means that if the screen width is longer than navigation bar display range, the viewport colours in the remaining space so it still appears to fill the screen.

For a better fit on a portrait view, the dashboard uses a different design optimised for a narrow screen. Then the ‘phone portrait’ target hides the original nav bar viewport and instead display a new viewport which displays this range.

For a step-by-step tutorial on how to recreate this design, read this article.

Visual Analytics for Excel

One of the biggest improvements in 9.2 is undoubtedly in the area of interactive charting. We’ve hugely extended the capabilities of Small Multiples through a new charting engine which brings rich interactive Visual Analytics to Excel (and web, and mobile…).

The ‘Small Multiple’ concept of many charts with a shared axis is very powerful, but in some cases users just need a single interactive chart and 9.2 caters for both scenarios. We have added zoom controls, sliders and a play axis to help users quickly focus in on and further explore specific areas of interest within the chart.

Zoom controls are available through the chart properties – right-click on anywhere in the chart and select Properties > Animation.

Let’s look at the Animation Zoom options in a bit more detail.

Initially you can select an area to zoom in on directly on the chart, however, you can also use the Zoom mode setting to select either a Slider or a Mini Chart.

Selecting a Slider adds a control to the bottom of the chart:

You can use the slider to narrow the display area, and then slide it across the range of data. This can be particularly useful in comparing relative trends across multiple charts.

Mini charts are another option available within Zoom mode – this shows a smaller version of the chart beneath the x axis and allows you to select an area to focus  in on, while retaining the smaller chart to retain the overall perspective.

File:SmallMultPreview small.gif

A Play control allows the user to see how values change over time.  To enable that open the Task Pane and add the required time hierarchy into the Animate chart by container.

Select the time periods you want to cycle through and click Play on the control beneath the x axis – it’s that easy! You can now step back through the periods one at a time, or replay the sequence as needed.

AnimateBy.gif

We hope you’ve found this blog useful and you’re inspired to visually explore your data with these new features!

As always, we value your feedback and any suggestions on how you would like to see our interactive charting extended further.

How’d you like that….displayed!

Today’s blog will show you a really quick and easy way to format your grid to show different display units.

This approach is ideal for dynamic Grids where the size of the values can vary considerably based on the selected filters, or where the user has drilled down to lower levels in the data. For example, if country level numbers are in hundreds of millions, but customer level numbers are in hundreds or thousands, it can be useful to have the ability to quickly change the display units.

Using this method, you can switch quickly to using different formats.  In our example we want to give the user the option to display the measure Reseller Sales Amount as Units, Thousands or Millions.

You can see we have a slicer to the right of the grid giving the user the choice of how to display the figures.

The slicer is based on an Excel range and is not directly linked to the grid.

A couple of things to note are the ‘Update range’ and ‘Activate XL3Link’ slicer settings are checked but more of that later.

‘Enabling Update Range with selection’ means that the slicer choice is written to a cell in the workbook – in our example it’s cell $M$17 (shown in red in screenshot below) – currently Millions are selected.

The other thing to note from the screenshot above are N13:N15.  These are a series of IF statements like below which will determine how the format sheet is updated:

=IF(M13=$M$17,”*”,”NOT SELECTED”)

As M13 is not equal to M17 the Units  row will be set to ‘NOT SELECTED’.

The row containing the ‘*’ is the format which we want to be applied to the Grid.

We now need to reflect that in the format sheet. This is done by first adding three rows for the relevant hierarchy, and setting the Excel numeric format column G to units on the first row, and then thousands and millions on the other two.

We can then set the ‘Member’ cells in column E as a simple formula referencing the table shown above. For example, the Unit’s member incell E50 in the XLCubedFormats sheet is set as =Sheet1!N13.  The same process is followed for Thousands and Millions.

With the format sheet as shown above, based on the user’s slicer selection, all members will then be displayed with the predefined Millions format as ‘*’ is a wildcard and will match on all the members in the Product Categories hierarchy.

The formatting for Units and Thousands will not be applied – unless of course you have a member in your hierarchy called ‘NOT SELECTED’!

As mentioned previously, our Excel slicer is not directly linked to the grid – we need a way to tell the grid to refresh each time the slicer choice changes.

This is where XLCubed’s ActivateXL3Link and XL3RefreshObjects comes into play.

Let’s look at the XL3ActivateLink first.  As you can see from our slicer screenshot above, our slicer is set to activate the XL3Link statement in cell I7.

I7 is set as =XL3Link(XL3Address($K$7),”Set Refresh”,,XL3Address($I$6),TRUE)

As you can see from the screenshot below it sets the target cell I6 to TRUE.

Cell J6 contains the formula =XL3RefreshSheetObjects(I6, “Sheet1”, TRUE).

As I6 is set to TRUE this forces a refresh of all objects in the sheet when the slicer choice changes.

It’s that simple – so the next time your Sales Team want their sales figures displayed as units but the CEO wants to see them expressed as millions impress them with this method!

No comment? We’ve got plenty to say!

Today’s blog will run through XLCubed’s commentary functionality.

At XLCubed we have seen a lot of customer interest in commentary and collaboration in the last couple of years.

We’re all familiar with the standard comments functionality in Excel where you add a comment to an Excel cell.

However, in a dynamic BI environment it can be limiting.  For example, say I add an Excel comment to cell $C$10, then the comment is tied to that specific cell.  If a user changes a filter selection, the numbers change but the comment does not and may not now be relevant.

This is where XLCubed commentary shines through.

By default, XLCubed comments are tied to a specific value and are made at a cell/datapoint level (or higher).  XLCubed comments are dynamic and tied to the data so if the data moves to a different location in the grid then so does the associated comment.  XLCubed comments are not workbook-specific and allow commentary to be viewed across reports.

So where could you use comments?

Potential use cases could be:

  • To warn of a temporary operational issue – for example, a failed data load
  • An at-source explanation of why a value is higher/lower than expected
  • A discussion thread where users can share insight or raise/answer questions in-context (that’s what our first screenshot shows)

To reassure all our users who might worry about permissions and the ability to see information that should be limited, XLCubed commentary access is controlled at a user/group level from the XLCubed control app.

Also, by default all grids have commentary disabled – you have to go into the grid property and enable comments

Comments for a particular datapoint eg Germany, Bikes, January 2015 can potentially be viewed in all reports that refer to that datapoint (as long as the destination grid is enabled to display comments).

Comments can be viewed and added both in the Excel Client and through the XLCubed Web Portal.

Commentary access is configured in the Web Admin tool below:

The options available are to enter comments, view comments, full control or none.

You also need to enable the grid property to allow comments:

Access comments by using XLCubed’s right-click menu > Comments.  Alternatively, comments are available from the XLCubed Grid ribbon.

XLCubed commentary supports highly-formatted text, which can be set directly in the dialog, or copied from Word.

You can include files attachments and images from an Excel range.  Both of these can be useful if you want to bring something in particular to the attention of other team members.

After adding your comments hovering over the cell will display the comment – just like standard Excel as below:

Selecting XLCubed > Comment will show the comments in an XLCubed dialog:

Comment Frames allow you to have a permanent on-report display of the comments rather than needing to hover over or select the specific cell.

These can be tied to a particular grid or to slicer selections.

The grid below has separate comments for France for January 2015 and June 2015 – the comment frame shows both comments at once:

This screenshot shows me all the comments held for the KPIs grid based on current slicer selections:

As you can see from the comment history, there’s been quite a discussion amongst the team regarding the Margin value for May 2012 for all PoS.

Remember, XLCubed commentary is fully-governed with strict control over who can add and who can view comments.

All in all, XLCubed commentary can help add context to and share insight on the numeric data shown in reporting. It can prevent many users investigating the same ‘known’ issues and provides a forum to help team members understand the data and decide on future steps to make better decisions.

We hope you’ve found this blog helpful.

Here’s a couple of useful links – the first is to the v9.1 commentary tutorial:

This is a link to our YouTube video commentary webinar:

 

Using Slicers for Sheet Navigation

Slicers are normally used to change filter selections in a report, but a less well-known use is for report navigation, to allow users to jump to another location in the workbook.

Here I have a report with several sheets. I would like to hide all the tabs at the bottom upon publishing and just have a page navigation at the top of each sheet.

 To do this, I create a separate sheet containing the names of all the sheets that I want to be able to navigate between. Create an Excel slicer using this range that outputs the selected sheet to another cell.

I can now create an XL3Link that will link to whatever sheet is currently selected in the slicer. It uses an XL3Address that combines the outputted name with “!A1” as its link location argument.

=XL3Link(XL3Address(A8 & “!A1”), “Link”)

So now, changing the slicer and then clicking the link takes me to the selected sheet.

We would like the slicer to take us straight to the relevant sheet, without having to click the link after each selection. To achieve this, go back into editing the slicer and select ‘Activate XL3Link’, choosing the cell containing the link we just created.

Now, whenever the slicer is changed, the link is immediately activated and we are taken to the selected sheet.

I can copy this slicer into each sheet for easy navigation wherever I am in the workbook (right click on the slicer, select ‘Copy’ and then choose the location to copy to). Because each slicer outputs to the same cell, all the slicers stay in sync. I could of course also do this with a workbook slicer so it’s automatically present on each worksheet.

Eat, Sleep, Report, Repeat!

Repeaters are a visualisation feature introduced in v9.1.  They are effective when you want to repeat a formatted section of a report by one variable.  They can save so much time as you don’t have to go through the tedious, error-prone task of recreating the same section many times by copying and pasting manually.  Imagine the time you’d save setting the design up just once and have the repetition handled by XLCubed!

Here’s an example of a repeater:

Our repeater is based on an XLCubed grid, filtered by Geography, with a panel consisting of formulae with XLCubed In-Cell charts and PictureLinks.  Additionally, each panel is conditionally formatted, with the colouring based on ratio of 3-month and 12-month average sales.

The great thing about XLCubed Repeaters is that you can include any XLCubed or Excel content in them!

Let’s see how easy it is to design our repeater – click Visualise > Repeater on the XLCubed ribbon and in the Designer window define the hierarchy to be repeated by dragging it to the Repeater Setup area.  Similarly, you can also set up any additional filters.

Click OK and then set the content of the repeater by setting up the three key ranges:

  • Repeat range – The entire area required to generate the report for one repetition. It needs to include all the source data and formulae used in the area to be displayed – the area within the blue border below
  • Render range – the display area which will be repeated and shown in the final report – the area within red border
  • Input range – the location where the member parameter will be inserted by the repeater, the cell with a green border. This will be used as the selection criteria for XLCubed Grids or formulae within the ‘Repeat Range’.

You can move/resize the repeater, set borders and margins from the Appearance tab.

You can easily include more items in your repeater by moving them in the Render range.

Remember, you can use any Excel content – in the example below we have a standard Excel chart that we want to also include at the top of our repeater:

Drag the chart into the top of your Render Range (resize as necessary) and your chart now appears like this:

It’s as simple as that!  Set up your repeater once and no more worrying that you’ve missed vital bits of information!

For more details see the Repeaters page on our Wiki:  https://help.xlcubed.com/Repeaters

…and a YouTube video which runs through this example:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3hYF8vkz-M

For all you football fans out there, our blog on the Premier League transfer window also has an example highlighting the use of repeaters:  https://blog.xlcubed.com/2017/09/charting-the-premier-league-transfer-window/

As always we would love to hear your feedback!

Making your (Power)Point

Over the last year or so several customers have asked about the ability to export XLCubed reports directly into PowerPoint.  They were doing this manually as part of regular monthly reporting cycles, and wanted to automate what was a fairly tedious process, and to save time. We took these requests on board and are pleased to announce PowerPoint integration as a new feature in v9.1.

Enable this functionality in Workbook Options > PowerPoint settings.

Check the box to ‘Allow save to PowerPoint slideshow’ and add your slide(s).  Each slide consists of an Excel range within the report and you can change the order of your slides by dragging this icon:

You can add as many slides as required. You now simply publish the report and then from within XLCubed Web select the Download PowerPoint icon from the bank of icons on the top right of the screen:

It’s as simple as that!

A default PowerPoint template is included.  This is a standard PowerPoint file with a Master Slide to use when any new slides are created in the export.

If you have company-specific PowerPoint formats you can also set up your own PowerPoint templates, complete with Master slides, in the Repository folder on your Web server:

C:\inetpub\wwwroot\XLCubedWeb\Repository\__xlcubed__\__powerpointtemplates__

There are two types of layouts:

XLCubedNoTitle – for slides that do not require a title.  The slide must contain a ‘content’ placeholder that can be positioned and resized to the layout needed.

XLCubedWithTitle – for slides that need a title.  The slide must contain ‘content’ and ‘text’ placeholders that can be positioned and resized.

Check the Template box in Workbook options > PowerPoint settings to browse to the Repository and select the PowerPoint file to be used.

PowerPoint integration also supports Multi-Sheet web printing.  This is a really simple way to include a number of slides in your PowerPoint presentation.  For example, say we wanted to analyse and compare revenue across a number of sales regions over a period of time.

With this functionality enabled a user would be able to create separate slides showing sales revenue for the each of selected regions over each of the selected periods with the selections being made via slicers at the time the PowerPoint is created.

Multi-Sheet Web printing is enabled through Workbook Options.

There is more information on this here:

https://help.xlcubed.com/Multi-sheet_Web_Printing

PowerPoint is also available as an output option within scheduling, in addition to PDF and Excel.

To see how easy PowerPoint integration is to use, take a look at our YouTube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaQiBs5_R-4&t=62s

As always we would love to hear your feedback!