2011 Dashboard Competition

A slight departure from the normal blogging to let everyone know about the latest developments in XLCubed and to talk about a new dashboard competition with the chance to win an iPad 2!

Dashboard Design Competition

XLCubed are sponsoring Dashboard Insight’s first dashboard design contest. The competition is based on a provided data set, and we’d encourage as many as can to enter.

We believe that XLCubed offers a class-leading dashboard development environment, with fine grained control over chart and table sizing, and we’re looking forward to seeing some great dashboards. Take a look at some of our previous winners¬†for inspiration.

Don’t forget that this blog also contains lots of helpful information that should help you come up with a great dashboard design.

We’ll provide entrants with the sample data set in a local cube format to fully exploit the strengths of XLCubed. Entry is open to customers and non-customers alike, and your dashboard skills can win you a shiny new iPad 2. Good luck if you choose to enter.

 

XLCubed v6.5

Version 6.5 is due for release in early October. Originally scheduled as 6.2, we decided it contains so much over the current version that it deserved a bigger billing. New for 6.5 are:

 

  • iPad / iPhone app – XLCubed web reports have always worked on smartphones and tablets. However our app brings an intuitive iPad optimised user experience to report navigation and selection.

  • Mapping – Integrated point and shape based mapping in Excel and on the web.
  • Scheduling – email delivery of XLCubed web reports by pdf or Excel. Schedules can be controlled by period, or by data exception.
  • Sharepoint WebPart – customers have been using XLCubed Web reports in SharePoint for a number of years, but we now introduce a dedicated WebPart to make the process simpler and provide greater flexibility and depth of integration.
  • Away from the headline items there are a number of significant smaller enhancements which make 6.5 another big step forward for us. We’re looking forward to bringing it to market. For an early test drive, contact us along with your specific area of interest at support@xlcubed.com.

Lastly we’d like to welcome Cardinal Solutions Group to our partner program. Cardinal operate in North Carolina and Ohio and are one of a select few Microsoft Managed Partners in the U.S. East and Central Regions. We look forward to working together with new and existing customers.

Scheduling Reports with XLCubed

With version 6.2, XLCubed introduces a new feature that we’ve had enquiries about for a while now: the ability to send scheduled reports to email recipients. In this post we’ll go over the basics of how it works and why you might want it.

The Scenario

As report designers and publishers, it’s our job to share our findings with others. In some cases, we have the opportunity to present the information in person at company meetings, and in other cases, just publishing a data-driven dashboard, table or report to XLCubed Web Edition allows our audience to examine the data at their leisure.

In many cases, however, we’d like to provide our consumers with a report on a regular basis. This might be a week end sales report, or perhaps one showing a breakdown of new issues versus issues resolved during the month. By automatically sending an email containing the report, we no longer have to worry about missing that important information.

In some situations we don’t want to have a regular report, but we do want to know when some performance measure is unexpectedly high or low. Under these circumstances it can even be distracting to be updated too frequently: it would be much better to only be notified when the measure is in the unusual condition.

Both of these scenarios are catered for by XLCubed’s new scheduling feature.

Setting up the Report

As always, the report design step is carried out in Excel. For scheduled reports, there are a couple of additional considerations when designing your report.

As with normal reports, scheduled reports can use web parameters. These are enhanced for scheduled reports, allowing you to place items such as the current time, user or role on the report. This means that the report can use those variables to allow a customised view of the data.

In addition to this, when setting up the schedule you can specify one of the web parameters to be a trigger: the report will only be sent if the value in the parameter cell is TRUE.

Scheduling Basics

Since different scenarios require different schedules, XLCubed makes it easy to control exactly what is sent and when. When setting up a schedule, there will be a few things to choose.

Firstly, each schedule contains one or more reports to send. Each report can be sent as a static Excel file or as an Acrobat document (.PDF), and can be given any parameters that were defined when publishing it. In addition to arbitrary text, there are some special codes that can be inserted as parameters:

CodeDescription
%date%Inserts the current date
%time%Inserts the current time
%datetime%Inserts the current date and time
%rolename%Inserts the database role or roles that are being used
%groupname%Inserts the name of the distribution group
%email%Inserts the email address of the recipient
%username%Inserts the username of the recipient
%displayname%Inserts the display name of the recipient
%sendiftrue%Triggers sending of the report

The last of these codes is special. Instead of inserting anything into the report, XLCubed examines the parameter’s cell and sends the report only if the value is TRUE. This means that not only can you create a trigger based on your data, but you can create complex logic based on multiple criteria in Excel.

Secondly, each schedule is set to run at particular times on particular days. As you would expect, XLCubed provides a framework that allows you to fulfil a wide range of different requirements, whether you need to run your reports every day, every other week, or even only on the 29th of February.

Lastly, each schedule of course lets you choose who to send the reports to.

Report Distribution

XLCubed allows two different ways to set up the recipients for a report. The first is ideal for where the report needs to be sent to just one or two people. Just type in the email addresses and it’s ready to go.

The alternative is slightly more complex to set up, but once set up, it’s easy to make new reports with the same recipients. To use this, you set up a Distribution Group, composed of any number of people. To make it easy to set up the reports as needed, each Group is assigned a Database Role to use and a Locale to format its numbers and dates. One or more Distribution Groups are assigned to each Distribution List, so that your scheduled report can be sent to more than one group at once:

Distribution Lists and Groups schematic

To illustrate this with an example, imagine that there was a particular report that you needed to send to managers in the USA, China and Germany. Since the formatting and roles would be different for each group of managers, you would need a setup something like this:

Distribution Lists and Groups example

Solve order shenanigans

Today I’m going to blog about a problem we recently solved in a client’s cube, an error in the Mdx script that’s very easy to make if you aren’t careful.

We’ll run a simple example in AdventureWorks (what else?) to demonstrate the issue.

The client had already added a calculation to their cube to show year-on-year growth. The formula is:

Create Member CurrentCube.[Measures].[Delta to PrevYear] as
(
    ([Measures].[Internet Sales Amount])
    -
    ([Measures].[Internet Sales Amount],
        ParallelPeriod(
            [Date].[Calendar].[Calendar Year],
            1,
            [Date].[Calendar].CurrentMember
        )
    )
)
/
    ([Measures].[Internet Sales Amount],
        ParallelPeriod(
            [Date].[Calendar].[Calendar Year],
            1,
            [Date].[Calendar].CurrentMember
        )
    )
, Format_String = "0.00%";

(some error checking removed for clarity)

This screenshot shows a couple of simple XLCubed Grids showing the real value, and below the percentage change. I have added in an Excel calculation to show the results are as expected.

Later during the cube development, the client added a calculated member in their Product dimension, one that gives a total excluding one of the product categories.

To replicate this I’ll add a calculation for “All Ex Bikes”:

Create Member 
CurrentCube.[Product].[Product Model Categories].[All Products].[All Ex Bikes]
as
(
    ([Product].[Product Model Categories].[All Products])
    -
    ([Product].[Product Model Categories].[Category].&[1])
);

And if we run the report again we get the following.

Notice the cell I’ve highlighted. The “All Ex Bikes” calculation works fine on the normal measure, but it gives totally the wrong number for the percentage calculation. What’s going on?

The problem is that in the cell highlighted Analysis Services has two calculations to think about when working out the result.

  • Compare this year to last year
  • Get the “Grand Total”, and subtract “Bikes”

As the number returned is 1.85% we can see that Analysis Services has chosen the second option, “Grand Total” – “Bikes”.

What we really want is for the calculation to be done by getting the subtotal, and then doing the percentage change based on that.

Fortunately the fix was a simple one. Analysis Services will run the calculations in the order they are found in the Mdx Script, so to fix the issue we simply moved the new “All Ex Bikes” definition up above the percentage calculation.

Now the number returned matches our expectations.

Pass/Solve Order can be a complex topic, so you may need to be careful.

In this case the number is totally wrong, so it was easy to spot, but some bugs will be much more subtle, so watch out!