Streamlining writeback with XL3DoWriteback

We were recently asked by one of our customers to help them improve their forecasting process. They had originally been using a solution developed using XLCubed Excel Edition v6.0 and our XL3LookupRW formula. The system had been working, but because of a combination of the intricacy of the data model and the slowness of the cube server when performing a writeback, the process was taking much longer than necessary.

As an example, one of the workbooks that was being used contained nearly 7,000 XL3LookupRW formulae, and another contained over 1,000. Many of these lookups could actually have been replaced by a simple Excel formula, such as a sum or a product of other values, but built as it was, the customer was having to type these values into the cells individually: a tedious, time-consuming and error-prone task.

The process before XL3DoWriteback

In the screenshot above, the price, percentage and production figures would be typed in, then a calculation made to calculate their product (in the white cells). This would then be individually copied and pasted into the corresponding cell in the revenue row.

What the customer wanted was a couple of changes to streamline the process:
* the ability to use Excel formulae in the workbook to obtain the final values – without the subsequent copying of values,
* they wanted to be able to get all the calculations lined up, then submit them all at once – this would make the poor server performance a much less important issue, since instead of having to wait to enter the next value, that period could be usefully spent doing other tasks.

What we offered was a different writeback method, which has been available in its current form since XLCubed v6.5: the XL3DoWriteback formula.

Unlike XL3LookupRW, XL3DoWriteback is geared towards the kind of batch writeback approach that the customer had envisioned. Once set up, Excel formulae can be used to do the actual work of calculating the numbers, and the XL3DoWriteback formulae remain dormant until all the values are ready, then are activated in one transaction.

If this sounds useful for you, here’s how to set it up.

The XL3DoWriteback Formula

In addition to the member list required by the XL3LookupRW formula, the XL3DoWriteback formula requires two extra parameters:

  • PerformWriteback: this parameter tells the formula whether it should be in active writeback mode, or should remain dormant
  • Value: this parameter gives the new value that should be written back to the tuple

Following these two parameters are the connection number, and the hierarchy-member pairs that will be familiar to you from the XL3Lookup and XL3LookupRW formulae.

The PerformWriteback parameter is a bit special. If it refers to a cell that contains only a boolean value of TRUE, then when it has finished sending the value, it will set that cell back to FALSE. This means that periods of writing and non-writing are very easy to define. In order to maximise the power of this, we usually point all the XL3DoWriteback formulae at a single PerformWriteback cell, which we can switch using an XL3Link formula. For example:

A1: =XL3Link(XL3Address($A$1),"Write changes",,XL3Address($B$1),TRUE)
B1: FALSE
C3: 1,000
C4: 0.85
C5: 20,132
C6 =C3*C4*C5
D3: =XL3DoWriteback($B$1,C3,1,"[Account]","[Account].[Production]",
     "[Date]","[Date].[Calendar].[January 2011]")
D4: =XL3DoWriteback($B$1,C4,1,"[Account]","[Account].[Our %age]",
     "[Date]","[Date].[Calendar].[January 2011]")
D5: =XL3DoWriteback($B$1,C5,1,"[Account]","[Account].[Price]",
     "[Date]","[Date].[Calendar].[January 2011]")
D6: =XL3DoWriteback($B$1,C6,1,"[Account]","[Account].[Forecast Revenue]",
     "[Date]","[Date].[Calendar].[January 2011]")

In this example, C3, C4 and C5 are cells containing the raw values. Since we know that the forecast revenue is a product of the production, the percentage and the price per unit, C6 is just the product over those three cells. The four XL3DoWriteback formulae in column D refer to these value cells, but because the value in cell B1 is FALSE, nothing is written back yet.

In cell A1 is a XL3Link formula that, when clicked, will change B1 to TRUE. This immediately signals the XL3DoWriteback formulae that they should gather and write back their values. Once that transaction has been sent to the cube, the XL3DoWritebacks set cell B1 back to FALSE, and the workbook is back to the ready state.

The Setup

To make it as easy and efficient as possible, we used:

  • one section for values. These were a mix of XL3Lookup formulae, typed-in values and standard Excel formulae
  • one section for XL3DoWriteback formulae. We pared away any excess XL3DoWriteback formulae, leaving only those cells that we were sure we wanted to be writeable
  • a single cell with the boolean value, set to FALSE
  • an XL3Link in a highly visible place, to switch the boolean cell. In this case, the cell containing the boolean value was B1:
=XL3Link(XL3Address($A$1),"Write changes",,XL3Address($B$1),TRUE)

The final workbook looked a little like this (except, of course, much larger!):

A section from the finished workbook

The customer would then enter all the necessary values on the left section, using whatever combination of Excel formulae, cube lookups and typed-in values he needed, without any wait between entries. A single click of the XL3Link then wrote the values back in a single batch, leaving the customer to do other jobs.

The revised model allows the user to update entries quickly and efficiently, without any ‘write’ delay. The numbers to be written back can be calculated using Excel formulae as needed based on the raw input numbers. When the input process is done and checked in Excel, everything can be committed to the cube with one button press. The end result – a happy customer, with more time to plan and analyse the budget, rather than just input it.

Further reading

XL3DoWriteback formula reference

Between and Member Searching

Our blog today takes a look at two new features available in v6.5 – Between and Member Searching.

Between

In v6 we give our users  the ability to enter a reporting range for their grid reports by allowing them to enter a  ‘From’ and a ‘To’ range on a hierarchy.

The only thing to remember is that both members have to be at the same level.

So let’s try to put together an example.  Let’s say that we would like to report all data between two dates.

So we edit the hierarchy that should include the range. The hierarchy can also be on the header area of the report as well as on rows or columns.

Under the Advanced tab we click the Clear all icon  

 

before clicking the Member Set icon

 

so that we can enter the From and the To values.

Click OK and our report will show only the members in the range specified.  It’s as simple as that!

Even better for the end-user is the option to enter an Excel range so that they just enter their values into Excel cell locations.

So we’ll run the grid report based on From and To values in $I$3 and $I$4 respectively.

Another great feature of using this option is that we can choose to leave one of the ranges empty.

So if we just enter a value in the Excel cell location for the From date and leave the To date blank the report returns all data from the From date to the latest date available in the hierarchy.

As you can see in the screenshot below we have put FY 2002 in the From range and left the To range empty – so XLCubed returns all data from FY 2002 to latest.

Conversely, leaving the From date blank and entering a value in the To date will return all data from the earliest date available to the To date.  This time XLCubed returns all data until FY 2003.

 

So that’s how you report on a range in XLCubed.

PS Don’t forget both members of your range have to be at the same level in the hierarchy.

 

Member Searching

Another great feature of  v6.5  is the new functionality that allows the user to filter a report by searching for members in a hierarchy.

Let’s show this functionality in action with a simple example.

Our report below shows a simple grid with Geography on rows and Fiscal Years on columns – we’d like to show only those members in the Geography hierarchy (at all levels) that start with B.

 

Click the Advanced tab and then select All Hierarchy Members by clicking:

Click on Member Search and the following window will be displayed:

At this point we have two options:

  • enter a value in the Search Value field – in our example we enter B
  • use Excel range to hold the value that should be used

In our example we are using the value in cell F2 to determine the filtering on our report.

We can determine the ‘search by’ criteria as below – ‘Ends with’, ‘Begins with’, ‘Exact match’ or ‘Contains’:

Additionally, we can choose the ‘Property to search by’:

  • MEMBER_CAPTION (most commonly used)
  • MEMBER_UNIQUE_NAME
  • MEMBER_KEY
  • PARENT_UNIQUE_NAME

As you can see the report now only shows those members of the Geography hierarchy that start with B regardless of their level within the hierarchy.

 

This example is based on an entire hierarchy but it is also possible to do the same for a specific set of members, for example, a level or descendants of a specific member.

We hope this short example has shown you how easy it is to use Between and Member Searching within XLCubed reports.

 

Breakout and Propagate – Oldies but Goodies

We’ve been on-site with various customers in the last few months, it’s always good to see how the product is being used, and we value customer feedback, which often feeds into our development cycle.

With two long-term customers we found that they weren’t aware of two very useful pieces of functionality which have been in the product for many years. In case there are others in the same boat…..

1) Breakout

Breakout is available on the right-click menu of any XLCubed report, grid or formula. It’s a way to understand how the number is split into elements of another hierarchy. On a right-click, you can switch to the breakdown of the number by any other hierarchy in the cube. It’s particularly useful where a reported number seems too high or too low, and needs further investigation. In the example below, we’d like to understand how the June 2004 number for the US is made up in terms of Products. We’ve chosen breakout on the right-click menu, specified the Product Model Categories hierarchy and the level to run the breakout at. The breakout result is shown on the bottom right, and we can quickly see that in June Touring bikes were contributing almost 33% of the US revenues. In this example we’ve also included a sparkline to give a feel for trend over the last 2 years (previous 23 months, plus the current month).

The breakout result is still linked to the report selection criteria, so can be used as a dynamic part of the report ongoing.

 

2) Propagate across Sheets

Propagate across sheets is a way to quickly replicate a report onto additional sheets, where just one variable is changed. Typical-use cases for this are entity-based reporting, where for example there is a standard P&L template across the business, and the user wants to quickly generate a P&L for each legal entity. You can build the report as normal, and then when done, right-click on the selected member for the hierarchy you want to propagate, and choose the elements which you want to create additional sheets for. On the new sheets, the formatting and print layout are identical, with the only change being the selected member on the propagated hierarchy.

This example shows the income statement about to be propagated for the four selected departments.