Swiss Customer Event

Last week we held a very successful XLCubed user event in the Starling Conference Centre, Geneva with our partner Evolusys. These events are a great opportunity to engage with our key customers first hand to get their thoughts and feedback and also to share ideas for future development. Thanks to all who attended, it was a productive and enjoyable day

The message which shone through was that what our customers value most about XLCubed is the flexibility. The mix of Excel itself extended with a focused BI client gives a degree of flexibility that other tools just don’t come close to.  “There is always a way” was a phrase mentioned by several of the attendees, and great to hear from our perspective.

We used part of the day as the first public preview of Version 9, and we were delighted by the feedback. Extending the reach of the product to additional data sources like SQL, Power BI and Excel was extremely popular and the slick ‘panel view’ dashboards and responsive UI really resonated. We now ‘just’ need to finish development over the summer and look forward to bringing v9 to market!

Keep watching this space for more info on v9…

XLCubed en Français, dans Lausanne!

XLCubed is now available in French, and we’re pleased to sponsor the Swiss BI Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland on Tuesday 12th March. We look forward to meeting with customers and attendees on the day.

The addition of French brings the supported languages in XLCubed to six in total: English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. If a localised version would help in your market, we’re happy to discuss in more detail.

XLCubed celebrates its 10th anniversary!

It’s hard to believe that it’s now 10 years since we opened for business at XLCubed, and to celebrate we are running a 10th Anniversary competition, with the prize being a shiny new iPad. As a company, we have a constant stream of ideas, but one reason we’ve been successful is that we are genuinely keen to understand how our customers use the products, and to listen to their views.

The competition is very simple, we want your suggestion for one piece of functionality you’d like to see added into the product. Maybe it’s something you’ve wanted for years, or maybe it’s just popped up. It can be anything from the smallest tweak, to a whole new area. The winner gets two prizes – the iPad, and their idea added into the product. Email your idea to myidea@xlcubed.com.

 

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.

Microsoft Gold Partner Renewal, & resulting questions answered

We’ve just completed the process of renewing our Gold partner status with Microsoft. Among other things, this ensures we have early access to upcoming software through the CTP and beta programs, as has been the case with office 2010 over the last year.

The Gold level now has a requirement for completion of an independently run Customer Satisfaction survey, and thanks very much to everyone who completed this. The scoring and comments are much appreciated, and it was good to see the consistently high scores. We’re of course reviewing the areas where we didn’t score perfectly as we strive to further improve the service we offer.

The survey also highlighted a number of questions which appeared a few times:

1) Relational Database support

Our prime focus is on cube based reporting and analytics, but we do also support querying of relational databases in both Excel and on the Web, and have a number of customers using the product purely for relational reporting.

We extend the native Microsoft functionality in excel, and add support for this in the Web product. The connection string and query string can both be formula driven so you can construct parameter driven reports with ease.

– Search for ‘relational database access’ in the help file for an overview.

2) Writeback & Planning applications

XLCubed supports both grid and formula based writeback against Analysis Services, in Excel and on the Web. As such it lends itself well to planning and budgeting applications, and it’s an arena in which we have a lot of experience, from the straightforward through to the highly complex.

3) Documentation and User Guides

Documentation is now online and regularly being updated, you can access it here: http://www.xlcubed.com/help

4) YouTube videos

We had two streams of comment here, broadly summarised as:

a) They’re really useful – thanks!

b) Youtube access is blocked by our corporate internet policy!

If your access is blocked, you can download the videos as mp4 from

http://www.xlcubed.com/downloads/xlcubedv6_youtube.zip

PowerPivot, SQL R2, Sharepoint 2010, Office 2010.

So we’ve been using PowerPivot for a while now, and Office 2010 has been part of our lives for some time. I’ll use this blog to answer some of the questions that keep cropping up in conversation with our customers:

1. Does XLCubed work with Excel (Office 14) 2010?

a. Yes, we’ve been using it since the first CTP release and each release since then.

2. Can I use XLCubed Web with SharePoint 2010?

a. Yes, publishing to the web and embedding the reports within your SharePoint site works in exactly the same way as with previous versions.

3. Does XLCubed connect to PowerPivot?

a. Yes, XLCubed connects to the PowerPivot published cubes, and our client tools can be used to build reports and dashboards from them.

4. Can I build reports from SQL Server R2 using XLCubed?

a. Yes this will work just fine, just as you can build reports from previous version of SQL or other relational sources. (here is an example)

PowerPivot in the real world

The services team have been working on migrating some of our internal models and sample databases across to a PowerPivot environment – looking at the pros and cons, using DAX rather than MDX to perform some calculations. Results have been varied, its been interesting to see some features that we’ve had for a while (like cube formulas, slicers and web parameters) appear in a similar way in PowerPivot.

Quite clearly PowerPivot isn’t the be all and end all or anything like a replacement for Analysis Services, but it certainly has a role for tactical solutions, some power user analysis, and we think likely also for RAD prototypes of larger scale AS implementations. It doesn’t venture into the gap left by PerformancePoint Planning (as many thought it would in early 2009) – we’ve moved to address this area with the XLCubed PM suite that uses in memory OLAP cubes and/or Analysis Services.

Trying out some of the tools

Here’s a few download sets for you to try, take careful note of the hardware spec and requirements for the MS ones though:

The 2010 Information Worker Virtual machine

Register and Download Office 2010

PowerPivot 32Bit, 64Bit

XLCubed Evaluation

If you would like to evaluate against your own data – contact the XLCubed Product team for evaluation editions or if you want to try a no risk proof of concept or prototype contact the XLCubed consulting team.

Microsoft Business Intelligence roundup

There have been a few key announcements in the Microsoft BI world recently, we’ve gathered them up and summarised below in case our readership have missed any of the key announcements.

SQL Server 2008 R2 – (CTP Summer 09)

“SQL Server 2008 R2 expands on the value delivered in SQL Server 2008 by providing a wealth of new features and capabilities that can benefit your entire organization. This release will further improve IT Efficiency with new and enhanced management capabilities and empower business users to access, integrate, analyze and share information using business intelligence tools they already know.” Read more here.

So what does this mean for you? In R2 there will be a number of new features from Gemini to Master Data Services, support for more than 64 processors to extended functionality in the Management Studio. We’re all looking forward to Gemini and the potential that has to offer – rest assured the XLCubed development team are working closely to ensure that the product is compatible straight out of the box. If you have any questions contact support@xlcubed.com

Service Pack 1 for SQL Server 2008 Available  (April 09)

Microsoft announced the release of SP1 for SQL Server 2008 earlier this month, for many this marks the psychological point at which they’ll take interest in and investigate the product in depth. With a large uptake of the product already in the market place and the fastest OLAP engine we’ve seen from Microsoft, there is now no excuse not to evaluate upgrading or migrating to SQL Server.

Contact our services team for more information or how we can help you with SQL Server 2008.

SQL Server 2008 SP1

Service Pack 1 for SQL Server 2008 is now available for customers. The Service pack is available via download here and is primarily a roll-up of cumulative updates 1 to 3, quick fix engineering updates and minor fixes made in response to requests reported through the SQL Server community. While there are no new features in this service pack, customers running SQL Server 2008 should download and install SP1 to take advantage of the fixes which increase supportability and stability of SQL Server 2008.

Customers have no reason to wait to upgrade to SQL Server 2008 and many are already taking advantage of SQL Server 2008 as a smart IT investment. In fact, there have been over 3 million downloads of SQL Server 2008 since the RTM in August. With this Service pack, Microsoft is introducing 80% fewer changes to customer configurations compared to previous SQL Server Service Pack releases. This remarkable decrease is a testament to a revised product development process and updated servicing strategy that is focused on ease of deployment while keeping customer environments stable.

Microsoft BI Conference moves bi-annual

The MS BI conference last held in October 2008 in Seattle, WA has now been changed to an bi-annual event, citing  global economic constraints to travel budgets worldwide, Microsoft are moving the BI conference to a bi-annual event, with the next conference scheduled in Seattle on October, 2010. The next BI Conference scheduled for October 2009 will be moved to October 2010 in Seattle, WA, and all further BI Conferences will be held every second year on an ongoing basis. Content till then will be covered at the SQL Pass Summit, TDWI and SharePoint conferences.

If you were looking forward to seeing the XLCubed product team at the BI Conference this year, don’t worry you can still contact them at xlsales@xlcubed.com

SQL Server Fast Track Data Warehouse (Feb 09)

Microsoft announced SQL Server® Fast Track Data Warehouse, a new set of Reference Architectures for SQL Server 2008 that enables customers to accelerate their Data Warehouse deployments and reduce cost.  In addition, customers can further jump start their Data Warehouse design with new industry solution templates provided by System Integrators – Avanade, Hitachi Consulting, Cognizant and HP.

Seven new Reference Architectures with storage capacities from 4 to 32 TB were unveiled in partnership with HP, Dell and Bull.  Developed and tested by Microsoft, these architectures use balanced hardware optimized for Data Warehousing.  As a result customers will get

  • Better price performance than competitive solutions.  Fast Track Data Warehouse offers similar performance to the competition at 1/5th the price
  • Faster time to value and lower cost to setup and configure
  • Better performance out of box through pre-tested hardware. 

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Customers can also choose the right Fast Track Data Warehouse with the right performance, storage capacity and pricing to suit their business needs.   Unlike Appliance Vendors with proprietary solutions, the new reference configurations use industry standard hardware from Dell, HP and Bull giving flexibility and cost savings to customers.

Fast Track Data Warehouse is available from today: customers will buy their SQL Server 2008 licenses through their preferred Microsoft Partner and the hardware from Dell, HP or Bull. If you’re looking to implement a data warehouse, contact the services team to see we can help.

Demise of Performance Point Planning (Jan 09)

It’s been a few months now since the announcement by Microsoft of the demise of Performance Point Planning, and the rebranding of the Monitoring and Analytics elements as PerformancePoint Services. This was an announcement back in January (09) that caught many by surprise, however for us its provided a useful segue into the new XLCubed Planning application. Many customers were waiting to see what was coming next, when PerformancePoint would be ready to compete with the likes of existing players with proven planning technology (i.e. in memory OLAP) and the  tempting announcements around Gemini certainly added confusion. Now looking back at the conversations we had in Seattle and Microsoft presentations perhaps the announcement isn’t as big a surprise as it felt at the time.

As above our long term commitment to an Excel front ended planning application continues, the demise of PerformancePoint Planning has simply increased the market for us and in many ways freed clients from the constraints of using purely Microsoft technology. Augmenting the Microsoft toolkit and providing our clients with the functionality they need to build effective planning, budgeting and forecasting applications remains at the forefront of our product set and services.

If you want to know more about our products and services (consulting team) just send an email to services@xlcubed.com and someone in your region and market sector will get back to you straight away.

Augmenting the MS BI Stack

Here at XLCubed we’re often asked how the product sits in relation to the Microsoft Business Intelligence tools.
The answer is that we add to and augment the features and functionality that Microsoft has to offer. Excel is a fantastically powerful and flexible spreadsheet engine and this is exactly what it should be used for. However all too often, Excel is used as a database. With linked spreadsheets, and huge data extracts.

XLCubed have a number of products designed to take advantage of the functionality available with Microsoft Business Intelligence tools, these include XLCubed Excel edition, MicroCharts, and XLCubed

2009 Excel Dashboard Competition

We are pleased to announce the 2009 Excel Dashboard Competition:

The Competition

Like last year, the competition is for real world solutions, we are not providing a sample data set, and we’re looking forward to seeing some great examples of reports, charts and dashboards.

The dashboards are judged on the clarity and effectiveness of their design, particularly

  • Clean and clear organization
  • Effective table and chart design
  • A single-screen display, properly designed for the web, screen or print outs

We’ll also consider technical aspects of the dashboard, did it use effective  techniques for

  • The Dashboard layout
  • Data management, data logic and calculation : YTD figures, variances, etc….
  • Dashboard delivery: Sharing the dashboard via PDF, the web or as an Excel Workbook

There will be prizes for the top 3 entries, with the winner having first choice of prize from:

The Rules
We’ve kept the rules simple:

  • The solution must be in Excel 2000 or more recent, and not require additional software other than Excel and Chart Tamer , MicroCharts and XLCubed.
  • Entries can use any combination of tables, Excel charts,  bullet graphs and MicroCharts (sparklines). Each have their strengths and role to play in an effective dashboard
  • We will publish the top 3 dashboards on our website, so please ensure this is not problematic for any of your submissions.
  • Please change names and data as appropriate in the dashboards to protect the innocent.
  • Final Entries by 19 July 2009, Judges decision final!

     

 

XLCubed Video Library

We have begun to compile a series of videos to help all users of our products. We will keep adding instructional videos on a regular basis, though if you are a current customer and there is a particular element you would like to see let us know at support@xlcubed.com These videos provide a highlighted quick introduction to the possibilities and functionality, to fully explore and understand the capabilities of the product set contact the team to arrange an evaluation or comprehensive training course.

XLCubed Videos:

Video 1 – Getting started with XLCubed In this video we show how to get started with XLCubed, creating a connection to you analysis cube and building a sample report.

Video 2 – XLCubed Grid Navigation in this video we show how to navigate around an XLCubed grid in Excel and utilise some more of the functions.

Video 3 – Introduction to formula reporting with XLCubed Excel edition in this video we show how to use the formula mode in XLCubed to query an analysis services cube.

Video 4 – Publishing a dashboard to the web using XLCubed in this video we show you how you can publish your XLCubed report/dashboard to the web using XLCubed web edition.

Video 5 – Ad-hoc reporting using XLCubed Web using the XLCubed web edition we demonstrate ad-hoc reporting against an analysis services cube in a thin client web browser.

Video 6 – XLCubed user defined calculations This report shows how you can use XLCubed Excel edition to create user defined calculations.

Video 7 – Extending an XLCubed report with Excel functionality The first brief introduction to extending an XLCubed report using Excel functionality. In this video we show how you can drive a report from an Excel range.

Video 8 – XLCubed Relational database support The first video using XLCubed to connect to a relational database, querying the dataset using SQL.

Video 9 – XLCubed Report Templates How to use XLCubed templates to provide a starting point for end users.

Video 10 – coming soon, using parameters in a URL to drive an XLCubed report

Video 11 – coming soon, visual grids – XLCubed grids with integrated MicroCharts

Channel: http://www.youtube.com/xlcubed

MicroCharts Videos:

Video MC1 – Introduction to MicroCharts – Sparklines An introduction to creating Sparklines with MicroCharts for Excel, in cell charts for your Excel spreadsheet or dashboard.

Video MC2 – Bullet Graphs in Information Dashboards  An overview of Bullet Graphs, and how to build them using MicroCharts in Excel

XLCubed V5

Yesterday we released version 5 of XLCubed. V5 offers continued enhancements across the product set including a completely new web interface, embedded pdf printing, and further extension of our interactive ‘Visual Grids’ to include all MicroChart chart types.

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Version 5 is joined by a new Website which now includes a series of ‘how do I’ youtube videos, available on the individual product pages or at the XLCubed youtube channel. The content will be expanded across additional areas in the coming months, and we hope will become a key resource for customers and evaluators alike.