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:

 

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!

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.

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

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

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.

Rolling Forecast reporting in Excel

In monthly reporting for the current year the most pertinent numbers for closed periods are the actuals, and for open or future months the forecast. In most cubes actual and forecast (or budget) are implemented as either different measures, or as part of a scenario hierarchy. This can lead to challenges in reporting, where putting both the period and the actual/forecast on the same axis means you will get duplicated months which show the forecast for periods when the actuals are already in as in the PivotTable below.

 

 RP10

We would want the report to be asymmetric (i.e. different months returned for Actual and Budget). Various tools can handle that, and it’s always been possible to achieve that in XLCubed through formulae or in a grid. What’s more difficult is to make the report fully dynamic without the need to redesign it each time. Ideally we’d want the user to be able to change a slicer to select the last completed month (or pick this up directly from the cube), and have the appropriate months reported under Actual and Budget.  Here’s how to achieve it in one grid…..

The approach uses a combination of:

  • Excel Ranges to determine the available months, and which are for Actual and Budget
  • An XLCubed Slicer to pick the ‘Last Actuals’
  • One XLCubed grid with the ‘Exclude from display’ pointing to the relevant ranges above

Let’s work through this example which uses the Finance cube on the AdventureWorks DW 2008R2 database.

We’re going to use data from FY 2006 and report Actual and Budget figures across departments.  We will use a slicer to select the last Actual month we want reported.  For the remaining FY 2006 months we will report Budget values.

Entire year of Months in the report

There are several ways to achieve this – we added an XLCubed Excel driven slicer (XLCubed – Slicer – Excel) based on the range $AA$1:$AB$12 as shown below, containing all months in FY 2006. This lets the user pick the last month for which we want to report Actuals.

 

RP1

RP3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The slicer is set to output its selection into $B$1.  In $C$1 the formula =VALUE(B1) converts the text output of the slicer into a number which we’ll use to calculate which months should report Actual and which Budget, see the screenshot below:

RP2

 

 

 

 

Date Table

This is an Excel range supporting the reporting logic. Row 2 contains every month in the reporting year. Row 3 assigns an incremental number to each month, 1-12.

We can then compare the value of the selected month from the slicer ($C$1) with the value for each month. Basically if the month is less than or equal to the selected last actuals month it should be reported as Actuals, otherwise as Budget.  An example formula contained in B4 for Actuals would be: =IF(B3<=$C$1,B2,””) . For the Budget row the formula has the inverse logic.

At this stage we’ve used a little XLCubed, and the flexibility of Excel to match the appropriate months to Actual and Budget. We now need to add the report itself.

We’ll create our grid – initially we set it up to report Budget and Actual figures across the year, by basing the selection for Date.Fiscal on the range containing all months for the year ( $B$2:$M$2).

We then use XLCubed’s right-click menu (Keep – Exclude From Display) to exclude members.  It doesn’t matter which slices are excluded at this point. To do this highlight ‘Actual’, followed by the first available month and then choose Exclude From Display. Repeat this for ‘Budget’ and the first available month.  We will exclude July 2005 for Actuals and August 2005 for Budget.  You will notice the red comment marker on the grid. Right-click on this cell and choose Axis – Edit, and go to the Excluded Slices tab.

RP6 RP7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above screenshots show that we are currently excluding July 2005 from Actual as well as August 2005 from Budget.

We can then easily change the Date Fiscal selection for each scenario.  For Budget we will exclude Budget values for months in cell locations $B$4:$M$4 (as we want to report Actuals for those entries) and Actuals values for the months in cell locations $B$5:$M$5 (as we want to report Budgets for those entries).

RP8

The grid report now looks like this with Actuals being reported up to November 2005 and Budgeted for the remainder of FY 2006:

RP5

We have also set Merge Repeating Cells on (in Grid Properties).  You could do further formatting – for example by colour filling all Budget values and hiding the grid headers.

RP9

The end result is a one grid report giving the Actual:Budget month mix that we want with the monthly maintenance process a case of simply changing a combo box selection.

 

 

Excel Pareto Charts the XLCubed way!

V7.2 of XLCubed is released soon and we thought we’d take the opportunity to run through one of the new features that you’ll be seeing, Pareto Charts.

The Pareto Principle is often referred to as the 80-20 rule, that 80% of outcomes are attributable to 20% of causes. They are named after Vilfredo Pareto who lived in Italy in the 19thcentury and observed that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people.   Pareto charts have both bar charts and a line graph where the bars represent individual values and the line represents the cumulative total.

So how do you use Pareto Charts from XLCubed?  Very simply, within a grid you right-click on the column header to access XLCubed’s right-click menu, Grid Charts and Add Pareto Analysis.

Take this simple grid showing Reseller Sales for Product Model Categories for Canadian cities:

Right-clicking on All Products to Add Pareto Analysis brings up this window:

Click OK to return to the workbook – you will see that we have a chart showing that the top 9 cities provide some 80% of the sales.

You could also include the rolling total and percentage in your Pareto Chart.

Notice that we now also have some extra columns on the grid showing the cumulative total of all sales, the sales percentage per category and the cumulative percentage.

 

 

So that’s Pareto Charts – in a nutshell, an easy to use graphical tool which ties directly into dynamic XLCubed grids.

One slicer, two reports!

So today’s blog is going to show you how easy it is in XLCubed to have a slicer driving a grid and a SQL table at the same time.  There may be occasions when some of the information you require for your report is held not in an analysis services cube but a SQL table.  So you’ve created a grid report with a slicer like below:

 

 

This is a simple report with Geography on headers and Product Model Categories on rows showing Reseller Sales Amount with the Country slicer driving the grid.  The slicer is set to update cell B9 with the slicer choice.

 

So I show this to my manager and he asks for some more detail – he wants to know what type of businesses there are in each country, their names and the number of employees.  That’s when I realise that all of this extra information is not in my cube but on a completely separate SQL table.

Not a problem for XLCubed!  I can quickly create a report that includes all this data from the SQL table.  Using the SQL option within Grids & Tables I can create a report that connects to a relational SQL data source.

Create my connection to my data source – I am selecting the AdventureWorksSDW database:

Let’s build up my SQL query – I’m using the DimReseller and DimGeography tables to return the required fields.

My SQL statement is:

Select DimReseller.BusinessType, DimReseller.ResellerName, DimReseller.NumberEmployees, DimGeography.EnglishCountryRegionName From DimReseller Inner Join DimGeography On DimGeography.GeographyKey = DimReseller.GeographyKey

This is great but it returns data for all the countries and I only want to see data for the country chosen through the slicer.  So let’s add a parameter to our SQL query.

If you look at the corner of the SQL query window you will see the parameters area – with a very helpful tip on adding a named parameter.

 

 

Let’s add the following to the end of our SQL query:

where DimGeography.EnglishCountryRegionName = @parm1

Now we can define where the Excel range is for our parameter – in our example it is cell B9.  You remember that this is the cell that the slicer has been set up to output the slicer choice.

So now when we select a country from our slicer eg United States the grid refreshes as well as the table.

 

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.