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!

Formatting Tables in v7

We’ve had some great feedback from our Newsletter announcing the release of v7.  A number of users have asked how we created the example in the Newsletter:

So,  today we’re going to show you how to achieve some of the formatting that is now available when using SQL tables in v7.

Let’s create a SQL table from Grids & Tables tab.  You’ll see the Create connection window:

Click Connect and you will see the databases you have access to….we’ll create our query based on Bicycle Sales and the fctData view.


Our SQL query returns the following data which is great but clearly is not that easy to read.

Let’s format this table.  We’ll get rid of any borders currently set on the workbook by going to the format sheet and using Format Cells on the default cell format cell as below:


Back to the table, right-click and refresh table.


Now for the actual formatting of the table. Let’s format entries in the first column cPOS. Right-click on Car and Bike Stores, right-click and select Format Column and let’s set the font to be bold, size 12 with a double border on both top and bottom.

Now the second column cProduct. Again right-click Format Column and set the top border to be double, bottom border thick and the font italic.


We now go to Properties tab and on Appearance tab set Sections as below:

Check the box ‘Use columns as sections’, the column count is 2 in our example and Display style is set as ‘Sections in separate rows’.

We’ll also hide the first row of the workbook showing the table column headings.
The report now looks like the screenshot below which is much easier to read.


Number Formats

One of the main reasons we use Excel is to analyse and display our data, for either our own consumption, or to show to others. In both cases, we want our data to be easily readable, and any important patterns to be immediately obvious.

We use colours, borders and other formatting to highlight important characteristics of our data, and to de-emphasize those features that should stay in the background (see  The Dashboard Squint Test for more). In just the same way, we can use number formats to highlight numbers that are unusual in some way, decrease the focus on uninteresting numbers, or to remove excess detail. Here we recap the essentials of numeric formatting in Excel.

The basics

To apply or change a number format, select the cell or range that needs to be altered, then either:

  • make basic changes (add or remove decimal places, use percentages and so on) using the Number button group on the Home tab (in Excel 2007 and newer),
  • make more advanced changes by right-clicking on the range and selecting the Format Cells option,
  • if you prefer keyboard shortcuts, you can show the format cells dialog by using the Ctrl+1 keyboard shortcut.

From the dialog, you can select some common and very useful formats, including:

  • Number: this allows you to customise the number of decimal places and whether to show thousand separators
  • Date and Time: for formatting dates and times, allowing a variety of shorter and longer options
  • Percentage: format the numbers as percentages, with the desired number of decimal places
  • Custom: allows you to specify your own custom formats (see below)

Simple custom formats

We’ll first go through some simple examples, including some of the standard formats mentioned above, so that in the next section we can build up more complex ones. To enter these formats, follow the steps listed above, then select Custom from the list on the left of the dialog.

  • To show a custom number of decimal places using a number format, write the number you want to show using zeros, for example 0.00 to show your number using 2 decimal places
  • To include digits only if they exist, use a # sign instead of the zero. For example, to only include the part of the number before the decimal if greater than 1 (or less than -1), use #.00
  • To include a thousands separator in the number, use #,###. We use the # symbol to avoid forcing Excel to display unnecessary zeros
  • To format numbers as percentages, just place a % after the format. For example, using the 0.0% format will cause 0.2534 to display as 25.3%
  • To give the numbers a colour, put the name of the colour in square brackets before the format, like this: [Red]0.0

More advanced formats

The formats that we have used so far only use one format for all numbers. In fact, Excel lets us specify four formats: one for positive numbers and one format for negative numbers, one for zeros and one for text – all in one cell. To do this, we use the semicolon to separate the different formats. For example, to format only negative numbers as blue, we can use 0.0;[Blue]-0.0;; In this example, because we have left the other sections blank, zeros will appear as empty cells on the worksheet.

If we combine the pieces of information from the last paragraph, we can find another useful format. Any cells with the ;;; format applied will hide any data in the cell. This can be useful if you want a formula in a particular cell, but don’t want to hide an entire row or column for it.

Another common case is where you have large numbers, but don’t need to see all the digits. In this case, it can be useful to just emphasize the important part of the number, by using this format: 0, This format will round to the nearest thousand, and remove the excess zeros. You can extend this to millions by using another comma, and it’s even possible to include an indicator that the number is shortened like this: 0,,”M”

There are many more special formats available, including changing the boundaries between the semicolons and date and time formats. Have a look at the further reading, below, for more information.

Number formats in XLCubed

XLCubed, being tightly integrated with Excel, allows you to specify number formats in two ways.

  1. For XLCubed value formulas, for example XL3Lookup and XL3ValueRankLookup, the number format of the containing cell can be modified in the way described above. In the same way as any normal Excel-based formula, the format is preserved when the value changes due to changes in your data.
  2. For XLCubed Grids, apply the format as above, then use the right-click menu, and choose Apply Format to Data. This asks XLCubed to maintain the format on the entire slice of your data. More detailed instructions can be found here.

Table of reference


Further reading