Just Don't Call Our Minds Simple, OK?

“Don’t you, forget about me.”

-Excel Pros Everywhere

From the beginning I’ve been talking about three different kinds of PowerPivot professionals:  Excel pros, SharePoint pros, and Database pros, and how they will all need to cooperate in order to get the most out of the system.

As far as I can tell, though, the majority of visitors to this site are from the Database camp (I lump Business Intelligence pros into this bucket).  Not surprising perhaps, since PowerPivot is a product of the SQL team at MS, and marketed heavily at conferences that db pros attend.

But for every db pro in an organization, there may be more than 100 Excel pros.  So, I think it’s clear that the PowerPivot message (and messaging) have a long way to go yet (it WAS just released, after all).

John Constant is one of the Excel pros who are “early to the party,” and has been sifting through all of the available PowerPivot materials for many months now, both the official MS stuff and the community offerings.

He raises some very valid points, things that I lose sight of at times.  It’s SO much simpler to grab a sample db from the SQL team and use it for blog examples for instance.  Even the Great Football Project starts with such a data source.

But I firmly believe that an organization’s success with PowerPivot rests in part on very competent training for the Excel pros…  and part of “competent” is “tailored to the Excel pro’s existing knowledge and viewpoints.”  In fact, I’d be out providing that kind of training this month if it weren’t for being very busy, the good kind of busy, applying PowerPivot for Pivotstream’s customers.

Without further preamble, I give you the words of John Constant:

PowerPivot vs the Excel Power user

Many moons ago, I can’t even remember where, I saw a comment…  Microsoft is coming out with a new business intelligence service… code named .. Gemini.  I was intrigued.  I had recently been tasked of coming up with some sort of data table /system  / process / spreadsheet / Excel voodoo to help put our business (and the competition) in perspective.  Hmm… a new tool you say.  So I delved into any links or articles I could find.  I saw the Donald Farmer video of Gemini sorting through millions of rows of video rentals – updating the charts/tables on the fly and .. sigh.. it was like love at first site.  I signed up for the beta at the first opportunity – archaic business software be damned! .  I was fortunate enough back in early fall 2009 to get my initial private beta Office 2010 release.  I was having a field day with the sparklines and the soon to be essential slicers, waiting with baited breath for the initial Gemini release.

The Microsoft talk was great.  It COULD be a standalone product.  It was meant for Excel power users and for IT and Data Administrators and Managers and so much more… but I’ve heard the talk before.  Don’t even get me started on the failings of Mappoint….   But low and behold – Gemini, with a few hiccups worked.  Sure if you linked in or brought in new data, it may corrupt all your work and you would have to start from scratch, but it’s beta.  Silly, silly beta.  It will grow up.  Sure there’s a new language that looks something like native excel formulas and there’s stuff that you take for granted working with Excel pivot data that you can’t do with Gemini… but it’s beta.. silly silly beta. It’s still growing.. be patient.  Help is on the way.  And help arrived.  There’s P3 Adaptive and PowerPivot.com  and Kasper and a host of other dedicated people who truly believe in the product.  And they do things to help build the community like having SQL workshops and handing out lovely diagrams as a prize.

Errr… whoa..  hold on.  Did I mention the initial Microsoft talk?  Did I mention how Power users could use this product to help themselves and their company.  I understand the importance of SQL.  I understand the concept of Cubes; I’ve heard of OLAP (once or twice) but .. did you see that picture?!!  That’s a prize?!  Are you trying to scare away users?!   Let’s go back to Powerpivot.com, the ‘home’ of powerpivot (the grown up name of Gemini).   What’s that first video – the first public introduction of Powerpivot?  It shows a poweruser and PowerPivot for Excel.    Sure, it mentions Sharepoint but the debate continues – who is PowerPivot for? What about the power user?   – the grunts in the field who want to make the most of this product?  I know (reading some postings) there isn’t a large target population, but for some reason I feel like a Who in Whoville.. “We’re here!  We’re Here…. WE’RE HERE!!!!”  And what do I see …  honourable intentions of many esteemed PowerPivot bloggers aimed at….  SQL, OLAP, Business Intelligence users, like speaking to the already converted.

Don’t believe me?  Read your forums, your FAQ’s.  How are the samples set up?  Well you have FactInventory, FactSales, DimDate, DimThis, Dimthat – Dim Witted!   These examples and their structures aren’t what the normal excel user uses – or understands.  I’ve got Sales, I’ve got product, I’ve got territories, I’ve got stuff labeled poorly because they’ve been set up by someone who knew some programming about a decade ago… in other words, I have real word – DIM-LESS – data and structure.  It’s taken a few brick walls but I’ve hit my head enough times that the examples are sinking in but what about all those people that the ‘talk’ is supposed to reach?  Those who really have no experience with SQL or know of Cubes or data structure tables?  What about those people who can’t even consider getting Sharepoint because they are with a small business that doesn’t have the resources (financial or otherwise?).

I know why Microsoft is “selling” PowerPivot. I don’t fault them for that and I know the majority of users will have IT, Data Admin backgrounds, who will be setting up PivotViewers, and templates and services logs- all those lovely bells and whistles and the examples that will cater to those who deal with FactTables and DimData.  And then there were the Excel power users…  seeing a potentially great product aimed at the institutions, the data centres, the IT gods…   sigh…. 

I do not fault the Farmer’s the Collie’s, the Jonge’s, the Russo’s and the many many other dedicated PowerPivot supporters in the world – I thank them for all their hard work.  PowerPivot is a great product with great potential for many people, but just remember the little guy in the equation, the ones that someone deemed somewhere should have access to this power.  Bring it down a level from time to time… walk the walk and talk our talk and remember the Who’s… “we’re here!  We’re HERE… WE’RE HERE!!!”.

Powerpivot user – johncon aka Mongo41 on Twitter