PowerPivot to the People

As a Controller at a small to medium-sized business, I struggle with the big BI question:  do I invest in a business intelligence package or do I do it myself?

When I first became aware of PowerPivot, a free Excel add-on that became available with Microsoft Office 2010, I was excited and also a little relieved. While the emergence of PowerPivot didn’t completely solve my dilemma, it sure gave me some significant options for more data accessibility. I didn’t have to depend on my partner or an IT employee with special skills to build me a dataport from NAV, or to piece together an SQL query, or to build a cube I could apply queries to. Because I have PowerPivot, suddenly I can be Super-Controller; accessing tables directly in my NAV database, pulling ginormous amounts of data into a single spreadsheet, and manipulating the data with lightning speed into familiar Excel pivot tables, all without asking for help.  powerpivotcrush

So, when I read in a recent article from MSDynamicsWorld.com that New Office 2013 Licensing May Put PowerPivot, Power View Out of Reach for Some Microsoft Dynamics Users, I was actually pretty alarmed and then pretty upset. How dare Microsoft give us this shiny new Christmas dream and then snatch it away like some kind of horrible data-reneging Grinch!

I went looking for a few more answers about exactly what was going on, and what I found out was that Microsoft has actually taken PowerPivot out of most versions of Office 2013. This is a big deal because it was previously available in all versions of Office 2010, so Microsoft is actually removing functionality. PowerPivot is only available in Office 2013 if you get Office Pro Plus through volume licensing or through Office 365 subscriptions. Basically, this means PowerPivot is not available in any retail Office 2013 packages, so therefore, is only reachable by companies who have enough purchasing power to utilize volume licensing packages. So, a tool that was designed, in my opinion, to give BI power directly to the people by making it simple enough for financial folks to pull their own data, has now been restricted to only business class licensing. If you’re looking for some interesting theories as to why this might be, read Hey, Who Moved My (PowerPivot 2013) Cheese?

Mr. Excel himself (Bill Jelen), the uberist Excel geek of them all, has some great stuff to say about PowerPivot, including “PowerPivot is the best new feature to hit Excel in 20 years” and a few other things here including a great short video explaining why we should care.  I just said in a recent NAVUG Ask the Experts Finance webinar only two weeks ago that as a financial professional who uses NAV, learning to use PowerPivot should be the most important skill finance people should learn in the next year.

Microsoft has missed a huge opportunity to finally settle a score in the BI arena for small to medium businesses by making this move.  There has always been the argument that using Excel spreadsheets is a risky proposition for financial professionals. You can really create some big problems for yourself if you are not careful in how you manage your spreadsheets.  Some companies even go so far as to outlaw them and attempt to go spreadsheet free.  Companies who sell BI packages lean on this pretty hard, trying to remove spreadsheets from the list of available choices.

I say this risk is greatly offset by the benefit of being able to use a tool that can pull, in a safe way, massive amounts of data that can be manipulated by the typical Excel end-user quickly and efficiently.  For me, the benefit PowerPivot brings to my company tips the scale on sinking money into a BI solution, and keeps me firmly in the DIY BI camp, with Excel as my primary tool. Making PowerPivot available in all new versions of Excel seals the deal and makes BI in Excel a revolution of equality, ensuring equilateral Excel adoption in the business world.

I’m glad to see so many people bringing forward a call to action to bring PowerPivot back to all versions of Office, not just Pro Plus and Office365 subscriptions. I’m adding my voice, and will continue to ask Microsoft to bring PowerPivot to the people!

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