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PowerPivot: Is MS allocating enough resources to make it a "slam dunk" winner in the BI market?

    Debate general

  • I am a relatively new user of PowerPivot. I am a biologist by training, with training in epidemiology and statistics as well, but am not a programmer or a BI analyst.  I have been involved in developing several successful data management systems, starting some 20 or more years ago, that would be classified as fairly simple BI efforts.  The earliest one involved hiring outside database programmers, subsequent ones involved using a combination of Lotus at first, then Excel, Access, Alpha5, supplemented with some custom programming.  My involvement thus far with PowerPivot has been to feed it mostly with data tables that are either imported from Access or are fairly large tables of lab results available as CSV files. The applications are for the agriservice industry, for small businesses with ~100 employees or less.

    I am excited by what I see with PowerPivot. It certainly makes data assessment much more within reach of those of us who are not primarily data analysts or MIS professionals. I find, however, that sometimes it seems that despite the resources MS would seem to be able to apply to development of a this tool with apparent great potential in what is apparently a rapidly burgeoning industry, the product seems like it must be allocated only limited resources by MS. I say that for a couple of reasons.

    First, while it is usable by non-programmers or non-specialists, it is not as easy as it should be. I say that with full appreciation for the fact that every software has a learning curve. Nonetheless, the documentation and help are really poor. I have been spoiled perhaps, by my previous use of a statistics program called Stata, which has outstanding help files which are clickable on the screen, and then within the help files there are hotlinks to a GREAT documentation set.  This is a marked contrast to the MS products I use, where the documentation is sparse if it can be found at all, and one quickly learns that it is easier to get help with syntax or a "how do I..." type question by doing a web search than by using the built in help.Try looking up the DAX function STDEV.S and finding an explanation there of how to apply filters with its use, for example.

    Second, it seems that for all the potential power, it is taking a long time to get PowerPivot fully functional in the public's hands. I posted a question on this list recently about how to use STDEV and RANKX on subsets of data in a table. I got some helpful responses, and have been able to implement them, but it seems to me that the need for me to raise questions about two such fairly basic functions reveals a lack of resource commitment by MS to this product. In the first place, these are newly implemented functions for PP. Seems that alone is a bit of an indictment, because these are the kind of functions that serious analysis use regularly - doesn't make sense to me why they are only now being added to the tool box, unless MS just hasn't allocated the manpower and resources to get PP in a position to jump out the gate fully enabled with a fairly complete set of features that A) will almost certainly be required by analysts, and B) are implemented such that their use by end users is facilitated. In my response to the people who responded to my post I explained why I thought the implementation of these two functions to subsets in a table was poorly facilitated in the program.

    Finally, it seems that there is an explosion of software tools out there that are enabling BI by non BI/MIS specialists. While PP seems a remarkable addition to my toolbox, I am also looking at some other similar options such as Tableau. I am looking because while I think PP is a great new addition, my limited exposure to some of the alternative software suggests that MS is not making equivalent efforts with PP  to facilitate the users work. Yes PP will get a lot of the job done, but I suspect that there are alternative programs that facilitate the experience more than PP.  I wonder sometimes, if the MS developers ever take days and go visit users, and just sit there and watch them work. It would be a useful experience for them, as I think they might get some insight into how their new tool is working for end users.  I note that on the forum there are approximately 1000 threads, with about 60% having answered questions, and 40% remaining unanswered. If I was MS, that would concern me. Presumably most of the people who find their way to this forum are potentially heavier users and more advanced users than the general user who picks up PP. If in what I suspect is a somewhat advanced audience there is 40% unanswered questions, and if  the software makes one jump through convoluted syntax to apply a simple statistical function as my query recently described, it would not seem to bode well for a slam dunk for winning the lions share of the market.

    That would be unfortunate. PP seems like a great addition to the BI toolbox. It deserves, and I think would return in kind, a high priority for resources aimed at making it complete and facilitating its use. I appreciate the efforts in bringing this new tool to us users, but I strongly encourage MS to really commit enough resources to it to make it a slam dunk winner. The evidence for that kind of commitment to the ongoing development of this product seems questionable to me.


    Buzz Burhans

    miércoles, 02 de mayo de 2012 22:22

Todas las respuestas

  • The bottom line is that Microsoft cannot force users to learn to use the tools they supply to their full potential. However, I also believe that their corporate culture is such that promoting, teaching or providing help is quite low on their priority list. It appears to me that PowerPivot is viewed internally by Microsoft the same way that Excel is viewed, as an user tool and not as a development platform. This begs the question of why make something so complex (and so fabulously good) and then support it as a fancy toy. Excel developers have had to live with this reality ever since the old xlm macro language was introduced. However, Microsoft never "facilitated its use" by providing an interface between corporate IT and (to use the current paradiym) those "self-service" application developers. Now, as you have frustratingly pointed out, PowerPivot may be destined to go down the same path. I hope not, and I will continue to help those that want to reach THEIR potential, regardless of whether PowerPivot does the same.

    BTW, Microsoft is eliminating their Twitter tag for PowerPivot, just another example of what you are talking about.

    David Hager

    Excel FMVP

    jueves, 03 de mayo de 2012 1:09