Category Archives: 14950

Self Service Is Cheap?

As I am sure that you are all aware, PowerPivot is the best thing to hit Excel since PED. Although I am not a big data cruncher, I have been playing with PowerPivot; to keep abreast of an important technology; it plays into one of my primary interests of Business Intelligence; and partly to seek out further opportunities.

Although I have been scouring the blogs and dedicated websites, I do like to have a book as a reference point, and so I was very pleased to get a review copy of PowerPivot for the Data Analyst: Microsoft Excel 2010, by Bill Jelen.

Bill Jelen is well known in the Excel community; he is the founder of MrExcel which is probably the most active Excel forum on the web; and is a prolific author and Excel presenter. It is good having an Excel PowerPivot book from someone whose primary focus is Excel, too many (including MS) see Excel as a presentation layer for SQL Server and SharePoint, and fail to acknowledge Excel’s capability and potential. Bill is unlikely to make that mistake.

Bill has a flowing writing style, and reading the book it is easy to imagine him at the front of a room giving one of his Excel presentations. Having access to Rob Collie, who has worked for Microsoft in this technology, was a lucky break for Bill, someone who could check his facts and feed him other ideas.

The book isn’t quite up to its subject in my view. It looks as though it was rushed to market to ride the launch hype, and suffers for that, with errors and what I see as less than relevant content; this feels like padding to me. There are basic typographical errors (the worst is when a trick to get month names to list in month name order is attributed to Colin Banfield, but his name is incorrectly spelt).

Too much of the content appears as if it has been lifted from some of Bill’s many other books. Much of the book is spent on ancillary topics in my view; there is more on standard pivot table usage than is required, such as the PivotTable trick that has impressed some. I have known the trick for some years, and whilst I acknowledge that it is a good trick, I have never found a use for it other than demonstrating it in conferences and training sessions, but most importantly, I cannot see the relevance to this book.

There is a section on basic DAX functions which covers 30 pages. Whilst these functions might be available within DAX, they are the same as the Excel functions and really did not need covering in depth here. I would have preferred more on DAX usage. There is a chapter on DAX measures, which is a good start, but after saying that a whole book could be written about Time Intelligence functions, we get a mere 10 pages. DAX is a real key feature that boosts PowerPivot, and can make them so much more powerful than standard PivotTables.

PowerPivot for the Data Analyst: Microsoft Excel 2010 is very easy to read, and whilst Bill is clearly a PowerPivot fan, he is not blind to some of its foibles and failures, and presents a good section on the pros and cons of PowerPivot.

Overall, as I mentioned, this book looks and feels rushed to me. Although it is quite a good start, I would not recommend it to anyone other than a novice Excel/PowerPivot user. It may be useful for someone that needs to gain a basic understanding of PowerPivot, but I feel there must be a better book out there, or on the production line. I notice that Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari have recently released an Excel PowerPivot book, perhaps they would like to send me a copy to review?.

One other comment, not aimed specifically at this book, but at this market generally. In an age where we are all using GUI based software, and colour is used extensively within applications to help navigation and usage, publishers should not be printing the pictures in black and white, effectiveness is lost by the lack of colour.