In writing some carefully laid out instructions for power users to connect PowerPivot to a datasource and then create some useful pivot charts with slicers, I made the mistake of using the windows 7 machine I am developing on rather than the windows XP SP3 SOE that the client business is using.
In spite of what people think about XP, it’s still a corporate standard particularly in organisations where risk-averse IT departments or operations management dominate. Upgrading thousands of users is expensive and certainly unecessary when your business model is working and growing.
On the other hand I suggest that if your business model is declining and you aren’t innovating then part of it may well be due to the limitations inherent in your tool kit.
For example, using Excel 2007 and earlier means you miss out on the awesome (free) PowerPivot add-on that lets you make interactive charts that exec types drool over. When you show them these reports, you’re a hero but there’s that cost of upgrading to Excel 2010 or preferably 2013 which makes it less attractive.
Then there’s the other argument about why use Excel at all when you could be using Google apps or OOO or some other cheaper / FOSS option that does the basic charting. Well the pragmatic answer to that is that in spite of attempts to try, Excel is firmly ingrained in the enterprise and is not going anyway. Yes it costs money but so does all good software. It’s like what people say about facebook, if you’re not paying for the product then you are the product. I’d rather support the paid model as well as give business users a self-service BI tool that they are familiar with.
I’ve said before that I’m skeptical about true self-service BI and I haven’t changed my opinion, but if you swap out self- service for “interactive” then I think it satisfies the business need. Products like Tableau and Yellowfin do this very well, and indeed PowerView. I think IT can get the ball rolling with instructions and training in tools like PowerPivot and then let the power users run with it. We still need to set up OLAP cubes and various other views to the data and that’s the hard part of business intelligence that I don’t think can ever be self service.
Back to the point of this, I’ve not used PowerPivot on windows XP before but in this instance it’s required. I had a test VM set up with the organisation’s standard SOE and had them install Excel 2010, .NET 4.0, Visual Studio tools for Office 2010 (all pre-requisites for PowerPivot) and then PowerPivot itself.
I wrote instructions using PowerPivot on my Windows 7 machine
I went to sit with a user to silently observe them running through my instructions and take notes on any parts of the document I need to improve. This user testing is a central tennet of user-based development and something I learned studying interaction design (elective post-grad subject).
I notice that the PowerPivot window is sans ribbon – the user is looking puzzlingly at the screen trying to match up my instructions with what they are seeing and it all falls apart.
The user was clever enough to work out the equivalent menu options, but I walked away from the testing there and spent a good while trying to determine why the ribbon wasn’t appearing. I came across various blogs saying you need to check your COM addins in Excel and make sure PowerPivot is ticked. They mention various other Addin issues and they mention making sure Office Shared Tools is installed as part of Office 2010. None of these were the issue.
I eventually came across this “The PowerPivot UI in Windows XP” which mentions very subtly at the top of the page that ” In Windows Vista and Windows 7, features are available from the PowerPivot ribbon, which has three tabs: Home, Design, and Linked Tables. Windows XP has the same functionality, but the features are available from a set of menus”
Huh? So the main Excel window has the ribbon but PowerPivot (the new bit!) doesn’t? I can’t believe 5 years after we all complained about how terrible the ribbon is that I’m now complaining that it’s not there, but this is a serious UI consistency issue. At least it was installed correctly and I no longer had to look for a solution.