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What is PowerPivot?

No single answer addresses this question completely, so I will give you a few different answers, and try to keep each one ultra-brief.

Keep in mind that all of these come from my own firsthand experience over the last five+ years – I am a practitioner of PowerPivot, not a salesperson.  My partners and I at my former company built a very successful business applying it fulltime.  I like to say that I preach what I practice, not the other way around.

***NOTE:  If you’d like a jumpstart on maximizing the benefits of PowerPivot. one that takes a very “commonsense” and visual approach, this book is written specifically for the 30 million heavy users of Excel worldwide and aims to make your adoption/transition smooth and profitable.

1. It’s a Free Extension to Excel 2010 and 2013, Built by Microsoft

Yeah, it’s free, and it’s from Microsoft, as opposed to a third party.  It dramatically extends the powers of “normal” Excel, and more importantly, the powers of people who use it:  people like me, and probably you too if you are reading this.

It snaps right into Excel as if it had been there from the beginning:

PowerPivot is now also included in Excel 2013 – the new “Data Model” features of pivots in 2013 are really just PowerPivot, and the remaining functionality of the PowerPivot addin can be enabled with a single checkbox (under Addins).

2. “The Best Thing to Happen to Excel in 20 Years”

Even though I agree 100%, that’s not my description.  That comes from Mr. Excel himself, Bill Jelen.  He’s said this a number of places, but here he says it on the forums:

Click to See the Rest of His Post

3. A Much More Agile & Cost Effective Approach to Business Intelligence

PowerPivot Offers the Low Startup Cost and Agility of Spreadsheets

Blended with the Robustness and Low Ongoing Cost of “Traditional” BI

For more information on how PowerPivot accomplishes this, see the following three articles in CIMA Insight, the monthly newsletter for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants:

  1. Part One:  Overview of PowerPivot’s Hybrid Approach
  2. Part Two:  A Cost Comparison of a Single Project Implemented Via Traditional Methods, Subsequently Re-Implemented in PowerPivot
  3. Part Three:  Total ROI Analysis and Breakdown of How the Savings Are Achieved

4. Something That Turns Workbooks Into Industrial Strength Apps

Check this out:

PowerPivot Workbook – Click for Larger Version

Slick and interactive.  And very straightforward to produce, using only Excel.  No programming expertise required.

5. An EXTENSION to things you ALREADY KNOW about Excel

It adds a lot of power to Excel, yes, but it doesn’t force Excel pros to learn a million new things.  It’s still PivotTables.  It’s still Excel formulas.  It just adds a number of important new capabilities that Excel pros

will never put down once they have tried them.

On the Left:  A Normal PivotTable.  On the Right:  A PowerPivot PivotTable.

Can You Spot the Difference?  (Click for Larger Version)

6. A Way to handle Massive Volumes of Data in Excel

Normal Excel caps out at 1 Million rows of data per sheet.  PowerPivot goes well beyond that and for most people, you will find it actually HAS no practical limit.

For instance, here’s a workbook I like to demo that has 161 Million rows in a single sheet:

Special Sheet Type Can Hold 161 Million Rows

That workbook, believe it or not, works just fine on my ultralight, 4GB of RAM laptop.

7. A Way to Add ANY Formula to a Pivot, and it Adjusts!

One of the most common desires in pivots:  “I want to write a formula next to the pivot, and have that formula adjust when I add/remove fields.”

That in itself is pretty cool.  But then when I rearrange the pivot, the formula just rearranges with it:

Rearrange the Pivot and the Formula Just Does the Right Thing

8. A Way to Turn Workbooks Into Self-Maintaining Web Applications

That’s a PowerPivot workbook – Saved to the server and then viewed in the browser,

the user of this web application doesn’t even need Excel installed.

I think this article in CIMA says it best, but then again I am biased because I wrote it

Here’s a quote from it:

“There are many benefits of PowerPivot that have to be seen to be appreciated. Of those ‘you have to see it to believe it’ benefits, the one that evokes the most visceral reaction is this:

PowerPivot workbooks are self contained web applications, merely requiring a ‘Save as’ to make them accessible in the browser as interactive solutions.”

That’s right:

  1. Build a workbook. 
  2. Publish it to a secure server with one click. 
  3. Send the link to colleagues and/or partners and customers.
  4. Schedule it to regularly refresh itself with the latest data.  You never have to touch it again, unless you want to improve it.

Wrapping Up

I think that’s enough answers for now.  I encourage you to visit the New to the Site? page, and send me any remaining questions in email.  I am Rob.  At a place called PowerPivotPro.  Dot com.

The PowerPivot Book

If all of the above seems promising to you but also a little daunting, I encourage you not to worry.  ALL of this is very learnable, and you can do so at your own relaxed pace.  For three years I’ve been teaching Excel users all over the world how to use PowerPivot – both in person and on this blog – and I’ve condensed that approach into a very affordable (<$20) and compact book.

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