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Tableau Versus Excel.  Not Tableau versus Power Pivot.  That is telling, ye?

This Picture is a Hint.  An Admittedly Annoying Hint That Hounds me on Facebook.

“OK, way to make it super-obvious, Rob.  It’s Tableau, right?”

Actually, no.  It’s not Tableau.  And the Tableau advertisement above basically proves my point.

By far, the biggest “competitor” to Power Pivot is…  Excel itself. 

In other words, lack of awareness that Power Pivot even EXISTS is still the biggest “competitor” to Power Pivot today.

The Tableau marketing department is smart.  They know that “normal” Excel is their chief competitor.  And they know that “normal” Excel has some frustrating weaknesses when it comes to data analysis.

So they go right for the throat.  I salute and admire their savvy.  Which brings me to a movie quote.


When Your Competitors Market Like This, What Does it Tell You?


“but they had the strength…the strength…to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men marketers, our troubles here would be over very quickly.”

-Colonel Brando Kurtz, cultivating BI revolution in the jungle


OK, check out the ad that you get when you click through from Facebook (or wherever):

Tableau Versus Excel.  Not Tableau versus Power Pivot.  That is telling, ye?

In a Word:  Ballsy.  This is Genius.  Infuriating Genius, but Genius.

Oh, what are the five things, you ask?

Tableau claims to fix all of these weaknesses in Excel.  So does Power Pivot.

OK.  Power Pivot is great at 2-4, better than Excel at #1, and
Power View/Map handles #5 in 2013.  But Most People Don’t Know That Yet.

Is this going to become a “Power Pivot versus Tableau” article?

Or a comparison, perhaps, of Power Pivot and Power BI versus Tableau?

No, absolutely not.  But I’m glad you asked, since questions like that tend to be good SEO – you know, driving traffic to the cause when people search on that phrase Winking smile

Let’s get back to the main point here, which consists of two key observations/conclusions.

#1:  Power Pivot Could Basically Be Marketed the Same Way

You could basically take those ads, replace “Excel” with “Excel plus Power Pivot,” “Modern Excel from Microsoft,” or something similar, and re-run them as Power Pivot ads.  They are basically talking about the same cost-curve that I outlined in one of my posts on CIMA:

Tradeoffs Between Traditional BI and "Traditional" Excel

This Diagram Explains How “Normal” Excel as BI “Breaks Down” Over Time,
and How Traditional BI Kills You Up Front

(Click Image for the Full Article)

Tradeoffs Between Traditional BI and "Traditional" Excel - Power Pivot Blends the Strengths

The God-Honest Truth:  Power Pivot Truly DOES Blend the Strengths
(and Negate the Weaknesses) of Traditional BI and Normal Excel.
(I Know.  Bold claims like this rarely turn out to be True, but this one time, it does.)

Continuing that vibe, one of the most popular all-time posts on this site explains “why Excel sucks,” and how Power Pivot fixes that:

Ways in Which Excel "Sucks," and how Power Pivot Fixes Them

One of the Most Popular All-Time Posts Explains How Power Pivot Fixes All of These.
(Click for the post, which also contains a link to the slides)

OK, yeah, you’d have to go a little easier on some of the language (you can’t use the word “lousy” and “Excel” in the same sentence), but you get the point.

Oh, and then you’d run the ads on Facebook perhaps.  You know, reach the people directly.

#2:  Power Pivot is not “out there” yet.

Without exception, every single time I teach Power Pivot to an Excel person, they ask me:

   THEM: “when was this released?”
   ME:  “almost four years ago.”
   THEM:  “NO EFFING WAY.  How could something so amazing stay so quiet for so long???”

Seriously, that happens to me every week.  100% chance.  And they are almost offended, like someone deliberately kept it from them.

Because of this fact, companies like Tableau – who are indeed competitors to Power Pivot – don’t really view Power Pivot as an obstacle to Tableau getting new customers.  They know their biggest competitor is still just Excel itself.

This is 100% fixable.  Maybe not overnight, but in six months a major dent could be made.  Microsoft just needs to, you know, get started.  I was recently told that flossing one tooth every day changes the world.  Bingo.

My Five-Year Mission…


…I’d Like to Thank Paint.NET for Many Years of Image Manipulation

Anyway, it’s good to have a mission in life, and the gap in MS marketing sure is a meaty mission.

So this website, the user groups, the book, even PowerPivotPro University – all are part of said mission.  Yes, some of those things ALSO earn me a living, and it’s nice that “the mission” and “the career” can overlap like this for sure.

I know where this all ends, the only question is how soon do we get there.  If you are reading this, you, personally, are well on your way.  Google Analytics tells me that there will be about 40k of you dropping by this month.  Phenomenal to have you here!

But we still have many, many brothers and sisters lost out there in the cosmos.  Let’s go find them.

Rob Collie

One of the original engineering leaders behind Power BI and Power Pivot during his 14-year career at Microsoft, Rob Collie founded a consulting company in 2013 that is 100% devoted to “the new way forward” made possible by Power BI and its related technologies. Since 2013, PowerPivotPro has rapidly grown to become the leading firm in the industry, pioneering an agile, results-first methodology never before seen in the Business Intelligence space. A sought-after public speaker and author of the #1-selling Power BI book, Rob and his team would like to help you revolutionize your business and your career.

This Post Has 66 Comments
    1. Wow, I didn’t even mean YOU reminded me of the skit, just what we were saying about brothers and sisters in the cosmos. But then, I see the bow tie!

      Eerie 🙂

  1. Oh Rob,

    The biggest competitor to Power Pivot, or any data analysis tool, is not Excel. It’s nothing.

    By “nothing”, I mean total inaction. Failure to recognize that there is any need for analysis. Or failure to act if the issue is recognized. Imagine how our business would boom if that situation changed!

    1. True dat. Gut instinct, guesses, and “we’ve always done it that way” are the leading analytic tools.

      THEN Excel.

      1. Let’s agree that “nothing” is Excel’s greatest competitor. My question is: how much mileage can we get from that fact?

        “Nothing” is a competitor to a lot of things. If you’re selling snow boots, you’re competing against “nothing” when someone goes out in the snow in their gym shoes or, they never get around to buying boots.

        It becomes a different mission when you go from challenging a tangible competitor, and go after the


        You go from consulting and building solutions, and go into holding workshops and teaching.

        I think we even have to look at FOR WHOM is Tableau an Excel competitor. It’s for those who have the $999 AND have the labor available to learn it and use it.

        I can count ONE client in the past 5 years who’s even considered Tableau. They did get it and threw that fish back in the lake when they realized their office was too small to deal with an additional technology with data in yet on more place that had to be managed.

        In that case, they had the $999. However, Tableau’s competitor was “the 5 of us have better things to do than learn Tableau and manage data in all these different places. We’ve got Excel and we can make it work.”

        Finally, I agree with Rob’s overall point: the 800-lb gorilla is doing a poor job of articulating how useful it is.

        And, to Meta’s point, I do agree that “nothing” is the greatest competitor here. That’s why I love teaching, enlightening and empowering. It does change a business for the better when folks start doing analysis and doing it effectively.

        1. Oz,

          You probably deal more with “nothing” as a competitor even more than most of us. I know how hard it is to make headway in that situation, so my kudos to you.

          I’m sure that you’re right about most of your clients never considering Tableau, or any other product, as an alternative to Excel. I have my doubts about attributing that to the price of competing software, though. After all, your clients could have Power Pivot free. The could also use R, Knime, or any of a variety of other tools that are available free of charge. Nor are they all unable to pay. If the same businesses needed a car, a computer, or some other capital investment, they would find a way to make that happen.

          1. Thanks, Meta. Yes! I do deal a lot with “nothing.” I also confront, “I’ll just fiddle around and see if I can figure it out on my own.”

            No. Price isn’t the only factor. There are plenty of factors.

            1. “This is the wrong time for the upheaval of an upgrade or the addition of something new.”
            2. One client is ready to upgrade from 2007 now he’s perplexed about which of the million packages Microsoft offers. Meanwhile, he’s using a dashboard I built and put in ExcelWebApp.
            3. “I tried something else and never got it to work.”
            4. As you point out, there’s seeing the value. They’ll pay $999 for car repairs or website upgrades. So, you’re right to point out that the client isn’t destitute. for some, technology is a mysterious hole to put money into.

    2. From my experience, the “nothing” is actually that few people need all the gadgets they think they need. People like my work and what I mostly do is just remove stuff. Now I dont work as BI-person, I’m but a humble business controller (This blog did however inspire me to switch jobs so in a few months im joining the BI-gang.).

      IMO the problem with todays solutions is that consultants and tech-people sell all this fluff that we really don’t need. This happens because managers make bad decisions. And when they get caught they blame technology. Its the classic go to excuse. “We don’t have a good enough whatever-system. So I don’t have the information I need to make good decisions.”. But a ferrari won’t make you a better driver, most likely a ferrari in the hands of a bad driver will kill someone. And all the gauges and big data just creates more problems. But hey! I just spent 10000$$$$££££ on this system, it must be good right? *sarcasm* How can something that is free (ie excel/PowerPivot) be any good? *more sarcasm*.

      Tufte, Few and others started presenting data with the grand idea that simplicity is almost a virtue. The DuPont model was (and still is) very popular because its elegant simplicity still gives great ability to identify problems in the company.

      Really there has been a trend that we need metrics and we need lots of data which made the BI-scene explode. Now we have the data and we don’t know what to do. So the next step is BI-consultants making cool graphs and maps and stuff. And it looks good… but it doesn’t really help the army of bad managers we have out there.

      I don’t know where I’m going with his anymore.

      I think you guys need to pitch PowerPivot as a sort of “Well, we can’t offer you nothing, but we can offer you a lot less than what you have. No need for new servers, less costs, if we really have to there is a map somewhere in there.”. This is gonna work as long as you show that you understand decisionmaking and KPIs and all that stuff.

      And excel is terrible as a BI-system… why? Because it doesn’t have a “Export to excel”-function. I hope that decisionmaker got fired…

  2. Entertaining post… Yes, Excel stand-alone is the biggest competitor for Power Pivot! Tableau just happens to be the shiny ball, hot compete target of this past year – it was QlikView two years ago. It could be Tibco Spotfire, Microstrategy Desktop, SAP Lumira or something else altogether down the road. Excel could even become the next “killer BI app” in the longer run … This will all be quite interesting a few years from now.

    Today getting companies to upgrade Office AND allow the Power Pivot add-in to be installed on the local analysts desktop is a challenge. It is easier to buy a stand-alone tool like Tableau, QlikView, Spotfire and so on than change corporate Office/Excel policy. I just watched my poor husband struggle all weekend in Excel 2010 with vlookups because his company won’t allow Power Pivot or any other add-ins in the Excel 2010 that they JUST UPGRADED to a few months ago. Many companies are still on Excel 2010, 2007 and even 2003.

    It doesn’t have to be a one or the other tool choice with Power Pivot in the mix. Many Microsoft partners have been implementing a variety of different dashboard tools on top of excellent Power Pivot data sources with great success, providing much nicer visual and predictive analytics. We live in a bring your own reporting tool world today. Power Pivot can be used as a data source for more than just Excel.

    Good luck with your mission.

  3. As a BI developer, I thought I’d try getting going with Power Pivot. Microsoft seems to have a sales prevention team. Upgrade my Office 365 Home subscription to Office Pro? Can’t be done. I’d have to uninstall, somehow figure out how to get my money back, then install (from scratch) Office 365 Pro. I’ve had a Tableau licence for years, they’ve been nothing but supportive, they’ve added “R” support, and my favourite: Box and Whiskers plots. Get started with Power Pivot? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

    1. Well, you *could* install Excel 2013 Standalone on top of your existing Office 2013 install:

      But yeah, you still very much have a point. The road to Mount Power Pivot winds through MS Licensing Forest, and is broken up by moats and barbed wire.

      (Which all assumes you are aware of Mount Power Pivot’s existence in the first place. It remains a carefully-guarded secret, which was the general thrust of this post of course).

        1. I called Microsoft multiple times over 4 days and talked with various reps.
          I don’t remember the details but we did uninstall Office 365 3 times and went through the process of installing ProPlus.

          The final move was the rep’s hail Mary pass: “let’s see if we have to manually assign a license.”

          Yup! Somewhere in the Admin area I had to manually assign myself a license.

          Up until that point, we’d get ProPlus installed. I’d go open Excel and there was still no PowerPivot.

  4. Sorry for long post, but I hope there is something here of interest for you…
    from a long-time reader and first-time poster…
    …couple 2 cent thoughts on PowerPivot’s competition:

    1> Basic BI industry implementation ignorance: i.e. the unexplainable —but all too real, inability for people & teams to come together for correctly matching PowerPivot solutions to the business needs that could largely benefit from PowerPivot solutions. Also previous MS enterprise implementation dependencies are rough (well documented—see SharePoint multi-server farm).
    >>Note: This missed PowerPivot need matching opportunity is for various reasons, including misunderstanding of the technology in business application, architectural ego wars in solution design, ineffective communication in solution/project planning, etc. …and don’t rule out the greed factor—the perception that not enough money can yet be made—whether in business usage ROI or in consulting fee revenues.

    2>BI Ladder up against wrong Analytic tree: i.e. various misalignments between those who prioritize money/time for Analytical solution IT projects, and those who know & understand how to implement PowerPivot solutions

    3> PowerPivot Woodstock yet forthcoming: i.e. a lack of unity, cohesion & collaboration between the decision intelligence community and MS PowerPivot developer community, for driving world-class impactful solutions. (See good news at end of post)

    4a>the human element1: the impatience & misunderstanding of business people around what is required for BI or analytics implementations

    4b>the human element2: the impatience of technologists in understanding the iterative process of business decision analytics related to a user’s approach to daily tool usability

    5>Murphy’s PowerPivot Law: Denial of the technology world that information called a “report” is never actually complete, because the information need for any planned analytics changes based on the actual business context need of the reader/user, at the time the report/analytics is consumed or needed.

    This is why the “export to Excel” button in every app is as popular as the zipper—and why all roads lead to Excel. Yet, somehow much of the BI developer world (except for some of the MSBI gold partners) refuse to acknowledge this in delivery planning.

    6>Not improving the wheel: As an ever-evolving huge PowerPivot fan…I still can’t shake the fact I used Applix TM-1 (now Congos TM-1) almost effortlessly in the early 90’s for in-memory similar PowerPivot-like BI results —confuses the crap out of me that the self-serve BI evolution of these products is moving SO damn slow….but the go-forward is a great opportunity for all and sure will be interesting.

    Good News?: Much of the above appears to be improving, from my perspective recently…thanks to folks like PowerPivotPro/Italians, Semantic model prototype development thinkers, DI thought leaders (like my buddies Quantellia), and many other people way smarter and experienced than me, including the folks who decided to put PowerBI in Excel (all roads lead to…).

    I am limited by my perspectives and unique experiences, so do take this certainly with a big grain of salt (my 2 cents)—and thank you for reading if you made it this far—you are a BI PowerPivot trooper.

      1. Yeah, MUCHO like. Where you been lurking all this time Perry? 🙂

        And Oz, if you click thru to his website, you will discover that Perry is a professional musician for hire in his “spare time.” Perry = Buckaroo Banzai.

        1. Rob,
          I’ve been lurking reading your book and taking your PowerPivot training, while roadmapping & delivering these solutions for clients and learning from you and the revolutionaries, among other things. Your site, information and communications are appreciated like oxygen, for those interested in PowerPivot (or basic entertainment at times). A point of this thread, as you, Meta, Chris, Jen & the WIzard of du Soleil have indirectly alluded to here–without this site and your other PPivot guidances—few would have ability to figure out where PP is available or how to use it–but thanks to you/others–we do, and the galaxy is now the limit.

          Last tidbit:…a “like” on a post or interaction from you/yours is something I truly appreciate, mostly because we all can earn so much from other folks who have invested hours of actual real world use in the tools/topic. —By all means, do keep up the invaluable stellar gap-filling educational PowerPivot revolutionary information sharing, for the sake of all BI mankind.

    1. My favorite portion of Perry’s comment:
      Denial of the technology world that information called a “report” is never actually complete, because the information need for any planned analytics changes based on the actual business context need of the reader/user, at the time the report/analytics is consumed or needed.

      It’s amazing how many IT people really think that they can be the sole provider of reporting for a company.

  5. Yeah, it turns out that phoning the Office people is the best road to take. The online chat and twitter MS support techs are worse than useless, other than to give the phone number. In th meantime, with Tableau, R and adding Python … plus standard Excel of course, I have more than enough in my toolkit.

  6. Your blog posts are always so inspiring. It is so incredibly FRUSTRATING when there are people who could truly benefit from everything Power Pivot has to offer, but stick to what they know (Excel or asking IT). I’m a BI Pro so it always sounds like I’m selling some sophisticated tool that only BI Pros can use. So many times I’ve wished I could just spend 2 weeks at another organization (that doesn’t have BI) and just show them how much more effective they could be simply by using Power Pivot (and a little Power View).

        1. Ah!

          Once upon a time, I was asked to give a product presentation to a bunch of people who already owned the product in question. To prepare, I spoke with a number of these people and asked about how they used the product. It turned out that they only used one push-button application that ran the product in the background, and then they dumped the results to Excel for additional processing.

          A little further discussion revealed what kinds of things they did with Excel, and how long it took them to do these things. It took a long time, and was not fun.

          So, in my presentation, I demonstrated how to do what they were working so hard to do in Excel, but with the other product. It took about three seconds. The problem was that none of these people had ever had the motivation to learn a little something about the other product, so they poured their time and happiness down the drain instead. Sound familiar?

          When the presentation was over, the audience lined up in front of the sales rep to ask about training. So, yeah, I agree. Nothing persuades like showing, if you show the right thing for the audience. And nothing is more fun to me as a presenter than seeing the light bulbs go on.

          Leonard, you might have fun showing ’em with some videos. You could be a YouTube sensation. 😉

  7. I discovered PowerPivot within weeks of getting a Tableau license, courtesy of my then employer. I followed both paths for a bit, and have been following this blog since. My thought was that I might at some time in the future, get into an organization that doesn’t, can’t, won’t have Tableau, and I want a solid place to fall back to and be able to produce the same kind of results.

    I changed jobs about six months ago into an organization without Tableau. I requested Excel 2010 so I could use PowerPivot, thinking this may be just the situation I had in mind. In the end, I just recommended Tableau, for a variety of reasons. The learning curve for Tableau was easier than PowerPivot (this coming from an Excel Power User), and there are a bunch of analysts who would have to learn whichever one we went with. Tableau is more stable (I know, you say it can handle millions of rows, but it’s REALLY temperamental. I kept running into all kinds of memory pinches and errors with useless messages when trying to connect to large datasets. Furthermore, there are weird constraints like only being able to handle one to many relationships in it’s models. It’s not that these things can’t be resolved or worked around in PowerPivot, it’s that they are not even problems in the first place in Tableau). Speed of development, analysis, and iterating can’t be beat in Tableau. Additionally, at my new organization, and I imagine many others, there is not a standard for what version of Excel people use. Trying to create a Power Pivot for wide user community with multiple versions of Excel is a nightmare unleashed.

    Sorry Excel, I love you, and I use you for a lot of different things every day, and I couldn’t live without you, but Tableau does what Tableau does better than anyone else. Ultimately, I couldn’t even justify the cost of “free with Excel” because of the time saved in so many arenas with Tableau (development, support, etc) exceeds makes it less expensive for the org. The cost of purchase was covered in the first two weeks of time savings, no joke.

    1. The errors you mention are pretty typical of 32-bit. MS really needs to think of ways to make 64-bit easier to install, because my experience is much smoother than that (and I run 64-bit everywhere).

      How deep have you gotten into sophisticated calculations, Justin? I really struggled with Tableau calcs.

      1. On the “go 64 bit” vein, you wind up suffering from the same problem as having a bunch of versions of Excel, that is compatibility becomes a major roadblock. I think it was one of your posts sometime wayback when you talked about how there was a time when Microsoft was trying to use a pricing strategy wherein the features were different between retail packages. Ultimately, the features developed and made available in more expensive packages were simply not used because it was impossible for spreadsheet developers to use those tools and know the workbook could be reliably used by anyone with Excel regardless of packaging.

        I’d say I’m pretty adept at the suite of calculations now. It took a bit for me to get my head around window calculations at first (measures, in PowerPivot), because of their relative abstraction, but both the Tableau community and the subsequent product releases really stepped up when I finally bothered to try something more advanced and got stumped. I started some conversations on the forum in the vein of “this is easy in Excel, why does it look so complicated in Tableau,” and that started an engagement that got me understanding the Tableau structure much more clearly. Furthermore, the subsequent product release changed some of the interface to make it less confusing, and more consistent with how the user-base described the functionality. The company is very responsive in that way. Every product release, usually a major release once a year, is jam-packed with user-requested features and improvements.

        Interestingly, it’s not just the calculations that make the product better though. It’s the features and design that make the product do exactly what you want, out of the box. For example, I tend to judge how well a product does at what it does (proverbially) by counting how many button clicks and keystrokes it takes to complete a task. Simply put, nothing has Tableau beat in this arena. A lot of it is features that PowerPivot can also do, but do not come pre-configured. Probably one of the best examples is how dates and times are handled by the different platforms. In Excel, you can do a lot with a calendar table. But it takes creating that table, joining to it, and setting up your model. In Tableau 99% of that functionality is built-in and pre-configured, no setup required, just start analyzing.

        Don’t get me wrong, I love PowerPivot and it is not my intention to bash on it. And if my situation were slightly different, like if we were already a SharePoint shop, or if I worked for a smaller company that has a harder time creating the value proposition of saving time, I might sing a different tune. But for me, in a professional capacity, with a relatively empty slate for products to fill a BI role, I have become as much a Tableau evangelist as you are a PowerPivot evangelist.

        Anyway, not to do too much Tableau horn tooting on a PowerPivot blog, but check out Tableau public. There are only three differences between the FREE tableau public, and the PRO-$xxxx version. 1) types of data connectors. (Tableau public can connect to flat files of all kinds, but doesn’t talk to SQL Server, for example). 2) data limit. Free version can handle up to 1M rows of data. Still not shabby for free for anyone. 3) Everything you make in free version is public. In lieu of a save button, there is a publish button, which throws your results into a public space that anyone can access.

        In terms of features, calculations, bells and whistles, usability – it’s all identical. This means you could download, and learn how to use every advanced feature the software has to offer without dropping a dime.

  8. Rob, any chance you can finally update those user group numbers. I am trying to get a Melbourne user group running and it would be easier to source a venue if I knew how many people are likely to attend.

  9. Because marketing.

    I think that’s what this was going to be about, right up until Rob declared this was “not another Tableau versus Power Pivot” post.

    I keep hearing about Microsoft’s “heavy investment” in Excel.. Hopefully for Excel’s sake a good part of that budget goes towards crafting the message and speaking directly to those that are best poised to evangelize the “New Excel”. Like.. the readers of this here blog.

    But as long as this is where we have arrived. Excel v Tableau v other systems… personal biases aside, who can say which one is the “right answer”? There is none in a big-picture view. An “optimal” system is greater than the sum of its parts. Meaning, one component might be perfect for a certain task(s). But that does not mean that it, or any other component, must be utilized at its 100% full potential every time for every problem. To Jen Underwood’s excellent point – it is indeed a ‘bring your own reporting tool’ kind of world. I think those who bring the tools can play a big role in crafting the solutions. Solutions may mean different sub-systems cooperating at once, where Power Pivot may or may not play a role (hopefully it will, but probably not until they sort out that marketing thing). Regardless of which tool will be tomorrow’s next “shiny object”, I think that opportunities remain for us consultant types, especially in the touchy feely stuff as things get more complicated: Helping to integrate systems, getting them (and their keepers) to talk to each other, and generally being around to “reduce chaos”. And maybe sell your clients on your favorite tools along the way.

    All that said, I’m pretty sure the grid is king (Rob, I’m reminded of your earlier “internal network effect” post. That was another good one.)

  10. I spend a lot of time in Excel and VBA. And I mean a LOT. It’s not unusual for me to be up until 2am reading blog posts, if not writing them (mostly at Daily Dose or Chandoo) and/or writing the code that future blog posts I write will be about.

    I’m so seriously addicted to Excel that I go to bed when my wife does, then wait till she starts gently snoring, and then very carefully – over the space of 2 or so minutes – bit by bit edge myself out from under the covers and off the bed, then slowly sneak out of the room and up the hallway to the computer so that I can start a whole new 2 glorious hours or so of blog writing and/or blog reading without giving her the impression that she’s secondary in my life. Don’t get me wrong, she IS secondary. But only after she’s asleep. 🙂

    None of that blog reading or blog writing or professional development is about PowerPivot, except the occasional visit to this blog, when it’s something un-technical. That’s because I’m still busy trying to learn everything I know about Excel and VBA. I’m nowhere near maxing out that learning curve yet. Only when I’ve got the combined wisdom of Dick Kusleika, Tushan Metha, Jan Karel Pieterse, Jon Peltier, and a million other contributers to the blogs and comment feeds I consume under my belt will I STOP panicking that I don’t know everything useful there is to know about “this” and then START panicking that I don’t know everything useful there is to know about “that” (PowerPivot). Guess I’ve got a one-track mind.

    Last time I looked, PowerPivot and those other new-fangled inventions didn’t do VBA to a great extent. So in my mind – and based partly on what I do know and largely on what I don’t – I get the feeling that I can’t very easily integrate these new-fangled inventions into my existing factory. I also get the feeling that I can probably replace quite a bit of that VBA-driven factory with these new-fangled inventions, but I’m loathe to stop the production line rolling while I do this, because cakes are going to be piling up somewhere just like in a Charlie Chaplin skit. And because I switch companies every 18 months to 3 years, there’s no guarantee that my new skills will get me the next job. In fact i think an increase in my old skills will probably make me more marketable.

    So *finally* here’s my point. Why is PowerPivot considered a separate programme entirely from Excel to the likes of me? Shouldn’t it be so well integrated that it would be impossible for Excel to compete with PowerPivot?

    Actually, who cares who the biggest competitor is. Isn’t a far more lucrative question from MS’s perspective “How can me migrate more Excel users to PowerPivot”. Because there’s plenty, plenty more Excel users than there ever will be Tableau users.

    1. What is going on in this comment thread???

      Just so much awesome at every turn. Deep, thoughtful insights combined with crazy cool personality. “I sneak out of bed at night to watch (Excel) porn.” I wish I had the guts to write a blog post with THAT title. I’m close.

      Jeff – salute.

      They ARE trying to “blend” the two products, but it’s just as much a fair question “why isn’t Excel becoming Power Pivot” as vice versa, Controversial perhaps. I don’t mean a full conversion or anything, but the Excel universe at MS needs to “grok” PowerPivot just as badly as the BI universe at MS still needs to understand Excel. There is MUCH opportunity there for the two teams to understand the other’s user base and product. Today I’d give each of them a 20% rating on that.

      Again though, fixable – says my optimistic brain.

    2. Have a look at Power Query Jeff. If your a bread and butter VBA person like myself, extracting, transforming then loading data directly to a data model for manipulation to produce analysis, without the need to write code and / or assemble 1000s of rows of formulae, is like Christmas morning each time you use it

  11. Rob – When you say this is 100% fixable in 6 months or so, are you actually suggesting that *Microsoft Marketing* could fix this in six months?

    IMHO, Microsoft Marketing has zero chance of fixing this in sixty years. Tableau will continue to win the advertising war, because MSFT won’t even bother to show up.

    If you would spin Power Pivot and the Power BI suite into a new company that only cared about winning the BI war, then you would have a fight.

    1. I know the MS culture from the inside. To me, it’s not a faceless monolithic entity in the way that, say, Ford is.

      That perspective simultaneously makes me more AND less cynical than you. Because I know how high that mountain is, to the inch, and what the trails look like, I know that it’s a more treacherous climb than even you might suspect.

      But at the same time, I’m looking at it going, “yeah, ok, ice axes for that part of the ascent. Clearly need oxygen tanks once we get past this elevation. Food’s gonna be an issue but we’ll train our bodies ahead of time to digest pure olive oil and that will allow us to carry sufficient calories…”

      Yeah it IS fixable. I still don’t expect it to happen.

  12. Someone at another monolithic entity is probably blogging as we speak:
    I know the Ford culture from the inside. To me, it’s not a faceless monolithic entity in the way that, say, Microsoft is.

    One thing I’ve always wondered is what the uptake of things like PowerPivot by within Microsoft itself is like, and how it compares to similar sized monoliths…err…organizations. Rob, what was your observation about how sophisticated is the use of Excel and it’s newfangled addins among the Human Resources, Facilities Management, Finance and Planning, and inhouse IT support teams?

    BIll, have you ever had the chance to ‘appraise’ MS’s use of it’s own tool in your many visits to the Wizard’s castle?

    1. MS engineering teams are notoriously bad at adopting/using their own tech, unless it’s something universal like email or xbox or smartphone.

      MS finance and accounting depts, however, are quite adept at Excel. AND they get pushed hard by MS internal IT to adopt the latest new BI tech like Power Pivot. So they do. Avichal for example – search the blog for his guest posts. He’s MS, but not on the engineering teams.

  13. To the risk of repeating myself, for PowerPivot to gain a acceptance in corporate BI circles, MSFT urgently needs to upgrade PowerView. Why?

    1) Excel is well-established and an essential tool in corporate offices. Check!
    2) PowerPivot adds depth (think millions of rows) and breath (think relationships) to Excel. Check!
    3) PowerView, however, is still an half-baked presentation layer through which it is expected that Execs would consume their business data prepared by we, the analysts. Not check!

    Without a clear case from MSFT for the upgrading of PV, this chain (Excel+PW+PV) will only be as strong as its weakest link. The smith has to cast a new sword.

    Disclaimer: working 40hrs/week with Excel+PW+PV+Sharepoint Entreprise.
    No budget for TableauClient+TableauServer.

  14. It seems like one of the biggest competitors/roadblocks is us. I think the majority of your readers are Excel pros that have the ability to enter the BI world with PowerPivot. We feel that PowerPivot gives us the tools to create something that Tableau could produce, and much more. I am a firm believer that it can, and absolutely love using PowerPivot.

    However, using PowerPivot requires the Excel pro to have to market and sell PowerPivot. I agree with Bill and others that marketing is a big issue here. There doesn’t seem to be support from MS to help the Excel pro sell PowerPivot to his/her company. And I mean selling the idea of implementing and using PowerPivot, not just licensing (whole other issue).

    This is something that the Excel pro doesn’t necessarily have experience with, and it can be difficult to convince management and/or IT to use a product that seems to still be in the early stages of development.

    I have not used Tableau much, but I do know that if you contact them with even the slightest amount of interest, they will send an army after you with all kinds of convincing information to try and buy their product.

    The Excel pro needs this type of support from MS. This would help build trust with the organization, and give management confidence that they are making the right decision. It also takes some weight off the shoulders of the Excel pro.

    I recently started using PowerPivot for a project at work, and like I said I absolutely love it. The possibilities are endless, especially when you introduce the CUBE functions. Wow!

    But now that I have this project up and running, I have to start working on my sales pitch. And it’s a big one. First I will need to convince the finance execs that this is the right way to go (and pray that one of those errors doesn’t popup in my demo). Then if all goes well, I will have to start working with IT to deploy a SharePoint solution to make this scalable so we can truly enjoy the benefits. Otherwise it’s very difficult to publish reports in a consumable form (email to managers).

    With all that said, I’m still optimistic that this will be a success. I’m also truly grateful that we have people like Rob that do so much to educate us. I’m re-reading the book quite a bit now that I’m in the thick of it. Without this level of support and resources I wouldn’t have even considered PowerPivot. For the product to evolve and gain acceptance, it needs overwhelmingly support from MS to make the pitch. Otherwise, the Excel pro is taking all the risk.

    Thanks again!

    1. But now that I have this project up and running, I have to start working on my sales pitch. And it’s a big one. *sigh* I’m with you brother.

      First I will need to convince the finance execs that this is the right way to go Finance dude: But why can’t we just do this in Excel? It’s what we always use…

      .Then if all goes well, I will have to start working with IT to deploy a SharePoint solution to make this scalable so we can truly enjoy the benefits.
      Sharepoint? You tease. I’ll be happy when we can get IT to install PowerPivot

      1. Haha Jeff! You are hilarious and completely right. It’s a big mountain to climb, and us finance dudes (being naturally risk averse finance dudes) will tend to contemplate whether the rewards will be worth the effort. I try to be optimistic and believe that there will be some payoff here. Plus it’s cool to learn new tools and find more efficient ways to do things.

        But I believe the PowerPivot ship is still being built (slowly), and hasn’t set sail yet, so you probably don’t have to worry about missing too much at this point.

  15. As a business user who just discovered PowerPivot I would say the biggest competitor has yet to be invented. It is much like when the best operating system was DOS. You had a steep learning curve of all the syntax, commands, etc. But when you learned it you could do a lot.

    And then came GUI of Apple and Windows.They hid all that complexity behind cute little icons. As soon as a new computer user could click a printer icon and produce a printed document without having to remember printer control code strings, they quickly adopted the product. That is what needs to happen with PowerPivot … to a degree.

    I am in no way suggesting PowerPivot should ever become that dumbed down, but it should be streamlined so the upfront learning curve is easier. It is oh so powerful, and we need it so badly. But at the moment it seems like calculus compared to the “algebra” of Excel. Just as most people avoid calculus they will also avoid PowerPivot despite the power of both.

    I work at a company that is probably leaving millions of dollars on the table because of the gap between BI resources and user tools to analyze data. Having recently discovered PowerPivot myself and becoming a bit of a zealot, I am finding first hand how hard it is to sell the concept to the very business people who would benefit from its use. They are enthusiastic about the possibilities until they see the workings, and then they slink away quietly. If only there was a way to get them to ease into it like their first Excel formula of =A1+B1 and feel the power.

  16. So I’ve been using Power Pivot for about 6 months now and I think it’s an incredibly awesome tool. In the mid to long run I don’t think it faces any serious competition from Tableau or anyone else for that matter.

    I also agree that the biggest thing working against PPVT is the lack of knowledge that it even exists. People I know in the BI team have often heard about it, but as its target user is a business expert who is fairly good with computers as opposed to virtually every other BI solution out there which are aimed at computer experts who are fairly good at business thinking, it’s hard to gain traction in the traditional BI world despite it being an incredibly powerful, low cost, highly flexible tool.

    That said, in the short run Tableau does IMHO have some significant advantages which point not to fundamental flaws in PPVT or Excel in general, but rather to some potential low hanging fruit for future releases. I know developer hours are scarce (every potential feature added comes at the expense of not adding another nearly as awesome feature) and I do hope this doesn’t seem like me complaining about what is essentially my absolute favorite piece of software; but despite generally being a better solution, Excel/PPVT could look to Tableau to point out a few areas where growth would be extremely helpful.

    (BTW I don’t own Tableau so a lot of the qualities I’m assuming Tableau has are totally based on what I’ve read/hear, if I’m wrong about them, or wrong about something in Excel for that matter, please feel free to correct me.)

    The advantages, I would argue, seem to lie primarily in chart availability and default chart quality. Tableau markets itself (smartly) as a BI reporting solution, but from what I’ve seen its modeling system is nothing great, the arena in which it really shines isn’t building models but instead visualizing results. While Excel/PPVT is OK at this (the modeling being its focus), Tableau looks to be designed *specifically* with this in mind and hence is optimized for it.

    The good news is that the big three charts that I think are the most useful (Line, Scatter, and Bar/Column) are readily available in Excel (though in 2010 there’s no “Scatter” Pivot Chart, not sure if this shows up in 2013 but you should be able to build one with a linked table); the other piece of good news is that while several great charts are noticeably absent (histogram, box plot, multi-strip plot, bullet chart, etc) you can MacGyver almost all of them out of other existing charts. While I personally really like doing this, having to build them out of other charts feels and looks really klunky, especially to people you’re trying to convince to not buy Tableau. Also if you’re a new user and don’t know how to duct-tape together these other excellent charts they functionally don’t exist.

    Also, the default template charts look OK, but they include a lot of chart-junk that usually is best removed (legends with single entries) and black ink that is almost always better either gone(chart border) or at 20% grey (grid-lines). Making these (and similar) improvements on a given chart is fairly easy, and you can save chart templates to avoid having to repeat the same steps every time, but I don’t think you can make Excel use a template in place of the default chart type templates, and if you don’t have a background in the graphic-design aspects of visualization you’re probably just going to use the defaults, which again, look OK but not great. My understanding (again, correct me if I’m wrong) is the Tableau defaults tend to look very very good and has a user interface that my graphic design friends would be happy to be at the wheel of; so even though in the right hands Excel can produce fantastic looking reports, Tableau makes the process much easier, requires less expertise, and is generally harder to produce mediocre looking charts it.

    (I should give some Excel some serious credit however for it’s default color scheme, which I think looks really good in addition to I believe being colorblind accessible. Also, the addition of sparklines makes for some awesome possibilities.)

    Data visualization certain shouldn’t be a beauty contest, but good default design and a reasonably expansive set of top-shelf charts are *extremely* beneficial qualities for any BI system to have in that they significantly improve the speed with which the end user can parse the data in a finished report and also leverages the end user’s incredibly powerful visual pattern recognition system in attempting to find business insight in the numbers.

    PPVT/Excel does offer quite a good toolset for visualizing data, and I certainly wouldn’t describe it as deficient or lacking. You can make some absolutely fantastic looking dynamic reports with it, and given its superior modeling system I absolutely think it’s the best single solution out there for a BM. However given the importance of visualization in a BI system I think there are some things that at this moment based on what I’ve seen Tableau does have the edge on. Would I recommend a dual system where PPVT is used for modeling and Tableau is used for visualization? Like any good business decision I would say it depends, but generally speaking, no. With some extra work you can achieve similar visual quality in Excel without the added headache of having two systems. Further, given that none of these potential improvements ask Excel to do something it already doesn’t fundamentally do, if Tableau or any similar competitor continues nipping away at market share this seems like a fairly easy update to prioritize in the next Excel version (even if it ends up being some sort of serious integration with R and some of it’s plotting libraries).

    Tableau’s ease of use means little to a BM professional (they’ll trade that for power or speed any day of the week), but a reduced number of mouse-clicks/keystrokes to high quality output is something a software professional in any field would take note of, be they BM, Photo Editor, or Statistician. With that in mind I do think Tableau will indeed make some additional marginal headway in the near future, but I expect it to be short lived as not just good, but top notch data visualization tools find their way into future versions of Excel/PPVT to match its world class modeling system.

    Anyway, that’s just my two cents. If people feel differently (particularly if they’ve, ya know, used Tableau) I’d love to hear their thoughts on how the two systems handle visualization.

    1. Wow, another great comment. Regarding this snippet: “…if Tableau or any similar competitor continues nipping away at market share…” it’ worth remembering that market share is only one aspect of profitability, and it’s actually possible to see revenues of all players increase even as market share moves around between them if the overall market is growing. Which in the BI space I’m sure is true.

      So if Tableau happens to be currently increasing market share vis-à-vis PowerPivot, that’s not necessarily the end of the world for PowerPivot. And it might just be a reflection of where we are at in the adoption cycle. I’d say we’re still in the early adopter phase, and that while some early adopters/people at the top end of BI who ‘get’ the importance of BI may be tempted to take up Tableau instead of PowerPivot, I’d argue that instead of trying to win those customers back from Tableau (or attempting to stop them opting for Tableau in the first place), it may be a far better strategy for MS to focus on moving existing Excel customers up the ‘adoption’ curve. They don’t have to ‘win the BI war’ by producing a superior product. They do have to win the shareholder war.

      The opportunity cost to MS of users foregoing PowerPivot for Tableau is an order of magnitude smaller that the opportunity costs to MS of Excel users that simply never realize PowerPivot might be something they could use to sack lots of overpriced, underwhelming reporting analysts.

      Microsoft’s benchmark of success is not to increase the penetration/uptake/market share of every aspect of every product for the sake of it. Rather, Its the same as practically any other company: ‘Provide maximum value to shareholders, allowing for the niceties of our mission statement/corporate slogans where we can’. How they attempt do that is via a combination of innovation and pricing strategy, with a heck of a lot of uncertainty, politics, and crystal ball-gazing (sometimes very BAD crystal ball gazing) thrown into the mix do doubt. Innovation, customer value, and market share are things to be optimized against sustainable shareholder value. None of these things are the end game.

      MS might well make more money out of this product by being a fast follower than a leader. That doesn’t necessarily make them foolish. It might be the smartest decision. Assuming it’s an active decision…heck, maybe they’re ‘smart’ for all the wrong reasons.

      Tthe opportunity cost to MS of users foregoing PowerPivot for Tableau is an order of magnitude smaller that the opportunity costs to MS of Excel users that simply never realize PowerPivot might be something they could use to sack lots of overpriced, underwhelming reporting analysts.

      1. Hey Jeffery,

        Thanks for the reply, really excellent perspective on the issue!

        So I’ve spent the last two days drawing up this big fancy response and realized if I didn’t stop I’d spend my whole weekend on this. I figured I’d give the ten cent / beer hall version.

        Fast follow probably is the best strategy for MS in this arena. Tableau looks like the result of Adobe deciding it wants to get into the BI game, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Encoding numerical information visually isn’t cosmetic, when done well it has the potential improve the transfer rate of information from report to end-user by orders of magnitude (data density too). Visual information encoding isn’t really a skill traditional BI folks are good at (nor should they be, they’ve got other incredibly tricky skill sets to focus on). The Tableau team, like Adobe, IS good at this, that’s how they found their current niche.

        MS and others should indeed be letting Tableau be the big innovator with visualization, it’s what they’re good at. However, most of the charts and design standards I’m talking about have been around since before Tableau; this is an arena Excel has been lagging in for a while, and that might possibly be for very good reasons, I don’t know (other honestly better feature improvement to throw developer hours at, etc). Yet even if it was totally the right and smart thing to do, the charting system isn’t right behind the cutting edge following-fast, it’s a fair ways back being bested in several ways by free systems like R.

        Excel’s charting system isn’t bad, it’s good; better than a lot of BI charting systems I’ve seen. However given the awesomeness of PowerPivot, it’s probably the biggest bottleneck in the system. Reports are read by humans, humans generally prefer good graphics to tables because they can interpret the information much much faster. A BI system that creates amazing models presented via “just OK” reports is going to interpreted by decision makers as a BI system that’s “just OK”.

        I applaud the direction MS has gone with the 2013 release, particularly with PowerView; however I really hope they continue to make this a very high priority as I think it’d help unleash a lot of the potential in PowerPivot.

        (Even just adding support to interface with R’s charting system would be totally huge. Just saying.)

        (Wow, that wasn’t short at all.)

        1. I like that powerpivot can easily join all kinds of data like Access, just dragging tables around, but calculate like Excel, as an intermediate process if there isn’t an existing data warehouse. We have tried Powerview. It’s terrible. Constantly crashes. Tableau works like a dream. Powerpivot was good for me to conceptualize all of the core tables we had.

          Tableau would rather you reference a view that already has all of the tables joined, so you have to know some SQL or have someone set up a view for you, instead of just dragging relationships.

          The beauty of Tableau… Data blending 🙂 Many to many relationships are so easy to set up. It’s extremely fast. A 100mb PowerPivot file slugs on my PC. Tableau has tons of data, and doesn’t skip a beat and hasn’t crashed yet.

          Tableau is designed for users in mind. Working with SSRS a lot too, SSRS is a complete nightmare. Tableau is kind of structured, and doesn’t have a lot of chart types, but there are many different things you can do with the limited palette you are given (SSRS, you can do almost everything [except interactivity] but you have to script it all).

  17. Whoops, stuffed up that comment a bit. Rob, can you clear out that last paragraph, and get rid of the bold for me after the word ‘smaller’? And then can you fold my washing and balance my account, then delete this comment? Good chap 🙂

  18. I love Power Pivot, but my biggest gripe is the limitations around the data visualisations available in Excel. The excellent “Sparklines: add-in ( adds some great functionality, but as it is written in VBA won’t work with Excel Services in SharePoint. Tableau’s UI is VERY slick (I would go as far as to say it is one of the best UIs I have ever used on any business software). Although Power View is a step in the right direction it still seems very ‘clunky’ compared to Tableau (which automatically scales and formats objects to fit the data to the available space). As a back end number-crunching tool Power Pivot is brilliant. I just wish Microsoft would place as much emphasis on the user experience and visualisations available – simple things like bullet charts would be nice!

  19. Forgive me for entering this late doors but does Microsoft’s ‘Power BI’ branding go some way to start addressing the marketing deficiencies? PowerQuery and PowerPivot are mega. I’ve been in this game for a while and similarly wish that I wasn’t the lone voice in my organisation shouting for the adoption of these tools. After doing my sell to a staff member recently I actually turned around and said ‘I should be on commission from Microsoft shouldn’t I?!’

  20. As a fairly new user of PowerPivot (took Rob’s class in the fall of 2014) and a long-time Excel “Power User”, I share Rob’s view that PowerPivot will up-end the whole analysis world once it starts to spread. That is, of course, if it does spread. While I agree that Power Pivot’s biggest competitors are “nothing” (Meta) and “this is the way we’ve always done it”, everyone (including Microsoft) should realize that the target audience for PowerPivot is a relatively small proportion of the overall Excel user community. This fact is the prime driver behind the overwhelming ignorance of the existence of PowerPivot, as well as the other Power BI tools.

    Part of the problem is the relatively small target audience for a tool like Power Pivot. As an IT instructor in a large company, I teach the full range of Excel classes and, at one point or another, come into contact with virtually all of the Excel users in the company that truly need to master Excel in order to do their jobs. For most of them, 80%-95% depending on the business area, all they need, or ever will need, is ordinary spreadsheet functionality. Of the remaining 5%-15%, probably only half need or use any kind pivot table functionality.

    The bad news for Microsoft is this is a pretty small group of potential evangelists. The good news is that these are the people that hold the keys to the information kingdom in their companies so management sees their work and interacts with them on a daily basis (well at least here they do). With a few exceptions, however, these potential evangelists are not equipped with the skills needed to make the sale. This is where Microsoft needs to focus its efforts – either by working with or through these people to spread the word.

    Having recently debuted a course on PowerPivot (using Rob’ book as a text) and while working on a Power Query class (to be released next week), I realized I had made a mistake in putting Power Pivot first. Most of the data that analysts use is not neatly stored in a data warehouse already arranged in a star schema with dimension (lookup) and Fact (data) tables that PowerPivot can use. As any analyst will tell you, most of the data they go after is really dirty and ill-formed for their purposes. Most of their pain is in getting the data they need and then getting it in a usable form. Even more pain if the process has to be repeatable. Only then does a tool like PowerPivot come in to play.

    This is where Power query shines. Power Query does in seconds what it used to take me hours or even days to do writing VBA code and VLookups to produce a repeatable process to produce useable data. It combines data from multiple sources and different types of sources almost effortlessly.

    So if you are going be a Power BI evangelist, start with Power Query. Its potential user base is much larger than Power Pivot (not everyone that needs to clean and form data needs it for a pivot table) but may also serve as an important foundation stone in developing serious BI capabilities in your company.

    Microsoft could help tremendously with this by simply providing better documentation for Power Query. The tools in the graphical interface are fairly intuitive and self-explanatory, and will probably serve the needs of about 90 % of the potential user community. But if you have do dive into the M programming language, their current references Microsoft Power Query for Excel Formula Language Specification (PDF) and Power Query Formula Library Specification are nearly incomprehensible. And I’ve yet to see anything that explains how to structure M code. It may be out there, I just haven’t found it, which is just as big of a problem.

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