A review of Power View, including examples of use
Power View is an Excel or SharePoint add-in which allows you to create quick and interactive dashboard reports, with built-in drill-down. This blog considers whether you're missing a trick if you don't know how to use Power View.

Posted by Andy Brown on 09 January 2014

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Power View - what is it, and should you be using it?

Power View (yes, irritatingly there IS a space in the name) allows you to create sophisticated dashboards within Excel, quickly and easily.

You can run PowerView from SharePoint or from within Excel - this blog concentrates on the Excel implementation.

However, Power View is also clunky to use, and doesn't fill any obvious gap in the marketplace.  This blog looks at what Power View is and does, and considers whether you should be using it or not.

What Power View does best

Suppose that you have a workbook of the contestants for the first 9 and a bit series of X Factor in the UK.  Here's a report you might like to create:

Linked pie chart and table

When you use the CTRL key to select Dannii Minogue and Kelly Rowland at the same time in the pie chart, their slices go darker and the table underneath instantly changes to show only those contestants mentored by these two fine ladies.

Creating this entire report just took me about 30 seconds: the link between the pie chart and the table happens automatically.

What Power View doesn't do so well

Although it was easy to create the report above, it wasn't enjoyable.  Although you appear to be working within Excel, you're actually using something called SilverLight, so you can't (just to take one example) right-click on something to format it:

Right-click on pie chart

Not what you expect to see when you right-click on part of a chart.

 

So while Power View is brilliant for quick analysis, I'm not so sure it's a good tool for creating beautiful dashboards.

Installing Power View and creating a report

To get Power View to run in Excel you need to be using Excel 2013 (or Excel 365).  Create a table of data (or link to one - using a PowerPivot data model works particularly well), then with one of the cells in the data table selected choose the following ribbon option:

Insert Power View ribbon tab

Go to the INSERT tab of the ribbon, and choose Power View.

If you want to try out the examples in this blog, download and unzip this small Excel workbook of X Factor contestants.

You can now choose which fields you want to include in the current table or chart that you're creating:

Choosing Power View fields

Those who have created pivot tables will find this process refreshingly familiar (well, mostly).

 

You can then set up a filter easily:

Power View filter

Here we're just showing boys, girls, groups and the 16 to 24 age range.

 

You can then change the view of your data - either to a table, matrix or card:

Table matrix or card

For those not used to these terms, a matrix is like a pivot table (with column headings) and a card puts each record (here each contestant) in a separate rectangle on the screen.

 

Alternatively, you could choose a chart type:

Choosing a pie chart

For the example above, I began by making the first part of the report into a pie chart. This screen shot gives some idea of how limited are the features of Power View.

 

For the example shown at the start of this blog, I then added another table, and it was automatically linked to the first pie chart's selected data slices.

Power View also allows you to create maps with built-in drill-down (click on Timbuktu to see all of the products you've sold there in a table alongside, for example).  It's not clear yet whether Microsoft will merge Power View maps with GeoFlow, another mapping platform that they are developing.

The underlying technology

Power View runs within SilverLight, whose obvious cousins are Flash and HTML 5:

What Notes
SilverLight Microsoft's proprietary method of providing animations in a web site.
Flash The original web animation technology; now on its way out, I'd guess.
HTML 5 The new standard for web animations, sadly not yet well supported.

Essentially when you use Power View you're editing a web page, although Microsoft attempt to mask this:

Power View sheet tab

A power view looks like any other Excel worksheet.

 

The future / recommendations

Should you be using Power View?  I'd say not, at this stage.  The sort of people who want to do quick analyses of numbers can probably already use pivot tables.  If, on the other hand, your aim is to create an all-singing, all-dancing dashboard, you could use:

Software Notes
Reporting Services A much more powerful reporting tool, which allows you to publish reports to your company's Intranet.
Competitors Third-party software which does what Power View does, but much better.  Examples include Spotfire, Qlikview and Tableau.

PowerPivot is an example of a great add-in to Excel, which allows you to base pivot tables on multiple tables from multiple sources.  By contrast it's hard, at this stage, to see what Power View brings to the Business Intelligence party.

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