Although the model of using an Excel AddIn can be a little clunky (especially for what PPS Planning called the contributor scenario) I think my team did a pretty good job getting some very usable reporting elements. Now I get to point you to things my team didn’t do, but are native features of Excel. So you get better a better user experience (UX) overall and all these features are programmatically accessible.
I think PPS Planning’s Excel AddIn handled these in a very easy to understand fashion. Now Excel PivotTables has support for this as describe in this post. But Excel takes it one step further and allows for better reuse of the sets. Over all I think this UX of remaining consistent with earlier releases, but still quickly allowing people to delete the intersections that aren’t meaningful to them is pretty powerful.
Indeed if you read that post fully, you’ll realize that Excel’s PivotTables couldn’t previously handle this at all because of their default aggregation features. To enable this PivotTables have to be a lot smarter about OLAP vs. other data sources. So now rendering arbitrary MDX is almost a hidden feature. But besides having a friendly UX to edit sets, you can also supply your own expressions. Really they have achieved one of the most highly desired features by MDX geeks. And one of the few reasons why I still sometimes have to answer questions about using the Planning Matrix instead of PivotTables for xl2007 users.
This was one of the frequent asks by report authors. I remember working lots to enable truly dynamic rendering with respect to the filter in the matrix. Because Excel’s implementation of the above features is so complete, this one probably felt like a freebie for people reading about new features. But I know improving the rendering was no simple feat, but this is a big win for OLAP PivotTable users.
Ok I can’t claim my team did everything before Excel, and don’t mean to. Although we had global filters, they are nothing compared to slicers. Follow that post and see how easy to use slicers are for the average report user. It’s just amazing! The layout is customizable and that themes are enabled. I think the Excel team did a fantastic job here, and report authors who currently are doing a lot of custom VBA coding and using form controls, really will save a lot of time in the future with slicers.
Business rules and Design-time formulas
I still think rules was an area where PPS Planning shined. I’ll grant you that the V1 UX for maintaining rules was quite a bit of work. But I know some people still found them too complicated. So they asked for design-time formulas in the AddIn. I think clearly my team’s AddIn didn’t get this one right. We missed realizing that what people really wanted was a way to express rules and calculations in a language they already knew: Excel formulas. The Gemini team I think is doing a great job here. The collaborated a lot with the Excel team and I think DAX looks great. Naturally there are a few differences, but check out this link to Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) and I think you’ll agree with me that this looks very cool.
If you take all these features (and of course PivotTable writeback) you have probably some 90% of the PPS Planning AddIn, as well as some of the features of Business Modeler. It’s not at all the same kind of product that PPS Planning was, but I think is clearly a platform that enables building the same kind of solution. (Remember, except for Gemini which also suffers a bit from the AddIn model, that everything implemented as a native feature of Excel is accessible through the object model!) It’s been so hard to sit quiet while news of Office 2010 was embargoed. But these features I call out here, are what made continue to have faith in my employer. (And I’m just cherry picking the features from Excel 2010 and Gemini that overlapped with PPS Planning scenarios.)