How to train your users to create their own Business Intelligence reports. #1 of 5: Why do it?



Business Intelligence (BI) helps an organization make faster & smarter decisions – There’s no doubt or debate over that! But every organization needs to go through the process of driving Business Intelligence adoption before they start seeing the Return on Investment for a BI solution. One of the form of BI which has been really successful at being adopted by business community is called “self-service BI” and the idea is to enable business users to create their own reports – in other words, “self-serve” their data needs. In this blog series, I would share the best practices that I’ve picked up while leading up an effort to train 200+ business users with the goal of enabling them to create their own BI reports.

In this post, let’s step back and talk about why is it important to enable business users to create their own reports?

#1: Information Technology’s Time & Budget.

The demand for “data” by business users is a great thing! But IT would need to dedicate resources to make it happen. usually, IT teams can be constrained due to budgetary reasons or due to other higher priority items on their radar. So what happens? Business community do not receive the data that they asked for in a timely fashion. And if you cannot offer data when they need it then it might not be as useful. So what’s the solution? One solution is to have “BI platforms” where data assets are readily available for business users to consume. So once they are build, IT would no longer have to dedicate development resources on them. And since IT is no longer a bottleneck, business users can get the data when they want it and however way they want to see it.

Time is money Information Technology Budget

#2: World changes. Business Changes.

World Changes and so does Business. If Business doesn’t adapt to change then they will die! And if Business changes, the data needs would change too. How many times does IT get “change requests” to their production reports? All of these requests would require IT’s intervention to accommodate change requests and what is the average turn around time in your organization for that? How about publishing data assets that businesses can readily access that let’s them see same data from varying perspectives? Of course, they might ask for data that’s not available yet but then IT can spend some time on bringing those data assets into the BI platforms rather than spending resources on “change requests”.

World Changes Business Changes Data Business Analytics Changes

#3: It’s great for BI adoption!

With the flexibility of Self Service BI solution, the control is in the hands of the users (again!). Without having to wait on IT, they can get to the data instantaneously and so faster and there’s a greater chance that they would use “data” in the decision making process. Isn’t it great?

Also, business users who would have created their own reports would share it with others, won’t they? And that would spark collaboration among business users. This is great because the recipients of the reports would start wanting to analyze the data too. And with time, the trust for the data assets would grow among the business community. This is really important for BI adoption.


In this post, we saw why is it important to train your business users to create their own BI reports using a Self Service BI Platform. In next posts, we’ll get into strategies & tactics to enable users to create their own reports.

Quick note on evolution of Business Intelligence & Microsoft’s vision for BI space:


I attended “Enabling Familiar, Powerful Business Intelligence hosted by PASS BA VC last week & I got to listen to Microsoft where they shared their vision for the BI space, so I thought of posting this quick note about it:

“Corporate BI” has been around for may years. This space has established players like Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Oracle. But in recent times, “Self Service BI” space has been gaining momentum. Players like Qlikview & Tableau that lead the Self Service BI space have been ranked as leaders in the Gartner 2014 magic quadrant. Microsoft has also been making serious advancements in this space since last few years & with their latest offering called “Power BI” they have shown that they putting their bets on Self Service BI space. So, as Microsoft said in the event, they view themselves as the only player that offers a full suite of Corporate BI as well as Self Service BI:

Evolution of BI

you can watch the recorded session here:

Questions Power Users Ask about Excel: #1 of N


In this series, I intend to document common questions asked by Power users about Excel connected to SSAS cubes (or data warehouse) after they go beyond the basic stage of understanding & using Row labels, column labels, report filter & values in Pivot Tables. This post is #1 of N:

a. How to Sort Data?

There are two ways to do this & here they are:

#1: Select a cell that has a measure value > Right click > Sort > sort the values in ascending or descending from here:

sorting Excel ad hoc report ssas cube

#2: Alternatively, you can also do the same thing by: Select a value from the filed that needs sorting > go to Home Tab > Sort & Filter > from here you should be able to sort data in ascending for descending order:

sorting data excel analysis services cube

b. How to add slicers?

They might not know what slicers are but I’ve been asked how can I add filters where users can see the filter values before picking the value. I’ve also been asked by a Power user for the capability for adding “global filters” who had couple of pivot tables in a single sheet. They also come in handy if you’re building Excel Dashboards. With that, here are the steps:

1. Based on your requirements, decide if multiple items on a dashboard (excel sheet) need to be affected with one click

2. Now, for the purpose of this blog post, let’s assume that you have two Pivot Tables like shown below:

two excel reports slicer 1

Note: the Two Excel Pivot Tables are created by connecting to same cube. And the slicer comes from the same cube.

3. And what if you need to slice data in both pivot tables by one common slicer? Let’s say we want to slice the data in the two pivot tables that we have by Product Category – here’s what you do (assuming that the tables are related in your data source and slicing makes sense)

4. click on any of the pivot table and you’ll see PivotChart Tools in the toolbar

5. Switch to Analyze Tab & click on insert slicer & Select the field that you want as slicer & click OK

pivot table insert slicers

6. you’ll see a slicer on your sheet now:

slicer on pivot tables

7. Let’s format the report to make it look better:

#1: move the slicer such that it does not overlap any of the pivot tables.

#2: In this case, I want to move the slicer to the top of the sheet and change the slicer to have 5 columns. Here’s how you can do that:

select the slicer > from the toolbar > slicer tools > column

slicer tools option excel

#3 I also changed the slicer style from the slicer tools to match its color palette with that of the Pivot Tables:

8. Note that the slicer is connected to just ONE pivot table. Let’s connect it to both pivot tables

9. From Slicer Tools options > Pivot Table connections > check all pivot tables that you want the slicer to be connected to:

pivot table connections excel

10. Done! Test your slicers, with one click you should be able to see that the data gets sliced in both pivot tables:

#1: Sliced by Bikes

excel pivot analysis data 1

#2: Sliced by Accessories

excel pivot analysis data 2

c. How to change the layout of the Pivot Tables?

Without formatting and changing the layout, the excel pivot table looked like this:

step 1 excel pivot table from power pivot

Now, let’s work step by step to meet the requirement:

Step 1: click somewhere on the Pivot Table and from the Toolbar, Switch to the Design Tab under PivotTable Tools

Pivot Table Tools Design Excel

Step 2: Now here, Go to Report Layout > Show in Tabular Form

Pivot Table Layout Tabular Form

Step 3: As you might have noticed the “hierarchical” structure is now broken up into multiple structure getting us closer to meet the requirement.

half way pivot table layout

Step 4: In our requirement, you can see that it does not give the user to see the “+” or “-” (expand, collapse) buttons. So, let’s hide these buttons from the report from Step #3

Right click somewhere on the pivot table > PivotTable Options > Display tab > uncheck the box that says “Show expand/collapse buttons“:

pivot table hide expand collapse button

Step 5: so now it looks as follows:

excel pivot table power pivot

To recap, Here’s what we had to do: Change the Layout of the Pivot Table & we also hid the expand/collapse buttons too.


In part #1 of N, we saw:

1) How to sort data?

2) How to add slicers?

3) How to change Pivot Table layout?