Organizations have spent considerable money and effort establishing data warehouses, cleansing their data in order to have what is commonly known as "one version of the truth." The problem with most BI shops, however, is that they can only produce a fraction of the reports needed by managers, said Rob Collie, chief technology officer for the BI consulting and service firm PivotStream. So many users studied up on Excel and learned how to produce ad-hoc reports on their own, often colloquially called spreadmarts.
"There are a lot of people who are doing BI, but they just are not calling it that. They are doing a lot of their work in Excel and are not using mainstream BI technologies," Brust said. "And they are doing it totally off-road, so IT doesn't know about it."
Thanks to their creativity, the reports they create often use out-of-date or incorrect data. The resulting reports can be passed around the office and taken as gospel.
Worse, because they are in Excel, the reports being passed around often contain closely held company business practices, in the form of cell calculations, Collie noted.
Now, PowerPivot, with its ability to easily make reports of even greater depth, will only further muddy the waters of organizational insight, many fear. "Business users can combine data in a way that may not be compliant with corporate data sources or metrics," Gartner's Sallam said.
Nonetheless, if the organization puts a few rules and technologies in place, PowerPivot could actually diminish the proliferation of such spreadmarts.
One tip: Managers can publish their PowerPivot reports to a SharePoint repository, where they can be viewed by others, suggested Herain Oberoi, Microsoft director of product management for the company's SQL Server Business Group. There, the reports can be automatically updated as data changes -- eliminating the problem of out-of-date reports floating around. The SharePoint reports also do not contain the calculations used to generate the numbers.
This approach also allows the IT staff to keep track of what reports are the most popular, Oberoi said. The staff can then polish these reports and turn them into official, companywide summaries.
Another good habit the IT staff should get into as PowerPivot gets deployed: Maintain a repository of sanctioned data sources and metrics, Sallam advised. In this way, organizations can allow the data mashups, as long as the source data itself has been vetted and cleansed.
To some extent, PowerPivot may have BI professionals worried because it may put them out of a job. This probably won't happen though.
Even though PowerPivot offers some BI capabilities, it should never replace a full-fledged BI platform, analysts say. Even as an ad-hoc reporting mechanism, PowerPivot doesn't have as wide a range of features as other standalone, self-service BI offerings, such as Tibco Spotfire, Sallam notes. PowerPivot should be strictly used for informal reporting needs, she advises. For formal reporting, organizations insistent on staying with the Microsoft stack should use the company's SQL Server Reporting Services and SQL Server Analysis Services.