Scorecards, KPIs, and analytic charts and grids are at the core of PerformancePoint’s value proposition. In order to effectively work with them we need to work with a multidimensional data source, which means Analysis Services. Traditionally, this has meant building OLAP cubes, which is a daunting prospect for those unfamiliar with the process. More recently, the appearance of the tabular data model in Analysis Services has lowered the bar significantly, but still requires a connection to a full blown Analysis Services server.
At the same time, the proliferation of PowerPivot, and PowerPivot for SharePoint has democratised the development and sharing of multidimensional data models for the power user. Unfortunately there is no “PowerPivot” connection type in PerformancePoint, so it would appear that the advanced PerformancePoint tooling is beyond the reach of our shared Power pivot models. The good news is that it’s not – its just not obvious as to how it can be done.
First, we need to step back a bit and talk about how PowerPivot for SharePoint works.
PowerPivot for SharePoint actually consists of two components. First, there is the Service Application that runs in the SharePoint farm that is responsible for performing data refreshes, and usage analytics. The main part however is actually an instance of Analysis Services using the tabular engine. It’s properly referred to as Analysis Services SharePoint Mode, and as of SharePoint 2013/SQL Server 2012 SP1, it can be installed standalone. However, it is most commonly installed on SharePoint front end servers.
You can see this in action by opening up SQL Server Management Studio, and connecting to the PowerPivot Instance on a SharePoint front end server. The instance is normally named PowerPivot:
In the case above, the SharePoint front end server is named NautilusSP. You can also see that there is a model being hosted by the server already. The model is named by taking a workbook, and adding a GUID to it. This is done by Excel Services the first time that a model is interacted with. For example, if we add the file Health.xlsx, which contains an embedded PowerPivot model, and immediately refresh the object explorer in Management Studio, we will see that nothing has changed. However, if we then interact with the model at all, by clicking a slicer, or opening a pivot table category, we will see that the model has been automatically created for us.
The first interaction with the model will be noticeably slower than all subsequent interactions for this reason.
Now, since this is actually an instance of Analysis Services, we should be able to connect Excel to this model, and do analyses from it. In fact, we should also be able to create a PerformancePoint data connection that points to this model, allowing to use PerformancePoint Scorecards, and analytic charts and grids. We can in fact do both things, but there is a major problem with doing so.
These models are temporary. If they haven’t been used for a period of time, they get deleted. Also, if the source workbook is updated, a new model is automatically create upon first interaction. This can be seen if we edit, and save our Health.xlsx workbook, and then open it in the browser and interact with it.
The original model will be deleted in a garbage collection process. We therefore cannot reliably target these models, as any reference will become invalid relatively quickly.
The good new is that we can use Excel to analyze these models by using the “Open New Excel Workbook” button in the PowerPivot Gallery. This is the leftmost of the three icons to the right of any workbook in the gallery.
Clicking on this action will download an odc (Office Data Connection) file, which will open up Excel, and establish a connection with the underlying model, allowing us to do further analysis on it as if it was hosted in Analysis Services (because it IS hosted in Analysis Services). This connection will work no matter what the name of the underlying model, and if the model doesn’t yet exist, it will be created.
Unfortunately, nothing like this automated connection creation exists for PerformancePoint.
To see what’s going on, we can open the connection itself within Excel, and then view its properties to find the connection string.
We can see that it is a standard Analysis Services connection string, with an interesting twist. While the value for “Initial Catalog” is in fact our temporary model, the value for “Data Source” is the URL of the Workbook. Excel Services will automatically direct calls to this workbook to the appropriate data model. if the model has been changed, it knows, and will serve the appropriate content, so our new analysis workbooks will not become invalid.
The good news is that we can use this within PerformancePoint as well. All we need to do is to open up PerformancePoint Dashboard designer, create (or edit) a connection using the Analysis Services type, and select “Use the following connection” which allows for a connection string.
For the connection string, all that we really need is the data source parameter, which is the URL to the workbook. Once entered, we see the appropriate model name in the dropdown for “Cube”. Once selected, this data connection will work like any other Analysis Services data connection. We can now build KPIs, Scorecards, and Analytic charts and grids from the model embedded in out Excel workbook, hosted in SharePoint. If the workbook changes, or the temporary model gets deleted, Excel Services will take care of recreating it on the next interaction.
It is possible to use PowerPivot for SharePoint with PerformancePoint.