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Why Haven't You Adopted Power Pivot Yet?

October 15, 2014 - by Bill Jelen

It is late 2014, almost 4 years after PowerPivot reached general availability. This product is a game-changer. It enables people to do dramatically more powerful analyses than regular pivot tables. Yet, when I walk into a room full of 100 people who opted to come to a Power Excel with MrExcel seminar, there are only 2 or 3 hands that go up when I ask who has tried Power Pivot. These are people who use Excel 40 hours a week (and those are the weeks they are on vacation…), and only 2 or 3 percent of them have tried Power Pivot, Power View, Power Query, Power Map.

Let's travel back in time to 1989. I was using Lotus 1-2-3 and was really adept at data analysis in spreadsheets. Pivot tables did not exist yet. Instead, you would do an Advanced Filter, another Advanced Filter followed by transpose, write an @DSUM function in the corner, then /Data Table 2. It took fifteen minutes to create what pivot tables could do in six clicks. At that point, Lotus 1-2-3 had 90%+ market share. There were other spreadsheets: Quattro, Excel, As Easy As, but they were also-rans. Lotus was the king.

Over at Lotus, Pito Salas and his team had invented a new way of thinking about spreadsheets. They created a way to create pivot table reports. But Lotus opted not to put this product in the next release of Lotus 1-2-3. It was too powerful. They could not just give this away. It was sold in a separate product called Lotus Improv. You had to go spend an extra $100 to get the pivot table functionality. My manager bought one for himself… it gave him super powers. But he did not have the budget to buy a copy for me. I went out at lunch and plunked down my own $100 so I could do pivot tables in six clicks instead of 15 minutes.

Across the country, in Redmond, the Excel team were trying to gain market share against Lotus and getting nowhere fast. Excel was so much slower than Lotus. It took two more releases of Excel, but eventually, Microsoft included the now-rebranded pivot tables, for free, in Excel 93. This was the beginning of the end for Lotus. Find any old accountant. Ask if he used to use Lotus. He will nod. Ask if he can remember when he switched. The odds are that he switched between 1994 and 1997.

Am I saying pivot tables killed Lotus 1-2-3? Not completely. Excel had VBA. Subtotals. AutoFilter. And computers finally caught up to have enough processing power to enable the GUI interface of Excel not feel sluggish compared to Lotus 1-2-3. But pivot tables were a factor. It is not that Lotus did not have pivot tables. They practically invented pivot tables (or were the first to borrow the concept from Javelin), but they decided not to put them in the box with Lotus 1-2-3.

If the move from @DSUM to Pivot Tables were like moving from a horse to a car, the move from Pivot Tables to Power Pivot + Power Query + Power Map + Power View is like moving from a car to a jet.

Next week, when I walk into my Power Excel seminar in Miami, I will again ask how many people have used Power Pivot, and it will be the same 2-3%. We are about to see the fourth generation of Power Pivot come out next year and we are still only at 2-3% adoption. Why aren't 30% of the data analysts out there using Power Pivot yet?

Here are my theories:

  1. It is nearly impossible to buy. You can not walk into a Microsoft Store and buy Power Pivot. It is not in any box. Well… it is in the stand-alone boxed version of Excel 2013 sold at Amazon, but that box is not sold at the Microsoft Store. And, that box excludes other goodies like editing for Office on the iPad.
  2. Office 365 plans are too confusing. There are flavors of Office 365 Home. There are flavors of Office 365 Business. There is Office 365 University. None of the Home editions include Power Pivot. It is a travesty that our future analysts are being encouraged to buy the dumbed-down Office 365 University. Of the Business Plans, the $12 a month Pro Plus plan includes it, but the $12.50 a month Business Premium plan does not include it.
  3. Power Map is free for all with any Excel 2013. But Power Query and Power View require you to have one of the hard-to-buy versions of Excel 2013.
  4. The DAX formula language is hard to master. You really need to study Rob Collie's DAX Formulas book to unleash some of the potential of Power Pivot. You can see huge analysis improvements without DAX, but with DAX you can create new statistics that are simply impossible in regular pivot tables.

If I were in charge of merchandising the new flagship Microsoft Store in Manhattan, I would simplify this down to two boxes:

  • The Real Office 365: Include everything in the box. Excel. Power Pivot. Power Query. Power View. Power Map. Power Q&A. Power BI sites. Heck, you could even throw in freebies like Word, Power Point and One Note.
  • Not Really Office: (also known as Office For Your Grandmother). This box could be an amalgam of every hampered SKU they are selling at the Microsoft Store now.

As Microsoft marketing starts planning for Windows 10 and Office vNext to come out in 2015, they need to simplify the product offerings. Every copy of Office should have the ability to use Power Pivot, Power Map, Power Query, Power View. These are the next-generation tools that will make people never think of Google Docs or Quip or other spreadsheet upstarts.

Bill Jelen is the author / co-author of
Excel Insights – A Microsoft MVP Guide to the Best Parts of Excel

There are fewer than 100 Excel MVPs worldwide. 24 of them have contributed to this book. Written, edited, reviewed and printed by Excel MVPs, this is practical Excel passion undiluted, with each MVP highlighting some of their favorite topics.