Excel 2007/2010 Pivot Tables: Getting detailed/granular table reports from OLAP… in seconds!

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Well, I’ve been delaying  & postponing this post. Being the main reason having some assurance that this could have some actual value :). Really, I’m not sure, but anyway, here it goes!


A few weeks (actually I think I now can say months… :) ) I was called to help a customer solve a set of somehow advanced scenarios on Analysis Services. One of the issues, actually the big one, was that end users were having a real hard time getting detailed reports (near to drill trough, maximum granularity “detail” queries) working with Excel 2007 Pivot Tables.


My first thought was, honestly :) , “sure… olap & analysis services are mostly aggregate oriented, not the best option for creating large facts/rows detailed reports“. We could say, if being a little “naive”, that there other good options like using reporting services,etc.  IMO that really doesn’t cut it anymore, my reasons:


  • End users really don’t care if they want aggregates or detail rows, they want a single BI repository to their information needs. And they’re right! :)
  • Solutions like building  custom reports have the problem that they don’t allow free adhoc report authoring & filtering
  • From a “single version of the truth” perspective (whatever that means :) ) using several tools & repositories to show almost the same information is the best way to go (IMO)


So perceiving that end users have good reasons I went a little further to see why, when getting back *only* near 10.000 records with 8/9 fields on a pivot table, Excel 2007 mostly….ahh…”crashed”, or took several minutes to get the “tiny” 10.000 rows pivot table back.


And the results were somehow surprising. In this specific scenario it really has nothing to do with OLAP/Analysis Services, but with the mdx query excel 2007 generates, that even with hidden grand totals (to mimic a table result), requests aggregated values to the olap (All member).


The problem with is this? Well  for a result of 784 real result rows (what end user sees), using 13 columns, olap processes aprox. 125.000 total cells, and returns aprox 10.000 total rows. But if the result rows are now 6.207 we get 1.211.896  total cells from olap, and  86.564   total olap rows. Why is that?


The problem is that Excel still requests all member aggregations even when Excel is not showing that values (that’s a “table” report layout remember?). In this case the yellow rows are returned from analysis services but never shown.


The query goes something like this (note drilldown member style of query):




This is unfortunate because a simple custom mdx query using standard cross joins to get the same “table” style results, actually returns on just a few seconds!!! Something like:



(note: a few weeks later Richard Lees posted exactly the same problem, with great insights & tips: using properties or custom “reporting” hierarchies. Please see here . That’s a great post. This was after my issue, it sure would have helped me at the time! :) )


So, although testing this on Excel is difficult due to performance maybe we’re talking of something like (relation between real rows vs olap rows with 13 columns)




So can we do something do to ease things out? And still maintaining end user authoring & filtering ? :) Well, yes we can! We really can’t tailor the MDX query generated by Excel…but.. we can change the mdx query from an external data table query, and we can get the filters from the pivot and using them on our external table query! :)


The results are really impressive, actually I was deeply surprised, warm cache queries for 6.207 rows are under a second, for 73.094 rows under 15 seconds, we were actually  able to return more than 1million rows from analysis services, using this technique, in a few minutes.


(note: that when using native pivot table for the 73.094 rows scenario I couldn’t get the query to end without first crashing my excel – if you use Prism HUD (great tool btw) the memory & cpu footprint of this native pivot table queries are *very* noticeable…

in fact be careful when exploring several columns excel pivot tables with analysis services, particularly  if both are in the same box…  I got the impression that my disk almost “fried” due to excessive memory usage…).

So, here’s the sample I’ve worked on, I would really like to get some feedback. :)  You can filter the table report like a regular pivot table. It checks the results so that grand totals check, and show the refresh time in seconds. It also does the trick of changing the column labels to the friendly ones.



Some results (note excel result rows vs olap rows):




Some notes:


  • When opening you must enable macros, that’s the way custom mdx query is changed when adding/removing filters on the fast sample
  • I use a named instance for SQL2008, so if you have default instance you have to change it on the connections tab
  • The sample is bases on the Contoso Retail Olap sample
  • If you need to add more columns to the sample just edit the query on the config sheet. As long as you leave the {filters} token
  • Doesn’t support multi select filters (hey, it’s just a sample! actually my customer did an awesome job with this startup, and the final workable excel was great)
  • There’s a strange result with employee jae,pak witch doesn’t show up on the native pivot table (fell free to send feedback on this, my time is limited :) )






So, that’s it. I think there’s some potential here I and would like to share & receive feedback. I talked with several people on the possibility that we were missing some excel option to fix this, and that it’s still open :) , if you know one please share it.


Richard Lees mentions that this should be fixed on 2010, but I’m still getting the same behavior on the sample, again, maybe we missed something. I also would like to share some final notes:


  • End users really shouldn’t be worrying about using the analysis services only for aggregated values. What they want is a single repository for their information needs, specially if the data scope is the same! I actually think there should be a really, cof, :) Unified Model that covers both type of scenarios.
  • As it seems that we can actually use olap to do, at least some, more granular queries… why doesn’t excel offer a real table style, no totals, end user authored pivot table? Doesn’t seem difficult to me…






Update Aug-2010:

Update Sep-2011: (some notes from Chris Webb on the issue, now regarding denali tabular & dax scenarios-surprisingly…still a problem! -)

Sample Download:



About Rui Quintino
Developer & Software Architect @ DevScope

6 Responses to Excel 2007/2010 Pivot Tables: Getting detailed/granular table reports from OLAP… in seconds!

  1. Pingback: SmartPivot – Little Excel Add-On for Olap Pivot Tables, Easily create Excel dashboards from olap cubes « Rui Quintino Blog

  2. Pingback: Excel 2007/2010 Pivot Tables: Getting detailed/granular table reports from OLAP… in seconds! - Rui Quintino BI -

  3. Pingback: Excel subtotals when querying Multidimensional and Tabular models « Chris Webb's BI Blog

  4. Pingback: Shattering old myths (again): analysis services cubes can’t handle tabular reports with #excel, adhoc tabular reports won’t work with cubes & excel, -definitely busted with #smartpivot « Rui Quintino Blog

  5. Pingback: Shattering old myths (again): analysis services cubes can’t handle tabular reports with #excel? adhoc tabular reports won’t work with cubes & excel? -definitely busted with #smartpivot « Rui Quintino Blog

  6. Pingback: Introduction to MDX for PowerPivot Users, Part 3: The Members() and Crossjoin() functions « Chris Webb's BI Blog

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