This chapter is about the two most frequently used tools in a power users’ arsenal for working with and visualizing data. It will review Excel and PowerPivot and discuss important use cases for leveraging them in your quest to for visualizing your data. They are the best tools to gather data and then begin visualizing and analyzing data quickly. This is the foundation for many of the types of visualizations you’ll be doing in the rest of the book, so it’s important to be familiar with them.
Excel and PowerPivot are easy-to-use, very intuitive programs that work together to create a powerful set of tools and capabilities for the end user. Excel came first in the 1990s, with PowerPivot following as part of SQL Server 2008 R2’s release cycle to deliver powerful data volume enhancements through a column store engine.
Calling Excel a spreadsheet application seems so 1990s because it has grown so much, but its foundation is still the top data analysis tool in the world. More on this in the “What Does Excel Do for Me?” section later in this chapter. PowerPivot is a free add-in for Excel that provides capabilities far beyond what traditional Excel could even deliver, including more Analysis Services–style functionality (online analytical processing (OLAP)) tools directly in Excel and accessible by the end user.