Today, I was helping a customer configure our Desktop Single Signon product for use with nVision. Because this was a brand-new machine where nVision had never been run, he kept encountering the error PS/nVision is not configured properly on this workstation.
He was amazed when I gave him the solution: drop into a windows command shell and type
Magically, nVision started to work.
The error message is generated from the code that uses COM to initiate a conversation between Excel and the PeopleTools bindaries. You see, because nVision is part Excel and part PeopleTools, there’s a delicate dance that has to occur at startup between the two. COM facilitates the communications between the two.
Sometimes if the COM objects aren’t initialized properly (they’re supposed to do this as part of running workstation configuration… PSCFG.EXE, but sometimes it doesn’t work, especially when importing the settings from a file). Running nVision with the /register flag will force this to occur (if you want to unregister the COM objects, you type
Labels: excel, nVision
So, you know that there’s opportunities for improving your end-users’ ability to get meaningful information out of PeopleSoft, but it seems very daunting. We’ve had several discussions with organizations in the past 2 weeks, where they see the opportunity, but don’t know where to get started.
This is a bit of a different spin on the following blog entry.
Baby Step 1 – Ad-hoc Queries
The first step is to start leveraging PS/Query as a means for getting data out. Many organizations have already been taking advantage of PS/Query (I know of several situations where organizations have tens of thousands of queries).
If you’re not using Query, then I suggest your first step to be to centrally develop a small number of queries to provide answers to common questions and then secure them with object security to be read-only. PeopleTools 8.44 added the ability to run a read-only query, but not save it (which means your end-users can use them without being able to change or break them).
When you create these queries, you will want to try to make them as useful as possible to a wide range of users. This generally means:
- You will want to use prompts in the queries to allow end-users to use the same query to answer multiple questions. One neat trick on the prompt side is to put wild-card criteria in it (in other words, make it so that the criteria does something like this: WHERE ….. AND ( A.DEPTID = :1 OR ‘*’ = :1)
- You will want the query to include fields to answer as many questions as possible related to the prompts and data source as possible.
Baby Step 2 – Formatting the Queries
Now that you’re using PS/Query, the first thing your users will want to do is to change them, either by re-sorting the data, by applying additional filters, or merely by making the output look better.
Many of your more savvy users will run the Query to Excel and do this themselves. The first thing they will do is put an auto-filter on the data, so that they can use the query results as a data source for doing additional querying (using the auto-filter). They may also resize columns and apply other formatting to the data.
Unfortunately, this can be very cumbersome to do manually every time your end-users run a query. Therefore, they will very quickly ask whether there is a way to automate this. There are two options available to you:
- A tabular nVision report with an InstanceHook macro in it to format the data. This option was discussed in the following posting. The nice thing about a tabular nVision report is that it’s essentially a Query that is specifically designed and formatted, so it’s relatively simple to do.
- Our Excel Add-in product, which will take the results of any query and automatically format and add auto-filters to it. The nice thing about this approach is that any query your end-users run will automatically be usable in this way (whereas somebody has to build an nVision report and write the macro code to apply auto-filters in nVision).
Baby Step 3 – Linking Queries
As your users start getting used to running queries and formatting them, they’ll start wanting to include more and more information in the query results. This is a natural part of the process, because once they learn one thing, users will want to see information related to it.
When your organization reaches this milestone, you will want to be very careful. Many organizations start extending the queries by joining related data into their queries. This can lead to “Kitchen Sink” queries and can cause two issues:
- The query results start getting too large to understand. Now, the users have to start wading through the columns to find the data they’re interested in.
- The queries become difficult to develop and maintain. This is because as you join in disparate data sources, the SQL gets more complex, and you often start introducing cartesian products in your results that you have to find and troubleshoot.
- Performance issues start to crop up. As the SQL gets more complex, the database has to do more work.
The best approach for this is to find ways to link queries together. Often, this is called drilling. There are 3 main ways of linking your queries together:
- Modify the query to have hyperlinks in the result set. This is covered in the powerpoint and code attached following blog entry. This means you will have to pre-think and code this into the query.
- Believe it or not, our Excel Add-in product will allow you to drill from any Query you’re viewing in Excel, allowing you to link one query to another without having to write code or dirty up the output with hard-coded links to other queries.
- Utilize drilling in nVision. I will discuss this further in the next topic, because the core functionality of drilling in nVision is not exposed for query-style output (so we haven’t yet taken that baby-step in this blog entry).
Baby Step 4 – Aggregating information
Okay, now your end-users are getting information and drilling into related information. However, now they want to do some comparisons. How are they doing related to their budget? Has the average customer satisfaction been going up or down over time? Instead of seeing lists of information, now they want to start aggregating it.
The first and easiest step of this is to simply put subtotals into their queries (which can either be done manually by you or automatically with our Excel Add-in product). This will allow you to see counts and sums of your results broken out for each field you sort on.
The second step is to leverage PivotTables in Excel, which will allow you to do the analysis in a cross-tab format. Again, your users can do this using the Excel menus or you can automate this in a tabular nVision report and and InstanceHook macro (again the example is covered for pivot tables here).
Baby Step 5 – Aggregating and Comparing across different items
Although Subtotals and Pivot Tables on top of queries provides a lot of value to your users, you will quickly reach the point where your users will want more. As we discussed in Baby Step 3, your queries will have a targeted set of data (which means that the data available for your pivot tables is limited). What your users will want to do is to do comparisons between different items (such as comparing customer opportunities with customer satisfaction ratings).
The common thread for doing this type of anlaysis is that there’s a set of “attributes” (often called dimensions) that you want to compare “data” (often called metrics, KPIs, or facts) against. There are a couple of options available to you here.
- Matrix reports in nVision. nVision allows you to take different queries (or Ledgers) and organize the data by common attributes, such as trees, chartfields, or timespans. Because you already have experience with Queries (and because nVision is included with PeopleSoft), this is often a natural step to take. The following blog entry has examples of nVision matrix reports for different subject areas.
- A BI tool, such as OBIEE, Hyperion Essbase, Cognos PowerPlay, or Microstrategy. These tools require additional development effort to model the relationships and often to extract the data from PeopleSoft. However, if your organization has already standardized on one of these tools (and especially if you have a Dat a Warehousing group), you may be forced to go in this direction.
Although there are other aspects we could look at, I believe that this is the best place to start (especially since many other aspects are more difficult to accomplish in baby steps). Another benefit of this approach is that your learnings can be applied to alternative technologies (i.e. even if you end up building a data warehouse, building a set of nVision reports helps you identify the data you want, how to aggregate them, and what facts your users want prior to building your first ETL map).
Labels: excel, nVision, Query, Reporting