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Pivot Charting in SharePoint with Nevron Chart for SharePoint

The need for Pivot Charting in SharePoint

SharePoint is quickly becoming a popular content management system that small to large companies around the globe use to share information. The information managed by a SharePoint server is almost always heterogeneous – users publish Office documents, create SharePoint lists, access data from diverse databases, use the SharePoint Business Data Catalog to provide a common interface to a large set of other data sources including web services etc.

The diversity of data sources makes it difficult for any organization to create or incorporate a solution that handles all types of data that comes from various origins in a consistent manner. The complexity of any such solution is further increased by the needs of the organization to be able to perform data analysis and be able to display the results graphically. To make it even more complex any such solution must provide a web-based configuration interface so that users with no technical experience should be able to configure it.

At the time of writing of this article there is no viable solution that can handle all these aspects directly in SharePoint environment. Nevron Chart for SharePoint aims to address this gap in the SharePoint data visualization space.

Pivot Data Analysis

The pivot data analysis is the most popular data aggregation method used nowadays. It provides the needed flexibility to execute a summary report on a tabular data source and present it as a tablix. The need for pivot data analysis emerged from the fact that humans cannot see trends, or make informed decisions when working with large tables – the standard tabular way of displaying data is simply useless when you have a table of say 10,000 records or more.

Another aspect, which makes the pivot data analysis popular, is the ability to perform visual queries. Prior to pivot analysis tools, developer experience was needed to write complex SQL queries and stored procedures to achieve the same functional result. With pivot analysis tools users with no developer experience (e.g. end-users) can author complex queries by simply dragging and dropping data set fields to define grouping and summary values.

Currently all reporting tools are in fact using pivot engines to perform data analysis and pivot engines in more simple forms are available in many end user products.

Pivot data analysis

Fig. 1

Functional Division of Pivot Engines

Functionally, pivot engines can be separated by the flexibility options they provide for grouping, filtering, sorting and extracting summary values. In its simplest form a pivot engine would provide row and column grouping by a field value, sorting on a single field value + single formula and summary values based on a single field + single formula.

For example: the pivot data analysis features of Excel are simple. For a table that has two columns – company and sales, you can display a pivot tablix that group the columns by company, sorts the columns in increasing/decreasing order based on the sum of sales and display the sum of sales as data values.

As the tables grew in size and diversity of information the need for pivot engines that perform more sophisticated queries emerged. The simple expression format represented by field + formula couples evolved to functional languages in which grouping, sorting, filtering and data values summaries are defined by formula based expressions. Furthermore the sophisticated pivots allow for multiple grouping expressions, sorting rules, filtering rules and summary values extracted on all possible levels of the data aggregation. This gives the IT professionals the needed flexibility to create reports and dashboards that are truly addressing the specificity of the data and extract valuable information quickly and easily – performing the same tasks from scratch is very hard, expensive or even impossible.

For example: the pivot data analysis in Reporting Services and other major reporting and BI providers are using formula based expressions, allow for summary values to be calculated at all levels of data aggregation (row and column data members etc.) and support multiple grouping, filtering and sorting rules.

Pivot charting page 3

Fig. 2

Nevron Chart for SharePoint internally uses the Nevron Pivot engine. The Nevron pivot engine is functionally classified as advanced, since it uses formula based expressions, summary values can be calculated at all levels of the data aggregation and supports multiple grouping, filtering and sorting rules. The functional language of the Nevron pivot engine is advanced, since it offers a myriad of functions that help you deal with any type of numeric, date time, time span, boolean, text or array data. Many of the available pivot engines support aggregate functions (like SUM, AVERAGE etc.), but only a few support function chaining. Chain functions allow you to perform a series of data transformations prior to the data aggregation – for example suppose that you need to calculate the sum of the absolute values for a field – with the Nevron Pivot engine you can simply write =(SUM(ABS(Fields!sales)) – in this example the ABS function is a chain function.

Data Source Division of Pivot Engines

In respect to the data sources supported by a pivot engine they are classified as data source specific and data source invariant.

A data source invariant pivot engine will connect to any type of data source that can provide a tabular representation of its data (also called “in-memory” pivot engines). The advantage of using such tools is that you can have the same pivot aggregation features regardless of the data source. The disadvantage of such tools is that they are slower than data source specific engines when aggregating large tables (with millions of records) residing on remote servers.

We chose to implement the Nevron Pivot Engine as a data source invariant pivot engine, because of the heterogeneous nature of the data managed by SharePoint servers and also because we needed to have full control over the pivot engine customization for higher level tasks like data visualization. The Nevron Pivot Engine can be connected to the following types of data sources:
  • Classical Databases - MS SQL Server and Oracle as well as any other data sources that are accessible with an ODBC or OleDb connection (MS Access databases, MS Excel spreadsheets and many other).

  • SharePoint specific – specifically for SharePoint the Nevron Pivot Engine has been extended to connect to SharePoint lists and Business Data Catalog entities.
Data source sharepoint

Fig. 3

Pivot Charting

The adage "A picture is worth a thousand words" holds true regardless of the technology used and there is no better way to visualize a pivot tablix than a chart. Any solution that displays pivot charts always has two aspects – the charting engine used and the pivot charting model that is used to feed the data from the pivot tablix to the charting engine.
Pivot charting sharepoint dashboard

Fig. 4

Charting Engine

Nevron Chart for SharePoint internally uses Nevron Chart for ASP.NET as a charting engine. Nevron Chart for ASP.NET is a fast, flexible, browser compatible and time tested solution that is trusted by many Fortune 500 companies. This charting engine is capable of displaying virtually any 2D and/or 3D chart and has a wealth of settings allowing the customization of all chart elements (series, axes, legends, titles, walls etc.).

Nevron Chart for ASP.NET is a product of Nevron's long and true commitment to charting technology.
It is briefly demonstrated in the following online demo: Nevron Chart for ASP.NET Online Examples. It is safe to say the charting engine behind Nevron Chart for SharePoint is one of the most advanced in the charting industry today.

Pivot Charting Model

Using a leading charting engine is not enough to display pivot charts. The specifics of the pivot data aggregation require the development of a pivot charting model that addresses them. Virtually all pivots, when processed are having the same structure – a hierarchically organized rows and columns with aggregated values at each level and a grid of data cells each holding aggregated values. The idea of a pivot engine invariant pivot charting model emerged in the development of the Nevron Chart for Reporting Services product.

The following images illustrate a simple pivot at design time and runtime:

Design Time

Design time

Fig. 5
Runtime

Runtime

Fig. 6

Nevron Chart for Reporting Services enhances the charting abilities of SQL Server Reporting Services and handles the differences in the 2005 and 2008 editions by abstracting itself with a pivot engine invariant pivot charting model. Internally Nevron Chart for SharePoint uses this pivot charting model.

* For more details regarding Nevron Chart for SQL Server Reporting Services visit: Nevron Chart for SSRS

The benefits of such approach are clearly visible – you can streamline your pivot charting efforts at all levels of your organization – from SQL Server Reporting Services authors to SharePoint users and general WinForm – WebForm developers – they all receive the same quality pivot charting functionally for a diverse range of .NET platforms.

Web Based Configuration

Any charting solution for SharePoint should clearly have a web based configuration interface. This makes it possible for all types of users to configure the chart visually and directly in the browser – which is the essence of any component of a web based CMS solution.

The Alternatives - Flash or Silverlight vs HTML and JavaScript

When designing the Nevron Chart for SharePoint product we basically had to choose whether this should be a classical web interface (e.g. pure HTML and Java Script), or should it be based on some proprietary RIA technology – like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight.

Although a RIA solution would have been much simpler for implementation (both Flash and Silverlight are providing a wealth of user interface elements) – we decided that a true SharePoint solution must not require any third party plugins and be purely browser based.

After all, any web based CMS, such as SharePoint, should require only a browser and the components integrated in it should follow.

Fill style editor

Fig. 7

The Solution – JQuery + AJAX

After evaluating several commercial and free JavaScript libraries we chose to base the solution on JQuery. JQuery offers the simplicity, lightness, compactness and browser compatibility we needed to implement a sophisticated web interface that runs on all major web browsers – that said the Nevron Chart for SharePoint designer requires only a modern browser – no plugins are needed.

The web based configuration of Nevron Chart for SharePoint is one of its major strengths compared to other charting solutions available today. The majority of such solutions would require a RIA platform installed (Flash or Silverlight) or use post-backs resulting in slow web editing. The Nevron Chart for SharePoint Web Designer extensively uses AJAX and it does not use postbacks, which results in fast web based editing, which requires no plugins.

Furthermore we have spared no efforts to provide a wealth of customization settings that help you fine-tune even the small details of your pivot charts. The result is full featured web based chart designer that would make many desktop programs envious.

Jquery and ajax fill style editor

Fig. 8

Text style editor

Fig. 9

Why Nevron Chart for SharePoint

The marketplace today is flooded with different charts for SharePoint so any user can at first be really confused which is the right solution for his/her needs.

An in-depth observation of all currently known standalone charting solutions for SharePoint reveals that they are either having no pivot data aggregation features or such are so limited that are practically useless for the majority of cases. Prior to Nevron Chart for SharePoint, advanced pivot charting in SharePoint is only available as part of report viewers for enterprise reporting tools and via Excel services. Both types of solutions are very hard to install, are expensive and do not blend very well with the web specific requirements of SharePoint. Furthermore none of these solutions can be easily configured through a web interface nor provides truly advanced charting.

When comparing the charting abilities of different charting solutions it is again not hard to discard the majority of them – they are simply not complete - support only a limited number of charting types, a few settings, have no abilities for 3D, do not support combo charting, have a single charting area etc. In contrast Nevron Chart for SharePoint is complete in terms of all chart related features – it supports more than 170 distinct 2D and 3D charting types, has many advanced settings, supports multiple charting areas, axes, legends and titles, has built-in support for combo charting and many more… which ensures that you never run out of charting features when you need them.

When comparing the web interfaces you will see that every charting element can be visually edited in great details, chart templates and palettes can be saved and loaded for reuse and web based editors for fill, stroke, shadow and text styles provide the needed simplicity to alter the chart appearance as you would do in a desktop charting program. On top of that pivot categories, series and values are specified by drag and drop.

Now that you know why Nevron Chart for SharePoint is the solution for all your advanced pivot charting needs in SharePoint, it’s time to download the evaluation and see for yourself what it can do with your data – visually and directly in SharePoint.

Customized pivot charts sharepoint

Fig. 10

Conclusion

We hope that this document gives you more than one reason why you should be on the board of the most advanced charting technology available in SharePoint today. Do not take our word for granted - download the evaluation now and see for yourself how we can chart your data.

About Nevron Software

Founded in 1998, Nevron Software is a component vendor specialized in the development of premium presentation layer solutions for .NET based technologies. Today Nevron has established itself as the trusted partner worldwide for use in .NET LOB applications, SharePoint portals and Reporting solutions. Nevron technology is used by many Fortune 500 companies, large financial institutions, global IT consultancies, academic institutions, governments and non-profits.
For more information, visit: www.nevron.com.

Customer Quotes:

QUOTE We were asked to convey a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) which reflected the current state of production in the factory. To accomplish this task we sourced the excellent SharePoint Webparts provided by Nevron. UNQUOTE

Paul Morris, IS/IT Specialist
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