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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 consistently comes from various origins. The needs further increase the complexity of any such solution for 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 this article, there is no viable solution that can handle all these aspects directly in the SharePoint environment. Nevron Chart for SharePoint aims to address this gap in the SharePoint data visualization space.

Pivot Data Analysis

Pivot data analysis

Fig. 1

The pivot data analysis is the most popular data aggregation method used nowadays. It provides the 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 useless when you have a table of 10,000 records or more.

Another aspect, which makes the pivot data analysis popular, is the ability to perform visual queries. Before 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 dataset fields to define grouping and summary values.

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

Functional Division of Pivot Engines

Functionally, pivot engines can be separated by their flexibility options 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 formula-based expressions define grouping, sorting, filtering, and data values summaries. 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 flexibility to create reports and dashboards that truly address the specificity of the data and extract valuable information quickly and easily – performing the same tasks from scratch is tough, expensive, or even impossible.

For example, the pivot data analysis in Reporting Services and other major reporting and BI providers use formula-based expressions to calculate summary values 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 support 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 numeric, date, time, time span, boolean, text, or array data. Many 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 before 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 write =(SUM(ABS(Fields!sales)) – in this example the ABS function is a chain function.

Data Source Division of Pivot Engines

Data source sharepoint

Fig. 3

The data sources supported by a pivot engine are classified as data source-specific and data source invariant.

A data source invariant pivot engine will connect to any 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 because we needed complete 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.

Pivot Charting

Pivot charting sharepoint dashboard

Fig. 4

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.

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 many Fortune 500 companies trusts. This charting engine can display 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. When processed, all pivots have the same structure – 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. It 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 an approach are 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 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

Fill style editor

Fig. 7

When designing the Nevron Chart for SharePoint product, we had to choose whether this should be a classical web interface (e.g., pure HTML and Java Script) or 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 into it should follow.

The Solution – JQuery + AJAX

Jquery and ajax fill style editor

Fig. 8

Text style editor

Fig. 9

After evaluating several commercial and free JavaScript libraries, we based 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 significant strengths compared to other charting solutions available today. Most such solutions require an RIA platform installed (Flash or Silverlight) or use postbacks resulting in slow web editing. The Nevron Chart for SharePoint Web Designer extensively uses AJAX and does not use postbacks, resulting in fast web-based editing requiring no plugins.

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

Why Nevron Chart for SharePoint

Customized pivot charts sharepoint

Fig. 10

Today's marketplace is flooded with different charts for SharePoint, so any user can at first be confused about the right solution for their needs.

An in-depth observation of all currently known standalone charting solutions for SharePoint reveals that they either have no pivot data aggregation features or are so limited that they are practically useless for most cases. Before Nevron Chart for SharePoint, advanced pivot charting in SharePoint was only available as part of report viewers for enterprise reporting tools and via Excel services. Both types of solutions are tough 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.

Comparing the charting abilities of different charting solutions, it is not hard to discard the majority of them: they are not complete, support only a limited number of chart 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, and supports multiple charting areas, axes, legends, and titles, has built-in support for combo charting and many more. All these features ensure you never run out of charting features when needed.

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.

Conclusion

We hope 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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