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Data Visualisation – The Power of Pivot

In a world where we have exponential growth of data, we experience challenges around finding relevant information within these data quickly and easily.

Personally, I have a great passion for visualising data, but still struggle to find tools or technologies that allow me to quickly visualise massive amounts of data at a click of the mouse or the touch of the screen.The good news is that this is all about to change, and I anticipate that we will see more of these kinds of technologies appear as the demand for information becomes increasingly important.

Mark Delaney, one of our User Experience designers, talks about data visualisation in a recent SMARTS article here.

I recently discovered Microsoft Pivot, a tool created by Microsoft’s Live Labs team that provides an easy to use visual navigation tool. What is Pivot?

Pivot  is a simple way to browse massive amounts of data in an easy to navigate and highly visual way.

Whereas enterprise search enables us to find our information using text keywords and other comparatively simplistic methods, Pivot viewer gives us a visual and more powerful way of exploring the massive amounts of data that exist within an organisation. Pivot Viewer makes finding the data really easy for employees and clients to drill down the facets that describe the data and visually pinpoint exactly what you need. 

This is not a replacement for a good enterprise search solution, but an augmentation of visually determining and evaluating where the most relevant data to you is located.

The best way to describe the technology is by using an example. I have created a fictitious Consulting Business called “Viranda Consulting” and have created an inventory of employees’ skills, experiences, client engagements and availability.


I will use this example to demonstrate the following features of Pivot:

  • Facet Categories and Facets
  • Filter and Sort
  • Graphic views of the data
  • Information Panel

What follows is a brief description of these features.


Facet Categories and Facets

Facet categories are those primary categories of information your organisation uses to conduct business or perform long-term planning initiatives.

For this example, each of these categories will contain specific aspects – or facets – of the information which can be used to help refine the data. The most important part of facets is the ability to uniquely identify and group your data. In the case of Viranda Consulting, our fictitious business, we have identified the following facet categories that are an important part of this organisation. These are:

  • Technical Skills
  • Clients
  • Project Types
  • Soft Skills
  • Availability
  • Office

Each of these facet categories describes the facets that more closely resemble the information found in these categories. In the case of the Technical Skills facet category we may find facets such as Dynamics CRM, SharePoint or Java. In the Office facet category we may find facets such as Wellington, Auckland andChristchurch. Having this high level view of the Viranda Consulting employees means that Sales, Human Resources and customers can easily navigate and find the employee(s) that match the criteria being looked for, based on the facets available. Instead of just doing a typical search, the user can now very selectively decide if they are looking for employees by skills, project types, office locations or work done at previous or existing clients. The following is an image of what Pivot will display based on the Facet Categories described earlier.


Facet Categories and Facets

Figure 1 - Pivot: Facet Categories and Facets

The left-hand side of the diagram shows that one can filter by each of the facets available within each category. The numbers of employees shown in this diagram is based on their Soft Skills. The check boxes in each of the facet category sections enable you to filter the data until you find exactly what you are looking for.


Filter & Sort

The filter and sort capabilities, also seen in Figure 2, shows that the user can now sort the data using the facet categories and that the data will be displayed using visual grid columns based on the Sort selection shown on the left hand top corner of the diagram. In this diagram we have sorted based on the “Soft Skills” facet category and our data is now grouped based on all the available facets within this category, as seen at the bottom of the diagram.


Filter and Sort

Figure 2 - Pivot: Filter & Sort


Graphic Views of the data

Figure 3 shows a list of all the employees based on our sort and filter options. Users can easily drill down to show only the employees that fit the exact criteria or facet in the case of Pivot.


Graphic Views of Data

Figure 3 - Pivot Viewer: Graphic Views of Data


Information Panel

The information panel is the most powerful feature of Pivot once you have retrieved the data you are looking for. This panel provides information on all the facets that this data item - the employee in the case of this particular example - belongs to.


Information Panel

Figure 4 - Pivot Viewer: Information Panel


The diagram shows on the right hand side that this employee, in addition to the facets that the user may have selected, also has other facets and that be viewed within this information panel.


The information panel is basically divided into the following 4 parts:

  • Title of the data item (or Employee in our case)

 Title of the data item



  • Description of the data item (or Employee in our case)

 Description of the data item

The “More” button allow you to see detailed description about selected the data item.


  • All the facets that the employee belongs to for each one of the facet categories

 More button for description data

The benefit here is that you can also include links to items;  for example we have links to this person’s CV and any other related information we wish users to navigate to.


  • Related data collections (not shown here)

Pivot can also include links to other data sets. I’ve not shown this in the earlier diagrams, but one can easily imagine that a person may also be linked to a timesheet, and that client billing-related information may be associated to the selected person. This feature allows us to keep our data collections relatively separate to maintain and support, yet connected to provide the full picture view of what we want to learn.


  • Web search

 web search


Pivot also includes the ability to not only search the current data collection, but can also search the Web for related information. This can easily be controlled, and could link to the person’s blog, professional profiles or news events that have involved this person or where they have been mentioned.



I have now shown you the major features of Pivot and an example of how it can be used. This solution creates numerous possibilities to make data available using a visual navigation tool that can either run within a standard web browser or as a standalone application on your desktop. This tool also provide plug in support for Microsoft Excel and supporting tools to help build the image collections which makes creating data collections intuitively easy.

Following wider industry trends where there is a desire to access and navigate through information through visual user interfaces, I believe that this viewer will continue to be refined and be improved with time to provide an even more exciting and visually appealing experience.



Pivot: http://www.getpivot.com/

Pivot Tool: http://www.getpivot.com/download/

Pivot Data Collection examples: http://www.getpivot.com/collections/

Pivot for Developers: http://www.getpivot.com/developer-info/

Posted by: Henk Verhoeven, Solution Architect | 26 August 2010

Tags: Data Visualisation, Microsoft Pivot

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