Microsoft Excel 2013 itself has such an awesome collection of built-in tools and features that it has beyond any doubt, become one of the most useful tools for so many things.

Today’s blogpost by Ryan Dube, 3 Crazy Excel Formulas That Do Amazing Things

Microsoft Office posted the following video “Office 365 as a car”:

The comments are predictably flattering. Audi, Lamborghini, BMW, and the final suggestion is “it’s a plane.” That’s closest to the truth. Just look at Excel 2013 by itself  without PowerPoint, Access, Word, etc … Excel 2013 would be a Terrafugia: part car, part airplane, part helicopter. Like the Ryan Dube quote, above: Excel 2013 has so many built-in tools, is far beyond a spreadsheet.

Microsoft’s video triggered something that’s been on my mind as a blogpost: Excel 2013 is amazing. It’s also not just a spreadsheet. It’s a data-mining tool, it’s taking on database functionality, it’s getting easier for developing web-based apps. Some of these things were hacks that developers seduced Excel into doing via VBA coding but Microsoft’s Excel team has made them bona-fide features. Hmmm … Okay???

That’s juicy stuff for developers like me. It’s also sometimes intimidating, overwhelming and frustrating … even for developers, like me.

The good news is that Excel 2013 is still the sweet car you can hop into and use for basic functions. However, to get solid use from this Terrafugia, you’ve gotta know how to fly a helicopter, have the space for it, get licensed, afford the maintenance, and maybe just hire someone to fly you around in the thing.

Verily verily, the chasm between Excel 2013 and earlier versions (Mac and PC versions) is crazy wide and getting wider.

NOTE In October 2012 Microsoft announced that there will no longer be support for Office 2003 as of 4APR14.



In a car, you can get in and go. There are differences in how they handle and the creature comforts but a car is a car. Excel 2013, however, is continuing to evolve past the spreadsheet realm. Let’s look at two things:

  1. The world of Big Data
  2. Excel’s newest features that embrace the internet and the needs of developers

A universal definition of “Big Data” remains elusive. For our purposes, “Big Data” is something that my clients and students face in keeping track of all the data available for monitoring the realities of their businesses. However, in addition to sales, inventory and employee timesheets, they have access to more data and are asking more questions. Reality has gone from the 24-pack of crayons to the 1M-pack:

  • Do YouTube analytics show that it’s worth continuing to maintain a channel?
  • What was the ROI our Facebook ads, by quarter, and is it trending the right way?
  • Website traffic is up but are more people calling us or commenting on blogposts?
  • After the newspaper tweeted about our nonprofit, what impact did that have on our website traffic and donations?
  • Why can’t we reconcile our PayPal, bank account, receipts and petty cash box amounts?
  • How frequently are our competitors tweeting and what are they tweeting about?
  • What are our optimal staffing levels, by day, so that incoming emails are replied to within 24 hours?.
  • How much does rain impact our walk-in business?

Now, things get weird because Excel 2013 gives you access to those answers and can either distract you with too much or, worsen the data freak-out if analyzing plain ol’ sales data was already a source of misery.

The results of having all this data and being able to get answers to the narrowest questions:

  1. New headaches for small businesses
  2. Exposes a lot of people as poorly prepared to handle data


Office 365 has been out for a few months now and Microsoft’s Excel team has come up with some brilliant features to help us with all this data that’s coming from everywhere. And this is why the “Office 365 As A Car” question doesn’t work.

With all this data coming out of everywhere, crap data becomes a greater worry.

What is crap data?

Duplicates, incomplete data, data in the wrong fields, inconsistent formatting.

What’s that mean?

We have to be able to check data quality, parse data like a mo-fo, and ask clearer questions about our business data.

We have to be extremely rigorous in separating the data we need to track and the data we want to track.

You can’t just get in this car and go, no ma’am! And some activities just aren’t going to happen at the street level, we’ve got to get airborne.

New Airborne Features of Excel 2013

Slicers-with-Tables for data analysis

Data Explorer for data mining

Table Relationships for integrating datasets

ExcelWebApp for web-based dashboards and data visualization

Power View for dashboards at the extreme, including animated graphics

IMPORTANT NOTE  The tutorials make these airborne features look deceptively easy. All the hotshot tutorials (mine and everyone else’s) are starting with clean data; a clean, contrived reality. However, some people might take entire workdays parsing data before they can use Slicers-with-Tables. And, with the ease of building dashboards, a person has to resist the temptation of pimping it out with garish colors and obscure metrics.


Excel 2013 is a frikken beast! Is a glorious freakish mash-up like the Terrafugia or a Centaur. It’s definitely not just one thing any more.

There’s good and there’s bad. There’s greater functionality, old tasks are much easier; it’s also got more moving parts, more options, and can be a bit more difficult to get going.

I’ll borrow again from Ann Emery who said that our brain is the data management tool that we need to develop more than any other because the bottom line is trustworthy data—whether we’re using Excel 2013’s overflowing toolbox or chalk on a sidewalk. With all this new access to infinite data, we’ve got to know what we need and don’t need, where to look for corruption, and how to ensure that the result can be trusted.

So, no. Office 365 and Excel 2013 can’t be compared to a car. It’s far far more, and demands far far more of its users.


Hey, by the way! Ann owes us a guest post. Let me put my hat on and go see where she’s at. In the meantime, please keep your data clean!


Terrafugia Image Credit: lotprocars via photopin cc

Centaur Image Credit: DrawingForMonkeys