Is Excel 2018 going to be the game changer in data visualization?

Is Excel 2018 going to be the game changer in data visualization?

Tech giant Microsoft recently announced a ton of new features that it would be adding to our old pal Excel. Perhaps its time and God knows Excel has waited long enough for a major upgrade. But what will this upgrade actually do? Will it really live up to the buzz its announcement stirred up? And what are these new data types that they are talking about? We will try to answer all these queries here. Let’s dive in !

Most of you reading this are aware about Excel and how it works, so I won’t bore you with that. The basic excel sheet encompasses a humongous amount of capabilities. What this new upgrade will do is add a truckload of features to its already huge arsenal. It seems that Microsoft, like any other tech giant in business, wants to make Excel a one-stop-shop for its users. The ever growing IT industry already offers infinite options for the vast array of services that people seek. But few of the products available out there truly cater to ‘all’ your needs. In the current rat race, one who satisfies all demands of the user with minimum navigation from the opened window is the one who’ll win. And the prize of this race is user base – the thing that compelled Facebook to buy a simple messaging system called WhatsApp.

Now Excel already has a huge user base. What matters now is retaining those users. And Microsoft is taking steps exactly in that direction. From what I understand, till now Excel used to take in majorly numbers and alphabets but with this upgrade, not only will Excel take in different data types but also analyse and understand them before giving out suggestions and outputs. Also the Bing API that has been integrated will give you information right from the internet. For eg. if there are two different lists of countries and hotels it will give your information like population, demography, etc for the countries and tariff, ratings, etc for the hotels. All this by just entering your data. And Microsoft doesn’t stop here. Yes, it can do more. Actually, WAY MORE !

This is where it gets interesting. The Office team at Microsoft is planning to launch an inbuilt visualization tool for Excel as well. It will feed on the relevant data from the spreadsheet automatically and develop visualizations for it. Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s general manager for Office, also said “It is meant to take any list of data and then start to generate insights”. Spataro also said, “It will look at combinations, charts, pivot tables and it will recognize those that are most interesting by looking at outliers, looking at trends in the data, looking at things that represent changes.” It is named INSIGHTS as of now. And machine learning is also being incorporated into this in order to facilitate the ability to take data from other services using APIs.

That’s all news and you would find it pretty much everywhere on the internet. What i want to discuss is the scope of these latest developments. Can a really advanced tool replace the customize solution building model? Maybe in the future! But if we consider the present scenario we would have to consider many parameters before coming to a conclusion. On one hand we have Microsoft making versatile products to cater the needs of the masses. And on the other side we have technological firms that build customize visualizations as per the requirement of the client. Both have to be judged keeping their pros and cons in mind.

In case of products/solutions used by the masses one has little scope of achieving improvisations at a rapid pace. The owner companies try to create a product for general use. So there are features that are bound to get left out and the user has to adapt to the working and limitations of the product. He/She has to work around the restrictions posed by the product. But at the same time the product is reasonable, readily available and also comes with support.

On the other hand we have customized solutions/visualization for our data or problems. These solutions take time to be developed and involve a process that can sometimes be time consuming. But they provide the users a certain level of ease and control over the product that market popular tools may fail at. And since the client is always involved in the process of building of the product, there always prevails a sense of familiarity with it. Even changes and improvisations are not time taking because one does not have to think about how it will affect masses as the main goal is to satisfy and justify the needs of the client. Addition of features and incorporating ideas and processes that are not out there can prove extremely beneficial for companies that go down the customize solution building road.

As far as data visualization is concerned, I have a personal inclination for customized solutions because I believe that even if the same data-set is given to two different entities to use, they can come up with extremely varied solutions to achieve their goal. And products of this age still have a long way to go in order to achieve a level of ease and customization that built-from-scratch solutions have. This is what I think with the fairly limited amount of research I was able to do. I may change my opinion in future if I come across some ground-breaking aspect that I may have missed out, but who knows?

In any case, I personally feel that we are in an extraordinary time where competition is giving way to more and more cutting edge technology and placing them in the hands of common people. Tech is not a cup for the privileged only. So we should be grateful to all the options we have and use them in judicious ways to help our fellow men.

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