Coming soon: a smarter Microsoft Excel


One of the true office productivity war horses is about to get a smart makeover.

Microsoft Excel, the venerable business spreadsheet application used for years in enterprises ranging from sole proprietorships to multinational corporations, soon will be able to take your inputs and go them one better, thanks to machine learning and the internet.

As TechCrunch‘s Frederic Lardinois writes, “Excel will soon be able to understand more about your inputs and then pull additional information from the internet as necessary.”

This smarter, proactive version of Excel should be available early next year, but Lardinois got a sneak peek this week from two Microsoft executives at the software giant’s Ignite conference in Orlando.

While Excel long has been a valuable component of Microsoft’s Office suite of productivity tools, it’s lacked the dynamic features found in more modern productivity apps such as collaboration software. But the updated version will incorporate new data types that go far beyond what humans enter into Excel’s spreadsheet rows and columns.

Enter a company name into Excel, for example, and an integrated Bing API will search for and add in stock information, market cap, and other data. The new Excel “can even automatically detect that a list of names is indeed a list of company names or a list of cities,” Lardinois writes, “which then allows you to pull in population data, among other things.”

Finding and injecting relevant data is a great way to turbocharge a spreadsheet and provide more opportunities for enterprise employees to mine information in ways that can improve the business. That includes the use of intelligent graphics; the coming version of Office features a built-in tool that will pull compelling data from Excel to create visualizations.

As Lardinois notes, Google Sheets offers a similar feature, but not everybody uses Google Sheets (or G Suite, Google’s competitor to Office). Indeed, in larger enterprises, Office and Office 365 primarily remain the business application suites of choice.

This means that, sometime early next year, millions of enterprise workers will be able to leverage the power of machine learning, the internet, and visualizations within Excel. It’s another step toward the day when every enterprise worker is a data analyst.


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