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Should Excel be a Part of Your BI Career Plan? 5 Resources to Brush-Up

Microsoft is beefing-up the Business Intelligence (BI) features in Excel 2013. As a part of its Office 2013 refresh (which officially launched today), Microsoft has placed a large focus on the data analytics and visualization features within Excel, namely PowerPivot and Power View.

I recently held a Q&A session with Rob Collie, current CTO at Pivotstream, to discuss this. Prior to this, Collie was a founding engineer of PowerPivot during his 14 years at Microsoft, so he knows a thing or two about utilizing Excel to it’s full potential.

I asked Collie about the future direction he sees for Excel users and what impact it will have on the future careers of Excel users.

Michael Koploy: What’s your vision for Excel users in 5 or 10 years? How will they be able to better analyze data and impact business as we know it?

Collie: I see the Excel report author’s role and perception within their organizations changing quite a bit. Today, sadly, the ability to put together a great XLSX file is perceived as about the same as just another Office document. Excel reports are applications, not content. Their close association with the other Office apps “drags down” their perception, however, and makes everyone think they are just content.

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But when you move the consumption and distribution of Excel onto the Web, that linkage is finally broken. The perception of Excel authors can start drifting toward “data application developers” … PowerPivot and the server provide a strong incentive for the Excel pros to work closely with their brethren in IT–the people who own and manage the data sources. The clichéd conflicts between “the business” and IT actually have a resolution now, and that involves the Excel pros as ambassadors of a sort. Everywhere I’ve seen PowerPivot adopted, I’ve seen that cooperative vibe emerge organically.

It all adds up to a very different career arc for Excel users.

You can read the full Q&A over on the blog: Is Microsoft Excel the Next Great Business Intelligence Tool?

Could Excel be solution to the epic conflict between Business and IT? I’m not sure about that, but it does seem like an appropriate time to brush-up on one’s advanced Excel skills. If you’re interested in a career in Business Intelligence and have some basic Excel knowledge, you would be well served to build some advantaged knowledge of the application and its programming languages. I’ve put together a list of resources to help guide your DAX and VBA workouts.

  1. PowerPivotPro: The blog of Collie and Kasper de Jonge, current Microsoft SQL BI Program Manager. PPP features a mix of how-to’s and guides from Collie, de Jonge and other Excel MVPs.
  2. Microsoft’s DAX Survival GuideMicrosoft’s own official Wiki covering the Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) PowerPivot language. Includes links to popular MVP blogs, articles and books.
  3.’s Advanced Excel Skills: In addition to covering DAX and VBA basics, also includes a list of advanced keyboard, mouse and computer shortcuts, as well as how-to guides for integrating Excel data into other applications.
  4. MrExcel’s Article Directory: Includes links to over 640 Excel articles and resources. Got an Excel problem you can’t seem to solve? Open this page this page and search–you’ll probably find your answer.
  5. Chris Webb’s BI BlogWebb regularly posts his thoughts on the Microsoft Excel & Analytics offerings (such as Some Thoughts on What Office 2013 means for Microsoft BI), as well as more technical guides (like Parameterising PowerPivot Connection Strings in Excel 2013).

This list is obviously too short, but it’s a start. Do you have any other great Excel resources that you want to share? Put a note in the comments so others can check them out.

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