A Sketch

Say I wanted to make a suffle for a dinner party.

I bought the ingredients, and then followed a recipe. I presented it in some appealing arrangement, and served it.

Power Suffle!

Say now Bosch brought out a new kitchen appliance – The Power Suffle.

This makes making suffle very easy.

You can select the type of suffle you want to make. It orders the ingredients from a whole range of different grocery stores, magically receives the ingredients, and runs a program for the type of suffle you have selected. Then it presents it in a variety of presentations that you can choose.

All good.

You can make modifications too. Even better!

It makes a great sales presentation

The greatest benefit of this new innovation is the sales presentation. It is magical. Audiences are in awe. To all those people who so far demonstrate other things, this is real sexy. That’s vacuum cleaners, and people selling household cleaning products flock to this new industry. Car salesmen, estate agents, double-glazing and Scientology. Every new house now has a recess in their kitchen design for the Power Suffle.

But here’s the thing!

We could always make a suffle.

And, if you’re having a dinner party, you will need to use other things too, like the hob, the microwave, and the kettle. You will need ingredients that the Power Suffle is not concerned about.

So, the Power Suffle is great, but we could always make suffles. The cookery skills that are involved in suffle-making are common to all cooking. The Power Suffle will not replace your kitchen, or your cookbooks, or the need to do grocery shopping.

But its great if you’re only going to serve your guests … (many varieties of) suffle.

It’s also great if your job is confined to demonstrating the Power Suffle, and never actually hosting a dinner party. Or having to cook.

What’s that got to do with Excel?

Power Query in Excel (now named Get and Transform in Excel 2016) is a powerful new feature.

In my opinion, the biggest benefit of Power Query is that it introduces some fundamental data concepts that we don’t (naturally) think about or understand when in a ‘spreadsheet mindset’.

It’s like, if you never normally cook then the Power Suffle gives you a reason to enter the kitchen.

But, it is useful to remember that a suffle could be made long before the Power Suffle came along; that the things that make it work have always been accessible to us. And when we need to have greater control of the result (or the process) we need to take control by rolling our sleeves up.

But, as I said, the greatest benefit of Power Query is to help change the mindset. Then, with that new-found knowledge, most people will find that learning the basic ingredients of Power Query is both easy, and give us more powerful Excel skills.

You can explore this idea yourself by looking at the solutions to ‘WFT to OMG! The Dirty Dozen’ – which are solutions to common labour-intensive processes in most organisations. The solutions use the ideas on which Power Query is designed, but can you come up with better solutions with the Power Query feature?

(See also my spreadsheet story about a £17.500 computer system that couldn’t do spreadsheets, and the Sinclair Spectrum 48K of £175. TBA)

Hiran de Silva

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