You’ve just bought a beautiful new BMW M3. It comes with an owner’s handbook. It also comes with a tourist guide that lists the best places to visit, with directions on how to get there. There are thousands of YouTube videos that show you how to follow the directions in the guide. There are also videos on how to download the directions to the on-board Sat Nav app.

It’s a fantastic breakthrough. Right?

Everyone’s excited!

But, wait a minute. Those places of interest have always been there. I’ve been visiting them for years. Long before BMW created an app. I used the Tom Tom and then Google on my phone. Before that I used a paper map I got from the gas station. It worked fine.

These places of interest have always been there. Regardless of how I found out about them, or how I learned how to get there, or which map I used.

So, when you show some surprise at the euphoria surrounding the latest announcement that a NEW set of ‘Places of Interest for BMW M3’ is being issued and will soon be downloadable to your car I can’t hide my little skepticism.

‘But I could always visit those places. Even before I had a BMW. Even before I had a car. Those places have been there for hundreds of years. Some of those places, like Niagara Falls, have been there for millions of years. Possibly billions!”

I get the reply “Ah, but now you can do it from inside the car, without going the long way of looking at a separate map. Where possibly you could make a mistake and go to the wrong place”.

“Er, but both the BMW and my phone I used before BMW access the same data in Google Maps.”

The I hear this. “Ah no. Most people don’t know how to use Google Maps. It’s yet another interface that they then have to learn. Here, it’s part of the car. Isn’t that great?” is the reply I get.

“Oh, ok then. But I’m happy to continue to visit the thousands of places we could already always visit, using all the available tourist guides, and Google Maps on my phone.”

“You should visit these places in the BMW guide for the M3. It’s specially made for the M3. That’s why it was created. I had heard of many people who tried to visit places of their choice and got lost. If it wasn’t for visiting these places that BMW make possible by this amazing announcement, why did you buy a BMW M3?””

I have this conversation every time a new feature of Excel is announced. We could do this stuff already; but only those who were interested in learning how to do them knew about them.

The history of the take up of new features is not good. Around 2000 it was the Digital Nervous System, to introduce the fact that the Office products could not only connect with each other, but also connect with other places such as any database. Who did? (except those that rolled their sleeves up)

In the 2003 Office System, the idea was that heaps of key corporate information is trapped in files on personal drives, which adds to the inefficiency of ‘process’. Did that change behaviour? Not really. People were still thinking on spreadsheets like the A3 analysis paper.

Programmability (introduced in 1995) was possibly the biggest game-changer in Excel. What year is it now? (See my blog ‘Will Office Scripts catch on?’ TBA)

My prediction is, the new (popular) features become a cult thing, almost like a religion (like the ‘Places of Interest’ you can download to a BMW M3!), where the examples I cited above didn’t. Perhaps Microsoft is learning about creating pretty things, in preference to promoting the useful things (that still do the job better) they already have in place, in Excel, since the 1990s.

Pretty things are always a focus for celebration. In itself. But business processes will not become any less labour intensive from what I’m continuing to see.

But of course, go on. Prove me wrong.

Background

Microsoft gave us ADO with Office 97. This extended the functionality we’ve since known as MSQuery. With MSQuery we could Get data into Excel data from many sources.

Whereas MSQuery, through a wizard, only gave us the ability to import, if you were willing to roll up your sleeves ADO gave us full power to do more than that. To Update existing external data, Insert new data, and Delete data from Excel. Indeed, send any SQL statement to another application. Including other workbooks.

ADO is included in all versions of Excel since the late 90s.

Why is it a game changer? See From WTF to OMG – a list of 12 of the most common WTFs in our accounting process and how they are easily transformed with little effort – simply by making spreadsheet data centrally accessible. The ADO in Excel makes this possible.

Hiran de Silva

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