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Ignite 2017: Excel to get new data types to make it “smarter”

In a story via TechCrunch, Microsoft is adding new data types to Excel in an effort to make Excel “smarter.” Microsoft will be able to achieve making Excel smarter with help from machine learning.

Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s Office general manager, and Rob Howard, marketing director of Office 365, gave TechCrunch a demonstration of this new Excel functionality at Ignite 2017. Spataro explained how the new data types would work in Excel.

“We’re pleased to introduce new data types. That doesn’t sound all that interesting and we had this interesting discussion about what we’d name these things, but at the end of the day we realized that if you’re really an Excel wonk, the thing that you’re going to get is that there’s new data types.”

Another cool aspect of the Excel data types is that you can utilize Microsoft’s Bing API in Excel to tag a list of names; in Spataro’s demonstration, he used company names. However, Excel would be able to use more than just company names, Excel could use Bing API to tag stock information from the company, what city the company’s headquarters are located, and more and populate the information in an Excel spreadsheet.

The Office 365 team is also looking to create a built-in tool for Excel that will be able to recognize the most important information from an Excel spreadsheet and visualize it using a tool comparable to Microsoft’s Power BI, which the Office 365 team is calling the “Insights.”

Spataro added that the new Excel features were created to enhance data collection and visualization:

“It is meant to take any list of data and then start to generate insights. 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. Services breathe new life into these applications. We think these apps still have a lot of life in them for just working on your content, but we do believe that these connections just makes it magical.”

Insights will be coming first to Office Insiders in the Fast Ring in the coming months, and data types will be available early next year, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

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What are your thoughts on Excel's new data type functionality?