Ten things I learned at the Global Excel Summit 2024

I attended the Global Excel Summit 2024 online earlier this month, and in no particular order, here are ten things I learned.

1. Power Query at Chanel

The most inspiring session was given by two people who work for Chanel, who explained how they had used Power Query to reduce thousands of hours of processing time.

In the middle of a day that was focussed on the theoretical uses of AI, it was fantastic to hear about a tried and tested but scandalously underused technology being used to deliver real business change.

More generally their approach to business process improvement sounded fascinating and I’d love to see this become more widely known.

2. Scale of Excel changes

Ian Bennett, who is a partner in PWC’s Modelling Deal’s team, gave an interesting talk about financial modelling. During this he said that Excel had changed more in the last year than at any point in his 24 year career.

Microsoft are constantly releasing new functions as well as making usability changes and it can be hard to keep up. Even if you do go to events like the Global Excel Summit.

3. Chandoo’s creativity knows no bounds

Whenever there is a new bit of Excel functionality, Chandoo will make a new kind of chart with it.

4. Feed Power Query what it eats

Chandeep Chhabra gave an excellent presentation about combining data in Power Query when it isn’t in a consistent format. In the course of which he used the excellent phrase “Feed Power Query what it eats”. This refers to the theoretically obvious point that if a particular function wants a List, give it a List. If it wants a Table, give it a Table. Most of my mistakes stem from trying to use a function that wants a List on a Table.

5. Multiple ways to bring messy data together in Power Query

Chandeep wasn’t the only presenter on this topic. Slipped in towards the end of the conference was a rapid review of combining data in different scenarios by Nabil Mourad.

While I knew before that it’s theoretically possible to combine just about anything in Power Query it was great to see so many variants on a theme in a short space of time as it helped it to stick in my brain.

6. Dynamic Arrays have upsides and downsides in financial modelling

I’ve been on a real roller-coaster with dynamic arrays. Initially I wasn’t sure what the fuss was about. More recently I’ve embraced them in a big way and have been considering building models with them. I still might, but it was really useful to see Danielle Stein Fairhurst give a really considered presentation about the pros and cons of using them.

Often presentations at events like these are all like “wow, look at this amazing new technology” so it’s reassuring to see a balanced assessment like this, as it reminds you that there might be reasons why you don’t want to use the latest shiny toy and that doesn’t make you less of a modeller or instructor.

7. The existence of Excel Labs

I feel a bit embarrassed but I didn’t know that Excel Labs existed. I do now! (But haven’t downloaded it yet)

8. What happens if you type @ in the custom format box

Bob Umlas is an Excel legend and has poked around with every last corner of the product in order to bring us all nuggets of useful (or at least interesting) information. I’ve noticed the “@” sign in some of the default formats but for the first time I truly understood what it was for (and how you could prank people with it)

9. Even Leila Gharani gets imposter syndrome

Leila’s second session was supposed to be about corporate charts but both technology and voice failure led to an improvised “ask me anything” in which we learned among other things that even she gets imposter syndrome sometimes.

10. AI might not take my job in the next few years but it may cause a global banking collapse

I’ve seen quite a few gung-ho presentations in the last few months about AI (usually Chat GPT, let’s be honest) which have left me distinctly underwhelmed, but also rather worried about how brilliant some other people seem to think it is. This isn’t specific to the Global Excel Summit, and in fact the two keynotes on AI were excellent, not least because they were cautious about what its uses and knowledgeable about how to use it well.

However, there were some moments of alarm, like a presenter saying that they had generated a thousand blog posts with AI, and another session where someone from a bank seemed to be suggesting we could all do our modelling with ChatGPT now.

While I’ve no doubt that AI can and probably will transform finance work, there are some rather dangerous claims being made about its current capabilities. I’m rather worried about it being used by enthusiastic amateurs to perform financial analysis that they don’t understand how to check.

One of the reasons you should consider getting Excel training or consultancy from me is that I go to events like this and continuously build my knowledge.

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