Excel Summit South 2016 Summary

Last month I and several of my colleagues descended on New Zealand and Australia for Excel Summit South 2016. This was a series of two-day Summit conferences, one each in Auckland, Sydney, and Melbourne.

The Conference

The first thing I have to say is that our major sponsor PwC was a perfect host. Their facilities were excellent. Our sessions were in conference rooms on about the 20th floor of their towers in each city (the views sometimes making concentration difficult).

I had a chance to present my on my specialties (VBA and, uh, charting), but also to see what my fellow MVPs had to say on topics I should learn more about. I also got a glimpse into financial modeling, which is not something I usually think much about. The attention to detail and aversion to mistakes are things I aspire to, and it was instructive to see these in a new context.

The People

The Experts

Besides myself, the Excel MVPs in attendance were Liam Bastick (from Australia), Ken Puls (Canada), Charles Williams (UK), Bill Jelen (US), Ingeborg Hawighorst (New Zealand), and Zack Barresse (US). Liam talked about avoiding spreadsheet layout errors, problems with Excel’s various lookup functions, and studying sensitivity and running simulations without VBA. Ken and I did a tag-team presentation, where he started by showing how to use Power Query to fix up some ugly data from disparate sources and I showed how to turn his cleaned up data into a flexible dashboard. Ken later did a session on Power Pivot. Bill “Mr. Excel” Jelen did a session on data visualization using conditional formatting, another on pivot tables, and finally he showed some cool Power Map analyses. Ingeborg showed us how powerful are Microsoft’s web and standalone Power BI tools. Zack showed off some little known features of Excel tables, and Zack and I both discussed using VBA to make life easier. Finally Charles presented on making VBA run like the wind.

Other experts included Felienne Hermans (Delft University), Ian Bennett (PwC, Australia), Smila Baliga (PwC, US), and Andrew RevFeim (F1F9 in New Zealand). Felienne described her research on testing spreadsheets. Smila discussed ways organizations can cope with their overabundance of spreadsheets. Ian and Andrew covered modeling standards and best practices.

Ben Rampson and Carlos Otero from the Microsoft Excel product team were at the sessions. The presented information about where Excel is going, with the emphasis on BI and with the new versions running on whatever platform you can name (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, etc.). Their presence is evidence of Microsoft’s recent opening up to customers and users, sharing their plans and listening to feedback and suggestions.

The Attendees

Attendance was pretty good, increasing in the later dates as word about the sessions spread. The technical level of attendees at this kind of session is usually high, since the audience is self-selected. But at these meetings I felt the people who attended were very good at their jobs and at Excel. They asked challenging questions, and conversations between and after the sessions were stimulating.

I met a number of people in person that I’ve known for years over the internet. Jeff Weir(d), who has posted on Chandoo’s blog and Daily Dose of Excel. Doug Jenkins, who writes about using Excel for Engineering problems at Newton, Excel, Bach. Ed Ferrero, a former Excel MVP who now runs a winery. Probably more as well, and when I remember I’ll add them here.

The Places

One of the great things about this kind of trip is getting to visit new places. I didn’t get to do a lot of sightseeing, so I plan to come back. I’ll see if my wife wants to come along.

Besides the scenery, the cities we visited had nice restaurants. Among noteworthy meals we had outstanding Middle Eastern food in Auckland, an extensive feast in a Brazilian barbecue in Sydney, and delicious Indian food in Melbourne. The coffee in even the simplest shops was far superior than most donut shops in the States, but I guess that’s to be expected. Somehow I only managed to put on a couple pounds.

Tahiti

I got to visit Tahiti, but only for two hours while they refueled the plane. The airport was very small, with one landing strip and a taxiway. On one side of the runway was ocean, on the other were neighborhoods and the small terminal building. I don’t suppose they get more than one or two jet flights a day, and you need to use the portable stairways to board the plane.

It was raining hard, with temperature in the 90s (or as they say, the 30s) and humidity close to 100%.

Airport in tropical Tahiti

Auckland

Our first real stop was in Auckland, New Zealand. It rained for a couple days, which was okay, because Ken and I were stuck getting our joint presentation working.

The view of Auckland Harbor from the PwC tower was awesome.

Auckland Harbor from PwC Tower

The Sky Tower looms over central Auckland. Our hotel was a block or two away, as were numerous restaurants and shops.

Sky Tower looms over Auckland

Sydney

The weather in Sydney was gorgeous. My wife told me I’d better enjoy it, since it was snowing back in Worcester.

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon we took a ferry ride through the harbor. On the way we went under the Harbor Bridge and past the Opera House.

Opera House under the Harbor Bridge in Sydney

Our ferry ride took us to Manly Beach, which was very crowded because of a surfing competition.

Manly Beach, Sydney

I got to sick my feet in the Pacific Ocean. Being from Massachusetts I usually only get to the Atlantic, but they’re equally wet.

Dipping my feet in the Western Pacific

On the ferry ride back we again went past the Opera House.

Opera House, Sydney

This mother and baby humpback were gracefully swimming over a stairwell in Darling Harbor, a small branch of the enormous Sydney Harbor. I was captivated by this intriguing sculpture, showing skeleton inside translucent plastic skin.

Humpback whales swimming in Sydney stairwell

Melbourne

Early in the morning, you can see rowers on the Yarra River, like this single sculler and the half dozen or so in the distance.

Early morning sculler on Yarra River in Melbourne

We took this scenic footbridge across the Yarra from our hotel to the PwC facilities.

Footbridge over Yarra River in Melbourne

During a street festival on Friday night, Zack Barresse met up with a bagpipes-playing Cookie Monster.

Zack with bagpipes-playing Cookie Monster in Melbourne

Zack wrote about our travels in Excel Summit South in Review.

Home Again

All good things have to come to an end, so after two weeks I returned home again (which is also a good thing). On the first day of spring, a week after my return, Mother Nature greeted me with this springtime scene.

Home again to sunny Massachusetts

It was a very mild winter in Massachusetts, especially compared with last year. But since the springtime snow pictured above, we’ve had snow on two more days.

 

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Comments

  1. I’d love to hear more specifics about the presentations. Anything surprising or new that you learned?
    Smita Baliga is a new name to me.

  2. It was great to meet you and everyone else, the thing that impressed me was that evereryone was learning from everyone else. This type of session ought to be what happens in most organisations regularly but doesn’t. Thanks for your tips and answers to my questions in particular. I almost hesitate to put my website below because following our discussion on Office 365 I’m about to move my ISP. But hey-ho if it takes the website down for a day or two it might be faster once it’s moved and I might have an incentive to update it with all the new stuff I’m learning.

  3. Great Summary Jon,

    Cheers,

  4. Good to meet you in person after all these years, and all the sessions I attended were great.

    Glad to see you had time to see some of the sites, and hope to see you back here some time.

    Doug

  5. Wow, it brings me back. Thanks for the photos and the summary, John.

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