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Discover Insights About Your Excel Data


February 20, 2018 - by Bill Jelen

Discover Insights About Your Excel Data

Insights is a new feature coming to Excel and Office 365. Office Insiders can take the new artificial-intelligence feature for a spin soon.

I remember working as a data analyst in Akron. After pulling data from the mainframe, creating a pivot table, formatting the page, I would always try to find a good sentence or two to use as a headline. I new that my manager's manager would spend 10 seconds with the report, and I wanted the headline to provide a sound-byte that he could take away from the report. An preview of an amazing new Artificial-Intelligence feature from Microsoft called Excel Insights is starting to roll out to Office Insiders. I've tried it, and I like it.

Insights will appear on your Insert tab, to the left of Charts.

Microsoft is slowly rolling the feature out
Microsoft is slowly rolling the feature out

Insights works with a table of data. Microsoft says it is better if you format with Ctrl + T, but I find it works with regular tabular data as well. Headings in row 1. No blank rows. No blank columns. No nested subdata within the data. No merged cells. Up to 250,000 cells for now. Choose one cell in the data and click Insights.


A new panel appears on the right with four charts. The first four charts are fairly generic. In fact, they look like the first four from the Excel 2013 Recommended Pivot Tables.

The first few charts are basic
The first few charts are basic

But there are 26 charts. Scroll down and you will start to see some detailed trends in the charts. Personally, I think they should have lead with these charts and saved the ho-hum charts for the end.

This is good stuff
This is good stuff

Now, the charts are too small to have labels. When you see one that you like, click Insert Chart. Excel will insert a new sheet, build a pivot table, build a pivot chart, and you can see all of the details.

Scary good
Scary good

And, the machine-learning service is going to get better. For each chart, you can indicate if the chart is helpful or not. Send feedback of which charts you like and which are ho-hum. Over time, and with responses from millions of people, the machine-learning algorithm will get smarter.

Of course, there are some privacy issues here. Read about what is going on by going to File, Options, General and reading the links under Office Intelligent Services. You have to decide if you are comfortable with what's happening. For me, I doubt that they really have the time to care how many bags of dog food I buy each month.

It's possible your I.T. department blocked the feature already.
It's possible your I.T. department blocked the feature already.

For now, Insights will be looking for Summary Analyses of Pivotable data, Rank, Evenness, Trend, Composite Signal, Attribution, Outstanding Top Two, Monotonicity (always increasing or always decreasing), Unimodality (having a single peak data point) and Chart Recommendations for smaller data sets.

I suppose I wish that I would have had this back in 1989 when I was trying to find something interesting to say as the headline for each report.

I've demoed some of the features of Insights in this video:

Tuesday's articles are getting ready for the new features in Excel 2019.

Excel Thought Of the Day

I've asked my Excel Master friends for their advice about Excel. Today's thought to ponder:

"To become Great you must Excel"

Title Photo: Jacob Owens / unsplash


Bill Jelen is the author / co-author of
MrExcel LIVe

A book for people who use Excel 40+ hours per week. Illustrated in full color.