We create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, and 90 percent of the data in the world has been created in the last two years (see IBM’s report). That’s a staggering figure, and a lot of data to be analyzed. Although most workers will never even scratch the surface of Big Data, they still have their own information to analyze. With Excel 2013, Microsoft is making it a little bit easier to do so.
One feature that has been getting heaps of praise is Flash Fill, which makes transforming data easier, particularly for novice users. Manipulating data in Excel used to require more steps than you could count on both hands. What’s more, many of those steps — such as writing complex formulas, using text to columns, and creating custom cell formats — were too advanced for the average Excel user. With Flash Fill, the user simply provides a little bit of up-front information, and Excel does the grunt work. For example, to fix a column of unformatted social security numbers, the user can just create a new column, enter the first SSN the correct way, and Flash Fill will populate all rows below the example with the proper formatting. The user just needs to accept them all.
Flash Fill can be used for much more: correcting punctuation inconsistencies, converting birth dates, capitalizing names and more. This feature is on every tech journalist’s favorite Excel 2013 features list, and it’s no wonder.
For a more technical look at how Flash Fill works, read Douglas Gantenbein’s blog post at Microsoft Research. It’s good, geeky stuff.