Today I’d like to take a break from Power Pivot magic tricks and share some thoughts about “the state of data.”
The particular observation I’d like to share is far from complex, but I think it’s being “missed” by many of the “players” of our game, so even though it’s simple, it’s worth talking about.
Let’s start with an old prediction about Tablets. I think Tablets quite literally provide a window into the heart of the matter.
The Rumors of the Tablet’s Death Were Greatly Exaggerated
A couple years ago, a colleague of mine assured me that the world’s fascination with tablets (iPad, Surface, etc.) would be over shortly. We’d all be back to using laptops in a few years and the whole tablet form factor would be a memory. I didn’t give it much thought at the time one way or another – it struck me as bold, but there were other things to discuss so I moved on.
At this point I think we can say the Market has spoken, the verdict is in, and his prediction proven profoundly wrong.
With the recent announcement of Office for iPad, in fact, we’re seeing the world turned SO upside down that MS actually invested tremendous effort in re-tooling their flagship desktop suite to run on their arch-enemy’s tablet. Again, I’d like to stress, it was Microsoft – of Redmond, Washington – who did this.
Oh, what’s that? Power Pivot doesn’t run on Office for iPad? Should we be bothered by that? Heck no. Let me explain why not…
Tablets Suck for Production!
If you are reading this website, chances are very good that in the Power Pivot world, you are a Producer – someone who creates models and reports. And Producers need the speed of keyboard and mouse. So even if Power Pivot worked on Office for iPad, you would find it a miserable experience to use. Miserable.
Until the next breakthrough in User Experience technology, Tablets will always suck for intensive production purposes. You’re not going to build Power Pivot models on them. Or write software. Or write books for that matter.
So Why Are Tablets so Popular?
And the key “value” of Tablets is that they make passive and lightly interactive Consumption so pleasant. They are smaller, lighter, slimmer, more portable. For point and click, touch interface is fantastic – much better than the mouse really, as long as the “click targets” are large. They are also less obtrusive in social situations, since they don’t put a vertical screen between you and other people, and their “keyboards” don’t make noise.
What’s that, you say? You are a Power Pivot Producer, but you ALSO own (and love!) a Tablet? You still Consume a lot of other stuff though don’t you? You cannot possibly wear the Producer hat in your entire life. Many of you are reading this website on your tablet, for instance (6.4% of you, according to my web logs).
Because the Data World is so Customized to the particulars of each business, the ratio of Producer to Consumer is actually quite high relative to other industries. One out of sixteen white collar workers is an Excel pro or similar – that’s astonishing when you compare it with other industries. How many people work to Produce an episode of Mad Men or Game of Thrones compared to the number of people who Consume those shows?
It’s not even close to 1/16 elsewhere. We are the exception. We are legion.
Why is This All Relevant?
There are a number of different takeaways. Here are a few:
- People will want to Consume your Power Pivot work on their tablets. So if you can, get SharePoint, get Power BI, get something that makes your reports work in the browser. Or get really good at “Save as PDF.”
- Don’t try to turn every Office worker into a Producer of analysis. The “Self-Service BI” movement is a Good Thing, for sure, but I think 1 out of 16 people is basically the “ceiling” you should expect for sophisticated adoption of any new tool – be it Power Pivot, Tableau, Qlikview, whatever. The other 15/16 are going to be passive or light-interactive Consumers of the work produced by the “1.” (Donald Farmer’s old blog post “the End of the End User” nails many of the details of the world, but IMO gives the wrong overall impression. But even he might want to revise or clarify that stance today.)
- Microsoft needs to Wake Up to the value of the Excel Producer. Everything we’ve seen from Office Proper, lately, has been Consumer-focused.
With regard to #3, the iPad version is merely the ultimate example. The Ribbon, the Web Apps, features like Flash Fill and Quick Explore, the list goes on. They’ve done the math. They know that most of their audience consists of Casual users rather than Power users. So they focus investment accordingly.
Back when I worked at MS, I remember how hard it was becoming to advocate a Power User feature, given the rarity of Power Users. But I now see that Casual/Power distinction carries with it a false assumption – that Power and Casual users exist in non-overlapping silos. The reality is FAR more intertwined.
“Power vs. Casual,” most of the time, is merely a shadow cast by the Producer/Consumer dynamic. Once we stop looking at the shadow and look at the first-order reality, we see that the work of one Producer “captures” 15 Consumers.
Consider this example:
How Many People Have Learned to Write a Mouse-Enabled Application for Windows?
(Hint: it’s less than “millions,” and definitely does NOT include me.)
And How Many People Have Used a Mouse-Enabled Application for Windows?
(Hint: it’s Billions.)
If we view Windows with the Power/Casual user lens, we would see a ratio far more dramatic than 1/16. For every human who has learned to navigate the Byzantine Windows API, and actually write an application, there are tens of thousands (at least) who have not, but have used Windows.
By that rationale, shouldn’t Windows “retire” from caring about Programmers? And shouldn’t Apple stop caring about the folks who upload apps to their AppStore?
No, because one Windows or iOS Programmer (a Producer) “captures” tens of thousands of Windows or iOS Users (Consumers) – Consumers who are then forced to use the Windows or iOS platform in order to Consume what the Programmer made!
When it comes to Office, I don’t think they understand, yet, that Excel is much more like Windows than it is like Word. It’s very hard to write a Word doc that won’t render properly on Google Apps. And it’s very hard to produce a “Casual User” feature for Excel that can’t quickly be copied by Google Apps. But build a Producer-focused “network effect” into your app… THAT is damn near impossible to copy. AND it captures the Consumers by proxy.
If I were Microsoft Emperor, that would be one of the first things I’d do: for Excel at least, we’d put Producers on even footing with Consumers in terms of product development priorities. (We’d still build “casual” features, but in equal proportion to Producer features, rather than in overwhelming proportion like today).
Anyway, enough for today