Archive for December, 2007

Conference Feedback

December 16, 2007

Finally got all those feedback forms entered and analysed.

In most areas the results were either 4’s or 5’s (out of 5) so that is very encouraging. Basically the presenters and the content were very well received. As this is the core reason for attending its great that the attendees were so pleased.

The main areas for improvement were around pre-conference admin and information. Part of the issue here was the last minute nature of the event – we only had about 6 weeks from confirmed date/venue till event. As we are already planning for next year, this stuff should be much better organised.

Thanks a lot to all those who took the time to fill out the forms, they will help us make the event even better next time.

As usual leave any other feedback or suggestions for 2008 somewhere on this site and we will find them and consider them.

If you didn’t come this time, but are considering 2008, then you’ll be pleased to hear this years delegates rated the event so highly. We hope (and plan) to do even better next year so watch this space for dates and venues.



Conference Report Day 3

December 10, 2007

The Saturday session was targeted at developers.
Again the day went well and the feedback was very positive.

The first session was on the future of VBA
The session started old-Skool when I demoed recording XLM macros in Excel 5 on Windows 3.11. The XLM life story is probably our best guide to what may happen to VBA. The future of VBA is a concern for many developers, not just from a career point of view but also from a maintainability of current projects POV. We discussed what people thought might be key influencing factors and timescales.

The second session was a led discussion around programmability
We looked at VSTA in Infopath, VSTO in Visual Studio 2008 and discussed how these might impact our projects. We also had a candid discussion about security. This was an extremely useful session for getting a feel for the consensus view on some of these topics. Rather than being a one way ‘I think this’ presentation everyone chipped in with what they thought, what they had seen etc.

The afternoon started off with a look at xlls.
These are the recommended technology for writing Excel add-ins. They have some major benefits over VBA based xla’s (speed mainly), and some significant drawbacks (they are harder to write (well)). I walked through a demo VBA version I had built to explain the concepts and then went though the code of some xlls I have written. I also demoed some of the commercial tools in the area that take away all the C API pain. My performance demo was 266ms for a set of VBA functions down to 13 ms for the xll equivalent. (as a matter of interest the XLM version was 26ms, and whilst a bit more ugly than VBA, its not that much harder to write.)

The second session was a led discussion around data and Excel alternatives
We had a good chat about the ways people are using external data in Excel. And some great insight into some of the issues with certain providers. Essbase got a mention as a couple of us work with it regularly. We also had a look at OpenOffice Calc, and a discussion of where that was at in relation to Excel in enterprises. We also had a chat about Office 2007, with some of the attendees part way through roll-outs or pilots. Almost inevitably we touched on corporate culture, which so often seems to get ignored, but can have a dramatic effect on the work we do and the way we do it.

We also found time to discuss next year and what people would like to see and do.

Finally a few of us retired to the pub to watch the footie, have a drink and eventually go for a (delicious) curry.

Overall an excellent event I reckon, I’m already looking forward to next year. Hope to see you there.

Conference Report Day 2

December 10, 2007

Friday: Conference – Advanced, Add-ons – Intermediate.
Again the feedback was very positive all round.
The first session was Andys session on Excel Charting.
Andy took us through a range of different ways to present information on charts. In each case explaining the logic behind it as well as the actual steps to create the chart. Although the demo was on 2003, he explained where Excel 2007 was different.
I learnt a load of stuff in Andys talk last year, and I learnt a load of new stuff this time around.
Next up was my Excel VBA design tips
This covered a range of areas from IDE setup to design, class, named ranges etc. I demoed some of the hard to maintain code I have worked with in the past. The session was a bit of a challenge as I had pretty much lost my voice, but I think I scraped through. (apologies for the squeaking!)
After dinner Charles went through UDF performance
Charles had an example of performance improvement step by step from someone he had helped from a newsgroup posting. Sadly I can’t remember the numbers, but it was big from 20 second to 0.04 or something. He also took us through some of the underlying issues like the VBA call overhead, and ways to minimise that. He had also created several new UDFs to demonstrate how a bit of domain knowledge can enable you to create functions that perform better than Excel native ones. He also discussed some of the issues in creating and deploying professional UDFs.
Last slot of the day was Nick on Data Interchange
Nick took us through some of the many ways of connecting Excel up to external data sources. One of the big features in Office 2007 is Sharepoint integration and Nick demoed some of the ways they use that at his firm. By choosing the right structure in Excel 2007 (which seemed to be tables, tables, tables – now what was the question?) exposing and synchronising data with external sources (eg sharepoint lists) is almost trivial.

The addon classes were Charles on Optimising Calculation speed and Bob on VBA Tips and Techniques.

The day finished with some general questions and answers, mainly about which pub to go to before our planned Chinese meal. (which was excellent btw)

One point worth mentioning was during a couple of sessions I spotted presenters and delegates huddled around laptops in the foyer. There aren’t many opportunities to get such one to one focussed advice from the top folks in the country, this is surely one of the hidden benefits of conferences such as this. We are wondering about formalising this somehow for the 2008 event – any suggestions as to how are welcome.

Conference Report Day 1

December 7, 2007

Thursday – Conference Intermediate, Add-ons – Advanced.

Overall the delegate feedback was very positive about the venue, the content, and presenters.

The first session was my Pivot table slot.

I went through from basic intro to pivots, through some of the features I have found useful on client assignments. And features I tend to avoid, and why, and what I do instead. That included a 10 minute intro to the most useful parts of Access. I did a very brief demo of using some simple macro recorder stuff to synchronise multiple pivot tables, and ran out of time before punishing everyone with some of my gruesome real world examples.

Next up was Patrick with auditing spreadsheets

He gave us some insight into the work of a spreadsheet auditor, in particular the things to look out for, or sniff out. Poor practice being likened to a bad smell. He gave a useful overview of some of the available tools, both free and those that cost. We had a good discussion about names and external links, and plenty of other ‘quality’ practices. Patrick was also generous enough to offer a copy of his excellent book Spreadsheet Check and Control as a draw prize. So thats one delegate going back to the office armed with the knowledge to improve theri corporate spreadsheet quality.

(fortunately Patrick had left to catch his flight before he saw my random name picker fail rather embarrassingly with a #REF! error – whoops)

We then went off for dinner/lunch, for some more spreadsheet chat, this time over a buffet. I defy anyone to suggest there wasn’t enough food!

Bob got the graveyard shift after the food to talk about Visual Impact.

Considering the tube map as an presentation example was inspired, especially when alternative inferior examples were compared. Bob had plenty of excellent advice for clarifying the message, I particularly liked the talk (and demos) of removing ‘ink’ from a diagram to leave only what is genuinely important. In another section Bob went through and highlighted some of the weak informational content in many of Excel’s inbuilt chart types.

Nick closed the formal session for the day with a look at what new in 2007.

There are some great new features in Excel 2007, and Nick did an excellent job of demoing a selection of the most useful. It was especially useful that Nick has moved his whole firm over to 2007 – he has the insight that only real world use can provide.

We then had a short informal questions from the floor session, and a prize draw for Patrick’s book and some wonderful wooden puzzles Keith had brought.

It was then I realised what it was about conferences that bothered me – the dead spot between the last session and food. I had sorted the food no bother but had nothing arranged for the hour or so beforehand. Obviously we were going to a pub, but which?

We found a pub (eventually), then had a great meal at Pizza Express and those that were up for it went off for more drinks. They suffered on Friday!

Although the social aspect is a hard sell to the budget holder, in many ways it is one of the most important activities. Many a useful snippet is picked up in the pub, and by getting to know people better you can be more at ease asking questions. Its often easier to approach someone in the pub with a question than infront of 20 other people who may be more keen to get off and get their dinner.

Conference resources

December 7, 2007

If you attended the 2007 UK Excel User Conference you should have received an email from me detailing where you can access the supporting slides, documents, workbooks and code for all the sessions we ran.

If you didn’t get the email give me a shout and I’ll send it on. You can also leave a comment here if that’s easier. Break up your email address though if you don’t want to get spammed to oblivion.

If you didn’t attend then you missed out, but don’t worry there will be another event in September 2008 where you can make amends. In the meantime if there is something you would really like included next time around leave a comment on the 2008 suggestions page.