Clouds on the horizon for Office developers: Stormy or fluffy?

For 20 years I’ve been making cool solutions in Microsoft Office: software that my clients already know & love.  Each component of the Office suite has its own specialty we can leverage.  With Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) I can turn Excel into a self-service BI platform.  Or Word into a police reporting system linked to an IBM AS/400 record-keeping RDBMS.  Or using Access to manage meals-on-wheels delivery schedules, dietary preferences, and billing.  Outlook’s messaging, contact management and task calendaring can be folded into a solution.  All these amazing tools work together and reduce the amount of coding I have to do as a programmer.  So much goodness is already baked in.

But things have been changing. And I’m worried we’re headed for a Cat5 “sheetstorm” when the IT Depts no longer sees Office as a development platform and users revert to labor-intensive, Excel wrangling so solve their data problems.  Microsoft has been sidling away from their own super-applications like a bored boyfriend. The old ways of Office are not sexy any more. VBA? No further improvements and virtually ignored by MS. VSTO? Meh. Power Query, Power Pivot, PowerBI are terrific new tools I’m already putting to use. But for automation, its less clear what the future holds. What will be the best practices and design patterns for professional departmental solutions? “Office Dev” at Microsoft now means Javascript & and Office UI Fabric and a bunch of stuff I truly do not fathom.


TV Dinner

Like the dark days of TV dinners and instant coffee. Modern! Cheap! Fast! Convenient! But did anyone really want that sad lump of salisbury steak or a cup of Sanka? Eventually we rediscovered the pleasures of freshly roasted coffee, heirloom veggies and “street food.”  Are we headed for a situation where widgets and web apps are all we get, or am I just being a change-averse curmudgeon?

I’m headed to the Data Insights Summit in Bellevue, WA on March 22-23 to get some answers.  There are lots of conferences for SQL Server DBAs and Visual Studio (.NET) developers.  But this is one is right up my alley.  Microsoft folks will be there.  So will experts on data analysis, business intelligense, dashboards, statistics, and all the other dark arts of Excel wizardry.  I’ll be taking notes and reporting what I learn here on this blog.



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