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For Much of Last Week, Our Power Pivot & Power BI Book Topped the Spreadsheet Category on Amazon
(Think about it:  more people learning about DAX than learning about VLOOKUP or SUMIF is a MAJOR development!)

Awareness That’s Been a Long Time Coming

It’s hard to believe, but we launched this website in 2009. Let that sink in:  we’re nearly SEVEN YEARS into the “Modern Excel” era, the Power BI era, the DAX era, whatever you want to call it.  By early 2010, we were absolutely convinced, around here, that this stuff represented The End of the World as We Knew It – both traditional BI and traditional Excel-based reporting and analysis were going to be overhauled, emphatically, by the new tools – tools that convey enormous new capabilities and competitive advantage.

But the awareness of said tools has grown only slowly, year over year, due to a unique combination of factors particular to Microsoft and their many silos of products.  Being big is sometimes a disadvantage, particularly when it’s time to advertise/market groundbreaking products outside the consumer space.

We seem to have hit a major inflection point recently however, both with the (successful) Power BI marketing surge AND the Excel team fully awakening to the gift that is Power Pivot.

The Wisdom of Bill Jelen

I originally did not plan to write about this at all – it’s a bit too self-congratulatory for my taste, it being our book and all – but I was talking with Bill “MrExcel” Jelen the other day and he observed:

The fact that power BI is outselling the bestselling VBA books is news. Blog post worthy news. Major change in industry trend.

-Bill Jelen

Funny huh, how you can say it that way and it suddenly lands.  On one hand, well duh, of course if this book is #1 in Spreadsheets, it’s going to be ahead of the VBA books.  In an academic sense, the “beats VBA” claim is “less” of a claim.

Dilbert Salutes One Million VBA Developers…  Back in 2000

But on the other hand…  damn.  In my earlier days working at Microsoft, sometime around 2000, everyone on our team received free copies of a special edition Dilbert book:  Dilbert Salutes One Million VBA Developers was the title on the book jacket (or something similar).  I’m pretty sure the book itself (hardcover) was just one of the already-existing Dilbert books, but Microsoft and their publisher had teamed up somehow to produce this special edition jacket.

Dilbert and VBA.  One Million VBA Developers.  Crazy times.  (Boy do I wish I’d kept that silly book, can’t find a picture of it anywhere, since it was obscure and somewhat pre-internet).

VBA pretty much rules the world even today.  A quick glance at the MrExcel forums shows that about half the recent posts are about VBA.  Formulas, charts, and pivots combined account for the other 50%!

OK, so our Power Pivot and Power BI book isn’t #1 every day in the Excel category.  The fact that it sometimes is, well that’s pretty noteworthy, but every time I’ve checked, it’s been ahead of the top VBA books.

To see a book about DAX / Power Pivot clobbering the best selling VBA books on a consistent basis means that more people are learning Power Pivot and Power BI today than are learning VBA.  And if you understand how powerful and approachable and ridiculously widespread VBA is – how vibrant and crucial it remains to this day – this IS a big deal.

-Me

Use it as a Legitimizer, a “Did You Know?”

In the right crowd, the statement that Power BI knowledge is now a hotter commodity than VBA knowledge is a big legitimizer.  Gotta know your audience, because some folks (those who don’t realize they are standing on a mountain of VBA) will dismiss it as a low bar – “oh great it’s more popular than something invented in the early 90’s!” is not a retort you want to bait.  But yeah, there are definitely places where it’s an attention getter.

If you want to get just a little bit sly, you could drop hints that Power Pivot and Power BI might replace vast swaths of VBA in your organization.  That will get IT excited, even if it’s a bit of a white lie.  But in truth, the Power suite does VASTLY reduce the noise and chaos of a traditional Excel environment, so the net result is actually MORE impactful than if the original face value statement (replace VBA) came true (which won’t happen given all the crazy ways people use VBA – it’s a very long tail).  I’d forgive you for using this tactic, just don’t overplay the hand.

Go get ‘em.

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Rob Collie

One of the founding engineers behind Power Pivot during his 14-year career at Microsoft, and creator of the world’s first cloud Power Pivot service, Rob is one of the foremost authorities on self-service business intelligence and next-generation spreadsheet technology. 

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Rob – very timely post for me. I come from the SQL world in which I didn’t see a huge need for the Power BI suite of tools, until very recently. My “normal” way of obtaining data was writing SQL queries and then exporting data into Excel and doing my thing. As I followed the Power BI marketing machine, I decided to buy your Power Pivot and Power BI book. What the hell was I thinking?! The first 100 pages blew me away with all the DAX formulas that I never knew existed. I take that back – I knew they existed but when I actually applied them to some existing data I use, it blew me away. And, I haven’t even gotten halfway through the book.

    The combination of Power Pivot, Power BI, and the entire Power “suite” of tools is going to be something. Looking forward to the ride.

  2. Beating VBA and 3 Dummies books is a great accomplishment 🙂 and Power Pivot and BI are just starting to gain traction. Here is something fun to look at, take a look at Google trends. Over 5 years VBA is on the decline.. Power BI is on the rise about to match PowerPivot. The fact that there are still so many VBA charting comments, plus I haven’t run in to one person yet who has ever used Power Pivot I hope is an indication of the potential. I’m already calling BI Desktop ‘New Excel’. My Power Pivot is slow and buggy compared to BI for me. I pray they add full Pivot formatting features in to BI. When that happens, I may go a day without opening Excel 🙂

  3. Defeating VBA? Why is that important?
    I’m using VBA to schedule Power Query, write data TO data sources, prompt user with forms, send email alerts, export formatted data to Word documents. PowerBI going to do that? No.
    If VBA is in the decline it’s because
    1) better alternatives exist (and often they don’t) or…
    2) people have been shamed and bullied into abandoning VBA by comments like the above.

    Maybe people are buying the books because learning M & DAX is not easy. VBA coders have little advantage when modeling data in PQ or PP. It’s new and VBA is not.

    I love all of it and wish we had more. But I get prickly over dumping in VBA.

    1. I too use VBA in conjunction with DAX and M. The lack of VBA in PBI Desktop is actually a significant drawback (for me) – admittedly in rare cases, but when it’s not there and you need it, you feel it.

      In my post I’d tried to be clear that these things are not direct competitors – *some* things you do with VBA are no longer needed, because DAX and M are better for those purposes, but we’re talking only about, what, 10% of what VBA can do?

      Which makes it even more impressive that our book could outrank VBA books right? While simultaneously underlining your point that VBA is going nowhere. There is nothing out there that will ever be as complete as VBA. We’ve seen the last of that kind of programmability in Office, and while I understand it, I lament it.

      1. Exactly. Well put, Rob.
        The “good fight” is getting stuff done for clients or the business.
        Thanks for all you do to share information and make us all better at data wrangling.

    1. If you think that this approach doesn’t automate manual processes, then you obviously have never looked into this website.

  4. Congrats! With every day that passes, more people come to ask about these tools and how their departments/companies can take advantage of them. Your book and website are the first places I refer them to.

  5. Hi I like your book very much. But I have a problem with Power Pivot on my laptop. I am using Office 365 Personal and Excel 2016. I try to open Power Pivot (Data -> Manage Data Model) but when I click on it, nothing happens. Do you have any idea about this error?

  6. We use VBA in applications that include PowerPivot, but they do very different things. For example, in addition to performing certain iterative computations and string manipulations, VBA:

    • Parses XML and transposes the data into worksheet models that PowerPivot uses
    • Generates and automates ActiveX forms data input and stores the data in worksheet tables for PowerPivot
    • Enables transport of files via SMTP nodes in loosely-coupled networks of pub/sub nodes, as well send and receiving data from SOAP and REST stores
    • Accommodates complex user workflows and present simple intuitive UIs that hide the complexity from the user.

    So, I don’t see this as an either-or issue, but rather a way to offer Excel-based applications with capabilities that extend well beyond calculations and visualization!

    1. Right on, Steve. See this comment above: https://powerpivotpro.com/2016/08/power-bi-passes-vba-in-popularity/#comment-264496

      Occasionally I cannot resist a click-baity title for a post. But at no point have I, nor will I ever, suggest that PPVT/PBI *replaces* VBA.

      Still though it’s a big deal. If Julia Child cooking shows were to suddenly outrank the NFL for TV viewers, it would be news, but still not a replacement. (Of course, PPVT/PBI aren’t exactly cooking shows, but otherwise the metaphor is on target).

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