Google brings AI to pivot tables with Sheets update
Google’s Sheets spreadsheet application gained a number of new features aimed at making pivot tables, a powerful data analysis tool, more accessible.
Users will be able to get recommendations from Sheets’ Explore tab that aim to answer questions about the data fed into the program by spitting out a pivot table, which absorbs multiple pieces of data and outputs relevant answers. In addition, the app will automatically suggest different pivot table setups when users go to create one inside a spreadsheet.
Pivot tables are one of the key tools in spreadsheet users’ arsenals. They make it possible to quickly slice and dice data to garner important insights. For example, someone could create a pivot table that takes a spreadsheet full of sales transactions and outputs how much revenue is attributable to each salesperson. Actually setting that up, however, can be difficult, especially for people who aren’t experienced in the ways of manipulating spreadsheets.
Google hopes that these features will help make it more accessible for people who don’t have PhDs in spreadsheet manipulation to use the same features that their power user friends are already familiar with. What’s more, these new capabilities also provide novice users with a pivot table foundation they can build on going forward to meet particular use cases.
In addition, these updates show Google’s commitment to upgrading its productivity suite to serve enterprise users who are committed to Microsoft Excel. Beri Lee, a product manager for Google Sheets, said that the company is committed to adding features to sheets so that all of its users will be able to maintain their key workflows.
Power users are getting some love in the pivot table department, with the ability to manually rename headings, which were previously impossible to change and automatically generated. It’s also possible for them to create custom groupings of pivot table data for further analysis.
Sheets also gained a new formula autocompletion feature that kicks in when people start typing a function and provides them with an automatically populated list of possible formulas, like sums and averages at the end of a row of numbers.
People who are trying to import fixed-width files (that is, text files with columns that aren’t separated by tabs, commas, or any other delimiter) will be able to have Google automatically separate that data into columns and rows for further analysis.
Now, all of these intelligent features are great in theory, but if they’re anything like Google’s existing AI-driven analysis features, they won’t always work perfectly. In that case, users will be stuck scratching their heads and trying to suss out the correct next move, as they were before. (This isn’t a Google-only problem, though: Microsoft Excel’s automatic chart and pivot table creation tools are inconsistent in their suggestions.)