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BA Conference Speaker Profile – Daniel Fylstra

  • 9 March 2016
  • Author: PASS
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BA Conference Speaker Profile – Daniel Fylstra

Daniel Fylstra is a returning speaker to the Business Analytics Conference, presenting a general session and a pre-con. You'll find his company, Frontline Solvers, in the Exhibit Hall. He also volunteers on the PASS Business Analytics Advisory Committee.

We’re so happy to have you back as a speaker this year! You are known as “one of the three Godfathers of the spreadsheet,” and a leader in advanced analytics Excel. Can you comment on some of the main changes in Excel and analytics you’ve seen in the past couple of years and how that has impacted the industry?

The big triple play is the advent of Power BI; inclusion of Power Pivot, Power Query and Power View in Excel; and release of Power BI Desktop. Some journalists have suggested that Power BI Desktop is going to replace Excel, but that’s misguided—I’m convinced it is elevating Excel as a tool for business intelligence, data visualization, and analytics. This will become more obvious as companies aim to do more with prescriptive analytics: To do that, you need a modeling tool or language, and Excel is by far the world’s best-known, most-used modeling language.

The other big change is support for HTML and JavaScript-based add-ins for Excel 2013/2016, Excel Online, and Excel for iPad. This has enabled us and others to build Excel-based analytics tools for both desktop and cloud. Modern software – including analytics software – is being designed this way, and the new generation add-ins open up new ways to use this analytic software, in all the “flavors” of Excel.

What would you say is the most common misconception about analytics?

The biggest misconception, fostered by many of Microsoft’s competitors, is that you need to move “beyond Excel” to do serious analytics, or to build large models. A related misconception is that you need to go beyond Excel to handle large amounts of data for business intelligence. In truth, you can do all these things really well in Excel, and many competitor products actually lack the modeling “language” power that Excel provides for advanced analytics methods such as optimization and simulation.

You’ll be presenting a pre-con and general session at the conference, what is the top takeaway in each of your sessions?

In my general session on Prescriptive Analytics: Decision Models with Real Business Payoffs, the top takeaway is that with these methods, you can go beyond “soft” benefits such as insight, and realize “hard” cost savings and risk mitigation, with the right kind of Excel analytic model.

My pre-con, Advanced Analytics for Excel Users: Learn How to Do it Yourself, is meant to give attendees real practice in building these Excel analytic models, so they take away a solid grounding in both data mining and predictive analytics, and prescriptive methods, including optimization with Solver, and simulation and risk analysis. They’ll also take away a three-month software license, plus access to our online training. We want to offer more than simply a one-day event.

What is one interesting thing people may not know about you?

Well, I was a named inventor on a biotech patent application (2003/0113,760), since abandoned, that was a potential cure for cancer. I’m known as a libertarian, but only some activists would know that I was national vice-chair of the Libertarian Party in 2000.

Daniel with the most important person in his life, his wife Hilary.

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