Microsoft's New Office 365 Search Tool is Like Minesweeper for Excel Spreadsheets

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As Excel spreadsheets act more and more like Web pages—with data being pulled from many sources—the loss of just one data point can bring the whole thing crashing down. Microsoft’s new Office 365 search tool aims to solve all of that.

Microsoft’s standalone Office 2013 already includes a tool called Discovery and Risk Assessment, but it requires a standalone on-premise server. Now, a cloud-powered version has been built right into Office 365.

Dads compiling the snack roster for their child’s soccer team probably won’t need these new capabilities. But the search tool could prove invaluable to business users, whose spreadsheets will more likely include data compiled from a number of sources.

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Microsoft recommends that you start your search within the eDiscovery Center in your Office 365 admin center.

The discovery tool hunts down and identifies dependencies. Questions that it can answer, according to Microsoft, are which spreadsheets will be affected if you make a change to the spreadsheet in front of you. The tool can hunt down spreadsheets that depend on data from a local file stored on a specific PC—which may or may not be always accessible. It also looks for spreadsheets that pull data from connected sources, such as Web sites.

Finally, the tool helps users track down what might be the “most important” spreadsheets. Users can ask the tool to search for spreadsheets based on factors such as the apparent complexity, including the number of different formulas used.

The new search capabilities are included in SharePoint’s search box, or as part of the eDiscovery Center in the Office 365 admin center (illustrated above). Microsoft also said it would build out a better search tool to help facilitate searches in the future.

Why this matters: With Microsoft encouraging users to think of spreadsheets as “living” documents, more and more data sources will live online as well. If one data source goes down, the rest of the spreadsheets will “crash”—a headache for all concerned. Think of this tool as one of the first “debugging” tools for this new world of linked spreadsheets.

This story, "Microsoft's New Office 365 Search Tool is Like Minesweeper for Excel Spreadsheets" was originally published by PCWorld.

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