Business Assist – Forecast is a new Excel add-in from Microsoft which forecasts future volumes based on past data. How to use the add-in, if you can and understand its limitations.
From the promotion, Business Assist – Forecast sounds like a useful tool but it’s a different story when we tried the add-in for ourselves. We wanted to write a positive article about what appeared to be a useful Excel extra, but instead it’s a list of troubles and lack of documentation.
How Business Assist – Forecast is supposed to work
Start with a sheet containing just a list of dates and values in two columns. From the Business Assist – Forecast add-in pane choose the end date of the data list plus a seasonality.
The add-in will produce a projection of future trends with a date, forecast value plus High and Low.
From there Excel can make a graph of the real data plus future projections.
That all sounds great but, as you may know, at Office-Watch.com we like to try software for ourselves and not rely on corporate promises.
For Business Assist- Forecast there’s a huge gap between the promises and reality. We could not get the add-in to work at all and we tried everything, different Excel’s, different data, even, crossing fingers, rabbits foot or running outside and turning around three times – nothing, nada.
All we could ever get is the message “An expected error occurred on the server”.
We have no way to know if there’s truly a problem at the server end, an issue with the add-in, something wrong with the data or the relative positions of the sun and moon <sigh>.
Problems with Business Assist – Forecast
Even without getting the add-in to work there are plenty of concerns about this Microsoft product.
It seem this tool is used by Microsoft Support to plan ahead and some well-intentioned ‘softies decided to make it available to the public.
There’s no mention of where the data is sent (to Microsoft, presumably but could be anywhere based on the lack of disclosure).
Strict Sheet requirements
The add-in is strictly a ‘stand-alone’ thing with nothing else in the sheet or perhaps even workbook.
The data has to be in the first worksheet, only the two columns (Date and Volume) with no other columns.
The data might need to be in a table and perhaps only one sheet in the whole workbook … there’s no way to know without proper documentation.
Will the add-in work for other values, like currency? It could be used to forecast sales, if non-integer numbers are accepted.
The add-in pane says the dates have to be in MM/DD/YYYY format.
The only other page about the add-in says “Date (in one of the supported formats)”, but there’s no ‘supported formats’ list that we can find.
Why does the displayed date format matter anyway? Excel stores dates as serial numbers to avoid these date format issues. Surely any Excel add-in would use the date serial value not the displayed format?
There’s a link to Sample Data which seems like a good way to try out the add-in. Click on the link and the two columns appear.
How to copy that data into a sheet so you can try it? If the mouse pointer moves away from the link, the list disappears. There’s no ‘copy’ etc button.
What about Excel 2021?
Business Assist – Forecast is supposed to be compatible many versions of Excel … quote
- Excel 2013 or later on Windows
- Excel 2016 or later on Windows
- Excel 2016 or later on Mac
- Excel 2019 or later on Windows
- Excel 2019 or later on Mac
- Excel on Mac (Microsoft 365)
- Excel on Windows (Microsoft 365)
- Excel on the web
No mention of Excel 2021 Windows/Mac? Presumably it’s meant to be included with the mentions of ‘Excel 2019 and later …’ but if that’s the case why list Excel 2013 and Excel 2016 separately?
Help? What help?
Also no ‘known issues’ section, perhaps because that section would be too long? After the frustrating time we’ve had with this Microsoft product, it would not be surprising.
There are two links on the ‘Details + support’ tab in the MS Store, but both ‘Support’ and ‘Help’ links point to the same place, just the home page of support.microsoft.com .
If you want to give it a try, go to Office Add-ins and search for Business Assist then click ‘Add’. And “The best of British luck to you”.