Microsoft Excel in Place of Business Intelligence Tools: the Downfalls

Microsoft Excel BIThere are some BI providers who completely discount Excel for business intelligence. The truth is, Excel is extremely flexible and is almost limitless in its value to users. It is the world’s most widely used spreadsheet—and with good reason. However, Excel was never designed to be a primary BI tool, and when it is used in place of a comprehensive solution, the entire organization can suffer.

Excel should be just one tool in a company’s BI toolbox—it should not be the solution. The opportunities for wasted resources and errors are far too great to entrust your entire BI strategy to Microsoft Excel.

Excel: A Powerful Tool With No Boundaries

Let’s consider how typical users work with Excel. When they have to run a query or report, they export data to Excel and begin the time-consuming process of deleting rows, sorting data, setting up filters, formatting columns, and so on. Users can manipulate data in myriad ways – even in unintentional ways. The most advanced Excel user is not immune to simple errors when they start incorporating even the simplest formulas. One mistake with a mouse when incorporating macro can create a completely false result. Scale that error up to through entire team of users who operate without boundaries, and that trouble spreads and spreads quickly.

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Those spreadsheets don’t exist in a vacuum. They get passed around from employee to employee, and each person has the ability to further manipulate the sheet. If an error is present in the original document, it has implications far beyond the spreadsheet’s creator. The next user up the flagpole then makes his or her changes to the sheet, using that incorrect data, and the cycle continues with each iteration of the sheet. Even with locked cells or other safeguards in place, there is still room to exacerbate a single mistake.

With a BI tool in place, that tool controls the manipulation of the data for the user. There is no need to fuss with formulas, and there is no concern about missing a row, forgetting a cell, or hitting the wrong macro. Queries and reports deliver the correct data in the correct format, each and every time. There is no need for formatting or further manipulation. All employees have access to the same, accurate information, no matter when they access the report.

Where is the Data Coming From?

While the spreadsheets themselves can be a concern, data sources can also be an issue with Microsoft Excel. Individual users can and will pull data from a variety of sources. This can mean inadvertently accessing incorrect or out-of-date databases and spreadsheets. If that data source is wrong, the resulting Excel files will always be wrong, through every iteration of the report.

BI tools place controls on data sources. Choices for users can be limited to only what they need so that there is no room to pull from the wrong databases. There is no need to worry about a user accessing a database they shouldn’t as the tool manages access.

Relying only on Excel for budgeting, planning, reporting, and decision making can be extremely risky. The potential for error is significant and can have extremely detrimental effects on a business. When it comes to data flow and accuracy, Excel should not be considered a BI solution.

Modern BI tools are designed with end-users in mind. When they are properly utilized, they can have value for both power users and the average end user, without the significant room for error that comes along with Excel alone. These tools integrate with Excel, allowing users to seamlessly export data from the correct sources.

With a modern BI tool, Excel becomes part of the solution, rather than a source of potential problems.

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