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Five Reasons Excel BI Is Key to Your Company's Success

Although commercial Business Intelligence software offers many benefits, Excel BI has those products beat in at least these five important ways.

by Charley Kyd, MBA
Microsoft Excel MVP, 2005-2014
The Father of Spreadsheet Dashboard Reports

"The financial storm that reached gale force [last year] has not yet subsided, and its effects on the broader economy are becoming apparent in the form of softening economic activity and rising unemployment."

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Aug. 22, 2008

These are challenging economic times.

Costs are rising. Credit is limited. Taxes are going up. Layoffs are in the news. Some businesses and cities are suffering record deficits; some are going bankrupt. And a fair number of economists, including the Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, are predicting that the economy will get worse before it gets better.

Good managers are looking seriously at their companies' performance and prospects. They are asking, "How are we going to get ourselves out of this mess?", or, "How can we avoid such problems?", or even, "How can we profit from these developments?"

For the managers who find the answers they need, one fact is virtually certain: Excel users will show them the way.

Whether you own Excel 97, Excel 2007, or some other version, Excel can empower your managers and staff to find a clear path through the economic swamp. Excel is your most effective (and least expensive!) Business Intelligence (BI) tool.

Here are five reasons that Excel is your company's key to success in these economically turbulent times:

1. Excel Gives Users the Freedom to Explore Data Fully

You'll need to find all the meaning you can in your data.

Most other BI tools rely on views of the data created by programmers. With these tools, users can explore only within those established information boundaries.

But Excel users have virtually no boundaries. They can explore the data any way they want, and use virtually any analytical method they understand.

The difference between those other BI tools and Excel is the difference between prospecting for gold from a berth of a railroad car and prospecting from the driver's seat of a Jeep.

2. Excel Allows Users to Explore ANY Data in One Analysis

You'll probably need to look at new data to find the solutions you need.

Most commercial BI tools report from a well-structured data warehouse. If the data isn't in the warehouse your BI tool can't use it. This rigid data structure is a problem because all data warehouses lack internal and external data that your company needs.

Internal Data: Businesses can have at least two problems getting internal data into their data warehouses. First, most companies have "silo" systems, which contain useful data that their data warehouse can't access for a variety of technical reasons.

Second, many IT Departments are backlogged. They insist that they can provide the data you need, but not right now. Long IT delays are a particular problem after a merger, because years could pass before the companies' data warehouses are fully integrated.

External Data: Many economic dangers and opportunities can be found only by including external data in reports and analyses. External data can include economic data, market trends, the performance of competitors, web traffic, survey data, trends in the costs of key resources, exchange rates, industry-specific data, and so on.

Because this data probably never will find a home in your data warehouse, it's data that your commercial BI software NEVER will use.

But Excel users can work easily with any data, internal or external. One way or the other, if they can get their hands on the data -- even in printed form -- Excel users can analyze and report it quickly.

3. Excel Easily Moves Between Analysis and Reporting

There's no basic difference between a "one-time" analysis and a periodic report.

Analyses turn into reports when the boss says, "That's great! Now I want to see monthly updates."

Reports turn into analyses when the boss says, "This result doesn't make any sense to me."

Too often, companies do their analyses in Excel and their reporting in some other program. As a consequence, users must translate their work between Excel and the other program. That busywork takes time away from problem-solving, and reduces the information that managers receive.

But if reports and analyses both come from Excel, managers get more  answers more quickly.

4. Excel Offers Superb Reporting Agility

Suppose you're a manager who needs to change a key report significantly to help you adapt to the changing business climate.

If your company uses commercial BI software, you'll probably need to get help from someone in the IT Department. You'll probably need to schedule some meetings, wait for programming resources, and arrange funding for the project.

Because your new design probably will need further work after you see the first few versions, the project probably will take longer than you planned. And if your project takes too long, which they often do, your new report will be obsolete before it's completed.

But if your company relies on Excel reports, an Excel user probably can provide a revised version in a few hours or days. If the new report isn't quite what you want, your Excel user can make the changes quickly.

After all, we're not talking about rocket science here. It's only Excel.

5. Excel Reports Offer Unlimited Information Scope

Because many managers have a broad scope of responsibility, they need to see data from a wide variety of sources. And because many results often are correlated in some way, these reports are most effective when managers can see the results all at one time.

Few of the other BI systems can meet this challenge. But it's no problem for Excel. Excel dashboards offer the most effective way I know to summarize many data series from many data sources all on a few printed pages.

One printed dashboard page can contain several dozen charts and tables from from several dozen sources of data. By printing several Excel dashboards, and then spreading the pages out on a table, managers can easily compare and discuss hundreds of trends and forecasts all at one time.

You can learn more about Excel dashboards here.

Excel offers significant advantages for analyzing and presenting business information. But Excel also presents some challenges that you must overcome. Particularly, you need to set up easy ways to flow data into your spreadsheet reports, and develop ways to reduce errors.

The Excel challenges aren't major ones, however. They're ones that Excel users in business handle every day.


Learn more about Excel dashboards

Charley's SwipeFile charts

Free Excel Dashboards