Excel, BI or Both?

Excel versus BI Business Intelligence

This is a question I often get when implementing new reports or dashboards. Where to do it? Purchase a dashboard solution to sit on top of the BI solution or simply use Excel for it? Use Excel to track KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or use BI for it? Use Excel to generate reports out of BI or use a third-party tool?

You might have come across these yourself.

Excel versus compared to BI systemsJust like with any program, the user should know both Excel’s potential and limitations. Bigger companies need more complex solutions to handle databases and consolidations but many still rely heavily on Excel as a data reporting and analysis tool. That’s why Microsoft introduced it’s own self-service BI tools.

Below is a summary comparing standard Excel to BI systems. It will help answer the questions above.

Excel’s strengths:

  • Easily manageable by the business
  • Flexible & Fast
  • Can be maintained by the users instead of IT
  • Low cost

Excel’s weaknesses:

  • Weak security
  • Prone to errors
  • Performance issues
  • Development of report/solution depends heavily on the knowledge of the person creating it

BI’s strengths:

  • Strong security concept
  • Easily handle large amount of data
  • Standard rules for calculation – less prone to errors
  • Supports simultaneous use by a large number of users

BI’s weaknesses:

  • Less flexible
  • Longer development time
  • Heavily reliable on IT
  • Costly

Different uses of Excel

Going back to Standard Excel: It is so easy use, it’s often misused. Spreadsheet creation doesn’t require special knowledge or advanced skills. The Excel product itself is aimed to work with any type of user, independent of their skill level. Quite often though, files end up becoming a set of “spaghetti spreadsheets”- all somehow intertwined and interconnected. People lose track of how calculations really work in the files, but since they still “work” they continue to build on these. Files like these tend to be in everyday use and are passed down to the next colleague and the next one. Until, of course, when something goes awry or something crashes. Unfortunately, by that time, no one really understands how to get “under the hood” to fix the problem. The best way is to rebuild these from scratch – the right way.

Watch the video below to get a glimpse of the possibilities of Excel – apart from the obvious of course.

Want to improve your Excel skills? See my Online Advanced Excel Course and also my Advanced Excel Chart Course for more information.

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