We’ve worked in the BI industry for many years and during that time we’ve experienced many different technologies including Oracle, Business Objects, Cognos etc.
These technologies have many differences and many similarities (including being very expensive); but there’s one thing that always seems to apply – the end user wants to export the data to Excel. But why is this?
There are several reasons; but In our experience the primarily reason is users feel more comfortable slicing and dicing (working with) the data in a technology that they’re familiar with rather than one they’re not. We use Excel for many things so wouldn’t it be great if we could use it for BI as well.
Excel, with its spreadsheet technology, also offers more flexibility as individual cells can be moved around, formatted and referenced in formulas.
The concept of individual cells isn’t something we generally see in BI technologies, where instead we work with blocks (columns and rows) which represent individual measures and dimensions. Yes we see columns and rows in Excel spreadsheets; but these are made up of individual cells that can be moved around from column to column and row to row. This doesn’t mean BI technologies are flawed; far from it in fact! its the block structure that makes them so powerful as large and complex reports can be quickly and easily created – but in truth only by the few who have the ability to do this.
Excel’s also has great integration with other core and everyday technologies including Outlook and PowerPoint; And the fact Excel reports can be more easily shared with others compared to many other reports is another very important factor.
We don’t see the export to Excel habit/behavior changing any time soon. So with this in mind we believe it would make sense to use Excel as our primary BI technology – whenever and wherever possible!
And the good new is! the latest Microsoft Power add-ins for Excel make this a real possibility.
Power Query adds some fantastic ETL functionality to Excel; whilst Power Pivot adds Data Modelling; and Power View and Power Map highly visual and interactive reports.
Excel has always been an excellent tool for ad-hoc reporting and deep dive analytics, but with these add-ins Excel can meet many of our reporting and dashboarding needs as well.
So if you think an Excel based solution could be right for you then please explore the other sections of our site for more information; and please do get in touch if you have any questions.