Excel is the most popular spreadsheet software in the world, with hundreds of millions of users. Yet while Excel’s simplicity of organizing data has made it the most frequently used reporting tool, it doesn’t take long to accumulate “Big Data” far beyond Excel’s capacity. Then, you are left to work with desktop spreadsheets that don’t enable real-time data sharing, updating, or show you a complete picture of all data in your organization. More businesses are moving away from Excel and adopting a dedicated reporting software designed for the more advanced needs of organizations today. If you can relate to one or more of issues below, it’s probably time to upgrade your reporting as well.

1. Excel is getting slow

Excel can become sluggish when reports contain more data than Excel was designed to handle. Size impacts the time it takes an Excel document to load as well as to the time it takes to make any change to the data inside the document. Today, almost every business that is actively collecting data just for their marketing and sales departments, can easily accumulate data beyond Excels capacity.

When this happens, users tend to break data into smaller, more manageable segments, or maintain multiple workbooks or worksheets, both of which are almost impossible to consolidate. Not only does this make reporting more difficult, but it also takes valuable time away from other tasks. The bottom line? Because it’s so hard to accurately join all your scattered datasets, you’ll never get a complete view of your organization–whereas with a BI and dashboard reporting software, seeing the bigger picture can be simple.

2. There’s debate over report accuracy and ownership

Excel users typically store files locally on their computer for reporting purposes. If several people want to work on a report using the same data, they must all have identical copies of the file.

This might not seem like a big challenge—after all, sharing files via email is fairly simple. However, changes to some of the cell values are inevitable and once a file is shared and an analyst begins building a report, those changes are hard to implement. With a few users working on the same report, each person maintains a different version of the file, with slightly different data, leading to a debate over who has the most accurate data. Managing reports with multiple users and versions will at best give you a massive headache, and at worse give you inaccurate information and insights.

3. Manual updates are time consuming and error-prone

Updating data in an Excel file is rarely a simple task because adding fields, copying formulas and data values can break pre-set functions. Adding new data with an additional field (column) typically means that same field must be created for pre-existing data.

If analysis is spread over several sheets in a workbook, it’s likely that each sheet will require changes based on that additional field. And if sheets reference one another, adding a field to one sheet can be a confusing and complicated task as it’s not easy to see which data is affected by the addition. Wasting time on “cleaning up” data so it synchronizes properly is a mindless task that is always fallible.

4. Your KPIs cannot be calculated with one Excel formula

The most powerful KPIs require formulas that reference several dimensions or columns and use complex and nested filters. When it becomes impossible to calculate KPI results with a single Excel formula, reporting becomes a time-consuming, manual exercise. In other words, to make meaningful KPI dashboards, you need to move beyond the built-in functionality of Excel.

The longer it takes you to build and maintain a report, the less frequently you’ll be able to use the insight it provides to develop strategy. Longer reporting intervals cost your organization time and prevents it from reacting to change in real-time.

5. Reports and dashboards aren’t inspiring

While Excel offers data visualization tools for data sets that are small and simple, once the data sets grow, these visualizations become static and almost not presentable. Poorly designed data visualization, even for no-frills charts, isn’t just uninspiring—it can also be misleading.

In this aspect, you’re truly missing out because high quality data visualization makes it very easy to see patterns or changing trends with a single glance. In effect, it turns columns and rows of data which have limited meaning and require close study into a format that the human brain can process almost instantaneously.

Bottom line

As you see, it doesn’t take a lot of data or very complex data to outgrow the size and scope of ExceI. If you’ve identified with more than one of the five pain points above, it’s time to ditch Excel for a more robust business intelligence solution. True business intelligence tools can handle data on a gigabyte to terabyte scale, create a single version of truth from your multiple data sources, and deliver beautiful data visualizations that will allow your organization to make critical decisions in real-time.

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