Even as statistics and analytics software continues to evolve by leaps and bounds, Excel remains the program of choice for many companies. This is a testament to its usefulness and versatility, but it also means that it may be applied universally in cases where it’s purpose may not be beneficial. In business intelligence, for instance, the substantial amounts of data and precision required during analysis means that using only Excel can be limiting for a few reasons.
Business intelligence requires more than an efficient way to record data, including the ability to perform complex functions quickly, maintain security, and keep data as current as possible. While Excel is useful for some of these aspects, it becomes more difficult to use as the scope of tasks and analytics needs expand.
If you’ve been seeking an alternative to Excel, these pointers can help you choose the right BI tool to match your organization’s needs.
Think About Your Needs and Consider Excel’s Limitations
If all you need is an effective and versatile way to track data, Excel may be an appropriate solution. Moreover, if you want to store multiple types of information (such as links, images, and text), the program can be a fit. Even so, many of Excel’s advantages—including the more advanced functions—become less beneficial when dealing with more complex or broader datasets.
Performing ‘what-if’s and other calculations are straightforward with Excel, but small errors in formulae can easily go unnoticed and lead to larger errors down the line. In addition, uncovering real-time insights is significantly harder, as Excel information isn’t live-updated, but rather versioned progressively as additional information is integrated.
TIP! To choose the right solution, consider if your needs are more about tracking or insight before thinking about the type of analyses you need to perform.
Consider Your Time Constraints
For many companies, business intelligence is about relevance and speed. Excel is convenient because of its relatively low learning curve (for most basic and low-level functions) and its straightforward interface. For many companies which require basic record keeping and data tracking from multiple sources, this is more than enough. Users can share a version of the document and add data as it arrives.
This simplicity also becomes a complication when you’re seeking a more large-scale reporting tool and analytics platform. Because Excel lacks real-time updating capabilities (each change or update must be saved individually before everyone can access it), as well as a more complex high-level suite of tools, it becomes time-consuming as companies expand. Instead, BI tools are built on the idea of live updates and real-time analytics by harnessing systems that require less high-level knowledge while cutting time when adding data.
TIP! Remember, as your data grows the need for a single source of truth is a requirement. Choose a solution that takes manual updating of data out of your users’ hands and ensures accuracy in real time.
How Heavily Do You Use Multiple Data Sources?
BI puts a great premium on centralizing relevant data from multiple channels into a single dashboard for efficiency and better insights. Excel also has this capability, but it requires a much more involved approach. Unlike Sisense and other alternatives, Excel requires manual input from each source to centralize information. This process is not a problem if your organization is small or if your data streams are more limited, but as your organization grows and changes it will become hard to keep pace manually.
However, if you collect data from multiple sources, as well as continuously, Excel can become the limiting factor overshadowing the quality of your insights. Employing an alternative that allows for automated data centralization and data mash up is useful because it can cut down on your resource waste and improve ROI with faster insights.
TIP! Keep in mind that the variety, amount, and velocity of data your organization is collecting will likely grow along with you. Consider where you are now and where you want to go as your company matures.
Do You Need Dynamic Visualizations?
A major area where BI software outstrips Excel is how well you can visualize data. Excel is built on its ability to perform statistical functions and act as a more customizable database for different data types. However, it was not designed for complex or dynamic visualizations. The program does offer the ability to create charts and diagrams, but these are static and do not consider incoming data. For some organizations, this is not a problem, especially if their concern pertains to analyzing historical data.
On the other hand, for organizations that require more immediate visualizations of data as well as the ability to interact with them, BI tools are better suited. Finding the right visualization tool includes understanding what your platform will be used for. If you determine that your organization requires more complex visualizations, you may be better served using a BI platform like Sisense which allows for plugins and custom coding.
TIP! Will users in your organization have questions about the data they’re viewing? Choose a tool that allows all users, no matter their technical expertise, to interact with graphs and charts through drill-downs. This takes the pressure off IT for constant edits to static reports and makes end users self-sufficient.