Does MS Excel play a role in BI?

There is a real need amongst small and mid-sized organisations for meaningful data to facilitate better decision-making to ultimately drive organisational performance. Many “what if” decisions made every day, in businesses of all sizes, are based on spreadsheets. Yet control over spreadsheets—and the accuracy of data they contain—remains low, risking the quality of decision-making.

The importing of data into Microsoft Excel and manual spreadsheet creation and maintenance is both time-consuming and open to human error, as is the insecure sharing of this information amongst colleagues, causing what is commonly known as ‘spreadsheet chaos’. Excel as a stand-alone application does therefore not suffice as a BI solution, but it most certainly is a powerful decision support tool when integrated with the right applications and tools and when used within a structured framework. As Gary Boddington, MD of Alchemex (Pty) Ltd. puts it, “The face of BI is changing and Excel is become a central character. The prudent option when seeking out a BI solution would be to find the vendor that understands the specific market needs, has built the necessary connectors to the data, can remove data integrity issues and create a consistent flow of reliable data by using Excel as the output and distribution mechanism.”

The future of BI is in solutions that draw real-time data directly from a company’s data source into pre-formatted Excel reports with built in drill-down capabilities and other one-click functionality to access the data. Such solutions provide low-cost integration into existing IT infrastructure while extending and strengthening its functionality. Trusted data can then be manipulated and distributed in the familiar Excel interface, making BI widely accessible.