Microsoft Excel: The good, the bad, and the advantage of added BI capability

Microsoft Excel is the universal language of business and accountants, and most decision-makers in small to mid-sized businesses use the king of spreadsheets in some way for reporting. In fact, research analyst Gartner has conceded that “Excel is still the number one reporting tool”.

Why then, would you want or need to use a Business Intelligence (BI) tool, and not just Excel, for your business reporting?

Let’s begin by answering this question with a few more questions for context: Can you say with conviction that you have a clear view of your company’s performance? Do you have visibility of MTD and YTD sales year on year? Can you see, whenever you want to, how your profitability or cash flow is tracking? How about top 5 customers, expenses, or salespeople?

As the amount of social and organizational data continues to grow, businesses of all sizes are trying to figure out how to manage it all. For years, business applications have captured data to help give insights into business performance. However, these solutions have been largely disjointed and provided static views of performance, which has resulted in the need to export to Excel. This, in turn, has brought its own challenges—the concern about data accuracy, multiple versions of a report sitting on a number of different desktops, repetitive data pulls and time-consuming cutting, pasting and formatting.

What is BI and what’s the advantage of having it? 

In its simplest form, BI is the ability to accumulate, organize, and analyze data from multiple sources. Business Intelligence accesses trusted information in a timely manner, then puts it into a usable format so that people across the organization can collaborate and make better business decisions, which gives the company a competitive edge. This is where Microsoft Excel starts to fall short.

A good BI tool should be built specifically with the needs of small to midsized enterprises in mind. Furthermore, and especially if you are comfortable with using Excel for reporting, it should take the data that has always been there and provide trusted, timely and relevant insights into your business in the familiar interface of the tool you already know how to use.

Here are seven good reasons to use a BI tool and not just Microsoft Excel:

1.       Eliminate “spreadsheet chaos”

Excel, although an extremely useful tool for business reporting and data analysis, does not suffice as a BI solution when used as a stand-alone application.  A great BI tool will provide a controlled and secure environment to store and run your Excel reports. You can then access a single version of the truth and eliminate human error. Any layout or formatting changes made to a report can be saved and preserved for when the report is run out in the future, allowing the new format to be updated with the latest information, automatically.

2.       Save time and money

Using a BI tool together with Excel automates report preparation by pulling trusted information from your ERP system and other sources into Excel report templates when you need it—so you can spend your time analyzing the data rather than pulling it together. Financial staff, in particular, can save hours each month by reducing manual report preparation times and repetitive data pulls. Customers have witnessed up to a 25% increase in reporting productivity.

3.       Leverage the power of Excel in a structured environment

There is a reason that Microsoft Excel is so dominant—it’s easy to use, global, and it can handle data manipulation and analysis and deliver the graphical representations required for most reporting. It can be a powerful tool when used within a structured BI framework, and your end users already know how to use it. Based on the familiar Microsoft Excel application, you can use a BI tool that lets you effortlessly run reports and analyze data, improving your visibility into your organization and helping you make informed business decisions.  Employees can view, analyze, and customize reports in the familiar interface of Excel, which leverages existing Excel skills in your business, and lowers your total cost of ownership. 

4.       Introduce flexibility into your reporting and analysis

The ability to obtain insights into historical data (not limited to only the current and previous year) will increase transparency into your company’s financial events and overall health. Drill down tools will enable you to learn more about the numbers behind your data points and drill down to detailed transactions. Taking full advantage of the Reporting Trees functionality further allows you to model a reporting structure and view your organization in many different ways. And of course, you can use Excel’s analysis tools to filter, sort and analyze data. With better insight into your financials, you have the ability to make better decisions. 

5.       Improve collaboration

BI tools that integrate with Excel go much further than simply allowing you to edit and create reports using the software you’re comfortable with. By adding the ability to schedule reports and automate report distribution and notifications, stakeholders in your company will always know when numbers fall outside of acceptable benchmarks. Improved access to information will allow for improved collaboration among teams.

6.       Get a consolidated view of the health of your business

To stay competitive, you need more than simple general ledger reporting. A great Excel-based BI tool gives you the information you need from across your entire business by going beyond financials and allowing you to combine information from multiple sources (including your ERP, CRM, and payroll databases) to deliver a 360-degree view of your company. Pulling all of your existing information together from multiple companies, divisions, and data sources into one report provide an easily digestible format for in-depth analysis. In addition, graphical dashboards provide a visual overview of the company’s top KPIs so you can track performance and easily identify trends to aid decision making.

 7.       Get immediate value and support

A good BI tool will ship with ready-to-use financial, sales, dashboard, and other report templates so you can get up and running immediately. You shouldn’t need to be a programmer to produce reports. If desired, you should be able to use a number of free report templates provided by the BI solution as a basis for customization or create completely customized reports to meet your unique business requirements.

There are many more advantages to using a BI tool that seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Excel in your business reporting processes. The opportunities are endless, and the right match could help take your business to new heights. The only question that remains is; Why haven’t you yet married the king of spreadsheets to a BI tool fit to sit at his side and help rule your business reporting for years to come?