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April 11, 2011


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Ad Stam

Excel and BI can coexist, stronger Excel is part of BI. You should never take Excel away from an analyst or even from a casual user who is used to get Excel based reports. What you can do is to make the main Excel user at the start of your efforts a part of the solution and not of the problem. However, most valued added information logistic processes including data warehouses and are so badly designed that it takes ‘forever’ to integrate data from multiple sources in both the initial projects and the ongoing battle to keep it up to date. In such cases and especially when you have not teamed up with the Excel guru’s you will always lose the battle. And by the way most Excel guru’s love to be freed from the burden to keep all kind of standard reports up to date. They love to “play” with data and if you provide them with a good data source they will love that also. But having said so, somewhere deep down I believe that when you have an Excel sheet that does not fit on one screen you should look for another tool……………

Alan Whitehouse

I believe that Excel and BI can definately co-exist. In regards to you comment on different data sources, I think the PowerPivot for Excel add-in does a fantastic job in that area.

Anthony Sammartino

I am of the friends point of view; Excel for superusers and a BI tool for executives who like pretty dashboards, scorecards, and reports.

Also, if your superusers are doing too much repetitive work with data using Excel (Powerpivot), the back end Data Warehouse, DB, ODS might need to be tweaked.

Cindi Howson

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Well, while I am on the "friends" and "co-exist" view, I don't think Excel should be used unilaterally as the BI solution for power users (to Anthony's point). I don't want to see too many calculations and business definitions housed in Excel, for example - they should be in the DW or central BI meta data layer. But when the BI tool is inflexible (like in joining dept data sources), then Excel is a great tool in the BI portfolio. I think one of the single biggest improvements Microsoft could offer to powerpivot is to make the business model for relational (the one used by Report Builder) accessible.



It’s a fact of life: business users want Excel, IT wants BI. In the end, what they all want and need is better reports. The bigger issue is not does the technology work together, but do the combined offerings meet the needs of both the business user and the IT department?

Cindi’s story is a great example of what happens all the time at mid-sized and large enterprises: IT gathers user requirements, goes “away for a couple of months” and comes back with functional reports. The biggest flaw in that is the process doesn’t reflect the changing needs of the users.

After all, what business is exactly the same as it was months later? Chances are something changed – the product portfolio, geographic rollups, overhead allocations. How great is the likelihood the user still needs that exact information with those same parameters?

BI and Excel can co-exist together, but neither fulfills the dynamic report requirements of most businesses today.

Business users are happier (and IT is as well) when they find a report solution that feels and acts like Excel. One that offers Excel-like functionality, extensive formula libraries, access to multiple data sources and the ability to massage the data.

It’s not a question of BI or Excel, or BI and Excel, it’s a question of what else maximizes my investment in my existing reports while offering me the functionality of Excel.

-- Michael Morrison, president & CEO, Datawatch

Steve Adler

I agree with the previous comment, this is almost never an "either/or" answer but an "and" answer. Excel is so widely used with so much free help that it is easy for users to quickly find answers to their questions or problems. In general, there are also Power Users that can help in many organizations.

With much BI, users need to go through an overworked IT resource or a trainer for help and the documentation is frequently lacking. Any delay for a time-pressed business users can be met with real frustration. Additionally, the error messages in BI solutions are frequently obscure to business users and add to the sense that whoever implemented or built the solution didn't fully understand the business issues.

One clear need for BI providers is to better understand the average business user and focus on the "chrome" of the applications not just the "under the hood" things that users don't fully get.

Zeiss rifle scopes

The previous comment hit the nail on the head. Excel is so common that anyone in business HAS to use it. If they need help with an Excel problem, they can get it for free by simply going online. Its fast and free to find answers and solutions online due to the experts and communities out there willing to help. In this sense, BI takes a backseat to Excel.

Matt Cabent


Hi Cindi,

Thanks for this great review.
My opinion is that for sure Excel is part of the BI systems, but as such, the gaps between a local, unmonitored tool should be reduced systematically.
I recommend several things:
1. Implement Excel add-in that almost every BI major platform has to offer (Liveoffice, PowerPivot, Cognos 8 Go! & ctr.).
New users should start using them as soon as they start working.
2. Implement software that allows you to monitor excel activity, trace data holes.
3. Meet the users & understand theirs working processes : from my experience many of them are not well trained in excel, some data they can analyze in the BI tool, others work very hard on a small piece of data that they compare using vlookup to other spreadsheets, combing data in the BI tool can easily solve it & reduce effort & time.
4. Analyze the working processes that can be automated.
5. The big statistics guys and the major annalists should get a "special" treatment, they should be the first one to get & be trained with the BI tools and use if needed massive row analysis tools like SAS.
6. Use automatic loading tools that can transfer the data online to the Data base & can be afterwards easily analyzed in the BI tool.



As far as add-ins go I would recommend XLhub, an Excel add-in created by Metric-X to enabling Business Intelligence even based on data that is locked up in Excel. XLhub allows users to push and pull information to and from a database where it then can become a data source for SSRS, Crystal Reports, or another BI tool of your choice. Of course, you can also pull that data into an Excel file and do your BI that way, too. Users can pull data from multiple sources (some Excel, some data warehouse, etc.) allowing for up to the minute information that fuels their forecasting, budgeting, and status reports. Another benefit is that users no longer have to send emails back and forth to update their spreadsheets; any user can simply access the updated information right from Excel and make necessary changes and publish them for other users to see.
To see more information go to the XLhub Main Page. A free trial is now available to start using, you can download it here.

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