BI strategy beyond Excel

Business intelligence and business analytics in a data-driven world

· 3AG blog

In a data-driven world, it’s odd that gut instinct still plays such a big part in business decisions. But why isn’t surprising: Not only do businesses have more data than they can handle, but they’re also using a tool never designed to gather BI (Business Intelligence) in the first place.

That tool is Excel; approximately “1 in 5 businesses are using spreadsheets as the main tool to communicate data internally”according to Bernard Mar (Forbes). Excel is a great tool for certain business requirements, but gathering and organizing corporate data isn’t among them.

Mar explains why spreadsheets don’t work for businesses:

  • They’re not designed intuitively; except for expert users, most people find them difficult to use
  • The sheer amount of information they can contain makes them difficult to analyze, which can result in poor decision-making
  • Spreadsheets can show so much raw data it can be difficult to determine what’s important and what isn’t
  • Spreadsheets are often updated but neither backed up nor versioned. Losing historical data makes it difficult to spot trends over time or see data in real time
  • New spreadsheets need to be created for every new report, which increases the chances of error, inconsistency and incompleteness

Further, many users are running old versions of Excel. So, why are so many businesses depending on Excel reporting tools to do Excel business intelligence?

Drowning in data (analysis)

One of the most common concerns we at 3AG hear from clients is that they’re drowning in data. They have more information than they can access and no efficient, thorough and repeatable way to do so; instead,

  • they have lots of reports and data tools, but no real insights
  • they do everything ad-hoc, which is time-consuming and the reports are only as thorough as the overtaxed staff who runs them
  • they have to work with IT for every new BI project and it’s challenging to articulate their needs

Not many people are capable of making well-reasoned decisions when their heads are under water. In a business context, this leads necessarily to an overabundance of gut decisions—otherwise, no decisions would be made at all.

This is an issue for companies across industries and of all sizes, but mid-size enterprises are most vulnerable. Mid-size businesses are large enough to require superior business intelligence and data reporting, but their resources usually aren’t sufficient—even if they have a clear idea of what BI could do for their business.

Without an expert data analyst running your BI strategy, you won’t get a complete picture of your company’s information. Being able to connect different databases or build data lakes, for example, are necessary to gain meaningful insights, but are not among most business Excel users’ skills.

Power BI vs Excel?

It's not just a boxing match between Power BI vs Excel

Choosing a visualization tool like Power BI vs Excel is not enough. Yes, you will need the right tools to develop and share dashboards and reports, but remember that tools are just tools, not strategies.

Taking stock

If you’re not happy with how your company currently manages its data, consider these questions:

  • What kind of data does your company review now? 
    • Is it useful? Does it lead to profitable business choices?
    • Is your data complete? How do you know?
    • Are you able to gain useful insights you don’t know to look for?
  • Are you using BI tools ad-hoc?
    • Do you run reports irregularly because starting from scratch is a hassle?
    • Have you considered other BI options? If not, why not?

If concerns about time and money are keeping you from researching or adopting a more sophisticated BI solution, that’s understandable. It might also be fatal. In the age of big data, the price of mismanaging, losing or misunderstanding corporate data will be incalculable in the long run—and perhaps crippling in the short term.

Finding your BI (and BA) experts