Why Excel is costing you millions

A few years ago, the ability to capture and manipulate data was an exciting possibility. Organizations often pulled information from databases, which they would then export into Excel to manipulate and analyze. Today, however, static reporting is no longer enough. Recently there has been a shift in Information Technology from traditional Business Intelligence (BI), where reports are static, to data discovery, where the reports are focused on users, and are dynamic and easy to use. Organizations now need to be able to explore their information and visualize the data in order to stay competitive.

Organizations have more data than ever before, and companies that have developed a way to harness and explore their data have an advantage in the market. Excel has its place for certain functions, but spreadsheets don’t allow decision makers to see the big picture as effectively as a dashboard. In fact, even Microsoft has noticed the shift away from static reporting and realized that Excel isn’t enough, which is why there are more data discovery capabilities in newer versions of Excel and in Microsoft Power View. Still, even the added capabilities in Microsoft Power View still do not allow users to fully monitor, analyze, and explore their data. In order to remain agile and recognize opportunities, organizations need to invest in BI tools that include data discovery and dashboards.

Gartner predicts that more and more devices will be connected with the internet, calling it the “Internet of Everything”. Gartner named this one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2014, predicting that this trend will drive an enormous increase in information available. With this massive expansion in available information, the potential for exploration and analysis also grows, requiring the need for more sophisticated and proactive information management and analytical models. Is Excel up to the task?

Excel reports are static, and take time to produce. By the time the decision makers receive their report, the information is already out of date. With a real-time dashboard, people receive updates as soon as the information is available. Dashboards are also interactive, unlike Excel, which means that if a certain data point is troubling, dashboard users can drill down to get more information. Dashboards even provide alerts and updates when something is amiss. Excel spreadsheets do not provide alerts or updates, and, they are actually hindering our ability to understand critical information by being difficult to read. Finally, Excel spreadsheets are prone to error. One typo can skew all of the data, and it may take time to notice and correct the mistake. Data discovery tools are automated, and much of the room for human error is eliminated.

With more and more information available through a growing number of devices connected to the internet, there are more opportunities for companies to develop new business models, products, marketing strategies, and engagement models for customers, employees, and partners. However, this will only be possible for the organizations that are able to use their information quickly and effectively. Excel spreadsheets are not a reliable way to manage BI, reporting, and data discovery in order to compete in the quickly changing market. Companies need a comprehensive solution, including BI infrastructure, data discovery tools, dashboards, and effective data visualizations that will allow them to analyze and explore large sets of data.

Gartner makes the bold statement that “No business can afford to ignore or underplay the impact of technology-driven disruptions that are even transforming what it means to be a business in a digital world.” Traditional BI is no longer enough; data discovery is now necessary to remain competitive.

Comprehensive BI solutions that include data discovery and dashboards, however, can require a large investment of both time and money. Depending on the organization’s requirements and existing IT infrastructure, investments in servers, storage, clients, and networking may be necessary. Implementation, training, and administration also add to the upfront costs. It is possible, however, to reduce the capital expenditure needed for deployment with cloud services.

In addition to the up-front costs, BI tools will incur maintenance costs and costs associated with enhancing and extending the application. These costs usually far outweigh the up-front investment. In fact, Gartner estimates that, for a business application that is used for 15 years, the average cost to go live is 8% of the total lifetime cost of ownership. It is important to note that the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is highly dependent on design decisions, and so it is important for organizations to design the BI solution according to their needs from the beginning, as this will affect, and could drastically reduce, the maintenance and enhancing costs.

However, a BI solution will actually reduce operational costs. Manual reporting can be almost eliminated or greatly reduced with a comprehensive BI and dashboard solution. Each organization’s reporting needs and subsequent savings will vary; however, organizations that assign one analyst to each team can likely reduce the number of analysts to one or just a few for the entire organization. Neo@Ogilvy, a Dundas Data Visualization customer, used Excel to analyze and report on its customers’ data. After implementing a BI solution, including a Dundas powered dashboard, the organization saw their reporting time decrease by 90%.

There is mounting research that indicates organizations need a BI solution that includes data discovery, dashboards, and data visualization tools in order to use the ever-increasing amount of data available and remain competitive in the market. With this evidence, the question is, can you afford not to invest in BI?

The opportunity costs of avoiding a BI solution and continuing to use Excel for reporting and data exploration will soon become apparent, if they aren’t already. By continuing to use traditional BI tools including static Excel reports instead of a data discovery solution, companies aren’t able to aggregate all of their data and see the larger trends. Managers and executives aren’t able to understand their data easily and make fact-based decisions quickly. Organizations aren’t able to harness and use data, an element that has, and will continue to disrupt the way businesses run.