Microsoft Excel

Despite all of the push for enterprise BI over the years, Microsoft Excel still remains the big end-user tool of choice at many organizations. It’s not going away anytime soon.After all, we’ve been in many a BI software presentation where the first question ends up being: Yeah, but does it export to Excel?

There are many reasons why Excel has kept popular over the years despite its numerous challengers. Here’s some of the biggies:

Its cheap. With most companies’ volume license deals, Office software on a per user basis is often cheaper than most BI software licenses.

Its widespread. A Microsoft Excel document can be easily shared amongst users and departments. Aside from some occasional issues between versions, files will open and function without issue.

A big resisting point to introducing a new business intelligence tool is the training and education needed. Most people, even novice computer users, usually have at least a basic understanding of this spreadsheet software. Most IT departments have at least a couple of staff members with experience supporting it.

The problem is that these advantages can quickly turn into a negative. A commonly heard term is “Excel hell”, which is the rat’s nest of spreadsheets, formulas, VB macros, Access databases often seen in organizations. Workers create their own silos of information, and as a result data quality and integration suffers. There’s no single version of the truth, and report generation can be tough to automate.

The trend for software vendors is too respond by in some cases, designing software that functions like Excel. This is often the case for planning or performance management tools. Other times, they just add-in integration with Office, so users can get the best of both worlds. They’ll have the familiar interface, with the central enterprise power of a BI stack. In reality, it doesn’t always link up that nicely.

With Office 2010, the addition of Powerpivot gave a lot of new life to the Microsoft BI stack, and Excel in particular.The OpenOffice free productivity software doesn’t look like its dug too deeply into the market share, at least in the BI side. These open source products, while fine for a standalone or small business environment, simply aren’t supported to the extent that Microsoft products are. The add-ins and compatibility just isn’t built in by the 3rd party BI vendors, so its still got a ways to go.

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