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Signs you need BI: People are overusing MS Excel and Access

Are you wondering if your organization is at the point where it needs to improve its reporting capabilities and invest in a business intelligence system? This note is the first in an occasional series of emails and blog posts that describe situations that have been the impetus for Dataspace clients to build new, modern business intelligence systems.

Sign #1 that it’s time for BI: People move data out of your systems and into Microsoft Excel or Access

The number one BI tool on the planet is Excel.  It’s a great place to dump and analyze data. But, it can also be  dangerous and limiting. Many of the clients who come to Dataspace to evaluate their business intelligence options are already pushing Excel to the limit. Users find a way to move data out of their corporate systems, bring it into Excel, tie it together with data from other sources, sort and summarize, apply custom groupings and, finally, print the results for distribution.

However, businesses that are too reliant on Excel for reporting must address problems like:

  • GETTING THE DATA THEY NEED: How do users get more data if the extract they have doesn’t contain all the fields or all the records they need?  If they go to IT to get this data, how long do they have to wait for it?  Is it even possible to report in real time if the need arises?
  • RISK OF ERROR: From college professors to large financial institutions, reports of costly, career-destroying errors in Excel are legendary.
  • LACK OF CONTROL: Excel’s flexibility is also its weakness. Because users can change formulae, they can also create their own versions of reports.  In Excel reporting environments, it is common for two users to show up for meetings with seemingly identical reports, each of which shows different values. Even if the amounts are immaterial, the fact that there are differences inevitably becomes a time sink as attendees try to figure out why the numbers don’t match. Even worse, such differences, rightly or wrongly, call into question the validity of the underlying data.
  • NEED FOR TECHNICAL ABILITY: Much of the reporting out of Excel spreadsheets comes from pivot tables. But, truthfully, how many people have really mastered the pivot table? Excel is a powerful environment but the users who can really maximize it are few and far between.

Microsoft Access has similar, and sometimes worse, problems. Access users generally import larger data sets creating, in essence, their own data warehouses without the controls needed on a true, corporate application.

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