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Excel go home!

“I will throw Excel out of the window!” I once heard a manager shout when visiting as a consultant. I became curious and asked him what his reasons were. He started venting about the way his team reported to him: “It takes them days each month. It is filled with errors. Nothing is delivered consistently. Comparing with previous periods is virtually impossible. And the list goes on and on. How can I manage my company this way?” I asked him what kind of Business Intelligence solution was used.

For the sake of simplicity, let me now assume that the above leads to at least some form of recognition. Excel is a very user-friendly and versatile tool for every (end) user in the organization. With the right set of data, it helps to easily visualize, calculate, compare, drill, pivot, etc. The key to success is in the first words of the previous sentence: “… correct set of data …”. The problem is not that an end user cannot (learn to) use Excel, although skill sets can quickly turn towards complex formulas, (translated) functions and even VBA-coding. The problem is that an end user is not an IT specialist who is able to get the right data in the right way over and over again with the right definitions from a range of source systems.

If I have learned something in recent years as a business intelligence consultant, it is that this must represent the paradigm of ‘one version of the truth’. Everyone looks at the same unambiguous definition of the data in the same way and extracts information from it in order to arrive at the right conclusions and decisions.

A customer’s sales manager once showed me how he had learned to get the monthly figures from JD Edwards by selecting ordertype SO in a certain application and then exporting these to Excel. There he made some pivot tables and some graphs and he reported those figures to his management. He was unaware of the fact that later on also orders of the type CO, S1, SE and SD type had been added. When a BI tool was introduced there, his revenue suddenly jumped. Now this was a mistake to his advantage, but it can lead to the wrong decisions being made by these incorrect figures. This is a simple example, but it shows how quickly and easily things can go wrong.

One of my very first demos in the field of business intelligence was for a customer who wanted to get rid of Excel for these same reasons. When at the end of the demo someone from the audience asked if data could also be exported to Excel, this person got a certain look from his boss.

Of course you can, but it is for a good reason that with serious BI tools this button is unavailable by default.

In some cases data is stored in Excel (budgets for example), and you wish to analyse this with a BI tool.

Read more about using Excel data in Tableau

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