Business Intelligence solutions seem to be a hot topic at the moment, but with so many products available, why not look at what you can do with the tools you already have before getting out your cheque book? The BI capabilities in Excel 2013 massively exceed most people’s expectations, allowing you to put a solution in place in a matter of days. Furthermore, if you choose to combine Excel’s BI capabilities with SharePoint on premise or online, then you can have a multi-device friendly solution to boot.
Here’s an example. I’ve been working recently with a major manufacturing organisation who were in urgent need of some better analytics for their sales data. They’d been down a familiar route of looking at specialist BI solutions, but they had been put off by the price tag and steep learning curve. I persuaded them to let me have a look, using Excel 2013.
To say they were sceptical was an understatement. The conversation went, “But we have 50 million rows of data in a DB2 database.” “Ok, let’s try it.” Ten minutes later, 50 million rows of data were sitting happily in PowerPivot, the in-memory database that comes with Excel 2013. Skepticism was replaced by raised eyebrows and interest.
When I created a PivotTable, which displayed instantaneously, they couldn’t believe it. The first response was to get their hand-crafted reports and check that the figures were right (they were). Within a day we had meaningful, smart looking, interactive dashboards created with PowerView (which also comes with Excel 2013).
Furthermore, their existing team already had strong Excel skills. There was no steep learning curve and they quickly got up to speed with creating new reports and dashboards.
The icing on the cake was to take the Excel workbooks and publish them to SharePoint. Then senior executives were able to see reports and interact with pivot tables using their iPads, as shown in this short video.
The bottom line was that the IT department was able to deliver urgently needed analytics to senior business users in less than two weeks, without needing to purchase expensive software, or learn how to use something new.
The strategy of using Excel 2013 to start you on your BI journey seems to be a very good one, even if it ends up being a stepping stone to a more sophisticated product. Excel is a capable, familiar, low cost product, and its optional pairing with SharePoint on premise or online (using Power BI for Office 365) adds further credibility. In the best case scenario, you’ll deliver what is needed quickly and at low cost; in the worst case, you will gain valuable insight into what your BI needs really are, so you’ll be in a much better position to assess more specialist products if and when the time comes.