EXCEL vs BI tools – Towards a Data Driven Culture!

The Great BI vs Excel Debate

As Business intelligence vendors slog it out to flex their muscles on enterprise stage and has experts talking lengths on BI, one thing that is often dropped out is the real protein aka Excel; from where the BI concept got ripped and is now flaunting its curves on enterprise’s Dashboards.
One cannot undermine the fact that, the DNA of “business analytics” which is the core part of business intelligence still remains deeply entrenched in analytical capabilities of Excel (that has long been and still is the mainstay of enterprises’ analytics needs). However, at present, the real power of any tool or application is evaluated on the basis of its ease of use and intuitive features that can help even non tech savvy people get relevant insights as per their needs
without relying too much on IT staff.

BI vs Excel The Great BI vs Excel Debate

So, let’s uncover which areas, Excel needs to flex its muscles in its run up to the Business intelligence race.

Types of Users and Familiarity

Proponents of Excel are those power users who can perform almost all Excel analytical stunts. But, when it comes to less tech savvy frontline executives or other personnel, mastering Excel would be a tough pursuit. Here’s where modern BI tools makes it easy for even the non-techie employees perform slicing and dicing, do some data mash-ups with intuitive visualization features.

Timely re-configuration and processing

One of the areas where BI tools scores over Excel is providing real time data which is outside the purview of Excel. The ability to connect directly to the databases and heavy under the hood plumbing makes real time data monitoring easy and actionable. Updating and re-configuring data also consumes a lot of time in Excel and sometimes runs out of memory as well. Due to these inconsistencies working with Excel becomes difficult. The amount of time taken to download data in Excels sheets and tons of manipulation done in order to get relevant insights from disparate applications seems quite a daunting task.

Visualization and Web access

Modern BI tools provide rich interactive visualization, web access to analytics as well as new forms of interactive data visualization which still remains a far cry for Excel.

Error Probability

Mismanagement of data, corrupt files and inadequate security makes Excel more vulnerable to errors. Even, power users who can build their own macros might still run the risk of making hidden errors. Here, BI tools that are integrated with the databases help in master data management and these tools being rigorously tested, come as a saving grace for many users.

Complex Decision Making

When it comes to complex decision making that requires manager to access information from various applications like SAP, CRM, ACCOUNTING etc. and then downloading them to Excel sheets and performing analysis becomes a complex procedure. On the other BI tools are far more sophisticated and can be easily integrated with cross functional applications to provide meaningful insights without banging heads on the Excel walls.

Complex Marketing Research and statistical analysis

In order to perform complex research and statistical analysis, Excels fails to leave a mark as compared to the like of Spss and Sas. These softwares provide domain driven data mash up capabilities and are far easy to use then Excel. Further, managing unstructured data becomes difficult in Excel.


BI tools are more expensive then Excel, this is one area where Excel holds sway over BI tools. For smaller organization Excel can help solve much of these BI challenges in cost effective way, when it comes to big organization, Excel doesn’t stand a chance against mighty BI providers like COGNOS, QLIKVIEW, TABLEAUE and the like.

Size of data

Though Microsoft has made significant changes in Excel to enable power users to manage large amount of data, Excel still falls short of space while handling large amount of data. This is one major problem with Excel comparatively with BI tools that come with high storage capacity to handle large data sets.

Computed measures KPIs, Etc.

Though Excel can perform complex analysis, when it comes to performing analysis to measure KPIs using disparate data sources, BI tools are miles ahead.


BI tools offer better compliance management capabilities than Excel. BI tools provide much more reliable data for auditing various standards where quantification of process and information flow is reliable and streamlined.