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I Hate ExcelExcel Slows Your Business Down

Some of you are already nodding. Yes, there’s a contingent that loves Excel, but we feel that that sentiment is a distinct minority. In fact, a huge freedom our clients feel when using InsightSquared is that they never have to use Excel if they don’t want to. Less than 0.2% of all reports run in our system across our clients are ever exported to Excel.

So what are the main reasons, specific to business intelligence, that your Excel reports never get read?

5. Excel is Time Consuming

With the amount of data being collected these days by each company, storing it all in Excel can lead to huge file sizes with dozens of tabs. When you use Excel, how much time do you spend preparing the data for analysis compared to how much time you actually do analysis? Copying & pasting, creating and updating formulas, generating charts/graphs/tables, color coding boxes/pages/tabs, all this takes time and it’s not even real analysis. It’s sort of like cooking a fancy meal, where it takes hours to prep and 15 minutes to eat…but some people actually like cooking.

And it’s not easy either. A search for “excel training” (phrase match) on Google resulted in over 1.2 million hits. In contrast, the phrase “twitter training” saw 150,000 hits. Why? Well when something is intuitive and simple like Twitter, you don’t really need training on it (though apparently some still do!). Excel isn’t simple, and there seems to be a thriving market for Excel professionals willing to take your money to teach you how to use something difficult.

4. Excel Makes Collaboration Difficult

There are two ways to share an Excel file: either send it (via email, DropBox, etc) or print it out. Both ways are a hassle. Excel files can often be larger than email attachment size limits, spreadsheet with many columns never print out well, and each time you send it, you’re making another copy of the file. Sure, you could save an Excel file on a public drive so many can access it, but then you have to deal with people viewing/editing at the same time, locking individual sheets or workbooks, and ultimately people are going to email copies of the master around anyway.

Also, usually when there is a master Excel file, it’s usually up to one or two people to maintain it. If a formula breaks, these people have to fix it. If new graphs need to be made, it’s on them again. Some companies will hire an employee entirely to maintain Excel spreadsheets and keep them updated. There isn’t much collaboration going on if only one or two people are responsible for the data.

3. Excel Usually Contains Old Data

Speaking of updating, when’s the last time you updated all the cells, columns, rows, tabs on your Excel reports? Small businesses are usually short on time and resources; updating once a week is pretty good for them, and many companies fall on the side of ad-hoc updating. This obviously takes time and slows down your business if you always need to make sure your reports are up to date before an important meeting.

How much time do you spend updating? If there is a new source of traffic, or new clients, how long does it take to update all your reports to reflect new data?

2. Excel Doesn’t Allow You to Drill Down

Excel can tell you the “what,” but it can’t really tell you the “why.” It doesn’t alert you to data entry errors (hey, you typed that number in the wrong cell!), or easily show you why revenue was down this month (hey, this lead source sent a lot fewer qualified leads this month!), or why a sales person missed his goals (hey, he spent too much time on prospecting and not enough on closing the opportunities he’s got!).

As a business intelligence tool, Excel is certainly lacking on the second half of that phrase. As opposed to a dedicated BI solution, Excel forces you to chase answers instead of making them plain, or often leaves you with more questions. A drill down capability is essential to getting the most out of your data and finding the wins that will impact your bottom line.

1. Excel is Ugly

At the end of the day, if a tool is difficult to use or read, you won’t use it and it won’t move the needle on your business. You and your employees might already dread Excel, so they are less likely to open up that attached report. If it’s clumsy, unwieldy, and uninformative, then ultimately it will be unread. Then when it’s time to present to your boss or investors, they won’t want to see Excel spreadsheets. They don’t look good. So you’re ultimately burning time by porting it over to PowerPoint anyway.

We at InsightSquared hear again and again, “well, if only we could get people using Excel right, we’d be all set.” But the truth is that they never will because there are just too many roadblocks to using Excel for BI effectively. So why not eliminate the barrier?

Here is our answer to each of the points above:

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Ready to upgrade from Excel? Find out more about our user-friendly approach to business intelligence.

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Samuel Clemens
Sam is founder and chief of product & marketing for InsightSquared. Previously, Sam was VP Product at HubSpot, VP Product at BzzAgent, and on the founding team at Elance.com. His background also includes venture capital with Greylock Partners, the Algorithms group at Amazon.com, and management consulting with Booz Allen Hamilton. Sam has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a B.S. in Applied Math from Yale. In his off time he dives shipwrecks in the New England area.
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