Borisevelson By Boris Evelson

Ever since our latest BI Wave was published a couple of weeks ago, I keep hearing comments about why we have not included evaluation of Excel as a BI tool. For example, Rajan Chandras, one of the contributing editors to the Intelligent Enterprise, poses really good arguments in his recent blog on why, when and how Excel can and should be used as a BI tool. Excellent question, everyone!

  • As I wrote in my very first report when I joined Forrester, Ouch! Get Ready – Spreadsheets Are Here To Stay For Business Intelligence: "Spreadsheets – the most widely used business intelligence (BI) tool – are a permanent fixture in enterprises because no other analytical application outperforms them in flexibility, ease of use, and ubiquity."
  • Furthermore, I consider Excel a major component of BI Workspaces: BI Without Borders.
  • And last, but not least, we do place a heavy emphasis on Excel as a delivery vehicle or UI for all BI environments in our Wave.

However, having said all that, if we had included Excel as a standalone BI tool, not just a BI UI, it would have scored rather poorly since Excel still relies on the underlying BI/DBMS infrastructure for such critical BI components for large, complex enterprise BI as:

  • Access to non-ODBC/JDBC databases
  • Real time or operational BI, as in BAM or CEP
  • Tight integration with data integration components such as ETL, CDC, Data Quality
  • OLAP beyond Excel Pivot Tables (no ability to handle complex hierarchies and dimensions)
  • Unstructured content BI beyond simple text parsing
  • Integration with MDM
  • Production / Operational reports with pixel perfect positioning of multiple report bands or panels
  • Scheduling of reports to be run in the background and report dissemination via multiple channels
  • VLDB features, or running reports on data sets larger than Excel spreadsheet limitations; ability to optimize SQL

So, yes, I vote for Excel as a BI UI, or Excel as a lightweight, departmental or SMB BI solution. But stand-alone Excel cannot be one and only BI tool to fulfill complex and broad BI requirements in large enterprises.