It is sometimes difficult to think of things Microsoft Excel can’t be used for in business. For so long a staple part of the Microsoft Office suite, Excel has become to spreadsheet software what Word is to word processing, or Powerpoint to presentations – the default programme entire generations of people have grown up with and use loyally to this day. That’s where self service BI comes in.
That, however, is doing Excel a slight disservice. It’s popularity is not simply down to Microsoft’s market penetration. Its number crunching and data processing tools have set the standard for nearly every other piece of spreadsheet software. And so flexible, user-friendly and familiar are those tools, that millions of business users worldwide opt to use Excel for a myriad range of business operations even when there are more specialised software platforms available.
Accounts, payroll, CRM, ERP, business modelling, design and engineering – Excel was not built specifically to do any of these, but can and has been harnessed to perform them all, plus many, many more. Indeed, so widespread is the use of Excel formulas and pivot tables, they are sometimes labelled the world’s most popular programming languages.
There is one thing, however, that Excel has never been so great at. As powerful as it is as a data processing tool, turning Excel data tables into actionable business intelligence (BI) – running analytics, finding the patterns, taking crunched numbers and presenting them in a way that is intuitive, intelligible and pretty – has never been all that straightforward.
If you want to analyse and visualise Excel data, your options have either been to bring in a BI specialist, or in more recent times use one of the external plug-ins Microsoft has made available.
But all that has changed.
Organisations worldwide are using Power BI
Microsoft’s Power brand of BI tools originally took the form of four separate applications which could be plugged into Excel. And while each was very powerful in its own right, a lack of consistency and integration between each app meant running longer streams of analysis and reporting could be complex. So if you, for example, wanted to run analysis on a data set in Power Pivot, but then visualise your findings in Power View, there was no natural flow between the two stages. You would have to export from one to the other, and ended up using different interfaces and tools.
For the average Excel user, this was a lot to handle.
Then, in 2015, Microsoft launched Power BI, a so-called ‘self-service’ cloud business intelligence suite intended to compete with the likes of Tableau. Self service BI is basically shorthand for user-friendly and intuitive. As is typical of cloud-based application suites, Power BI breaks down all the silos between earlier incarnations of Power-branded software, presenting a wide range of analytics and visualisation tools in a single, accessible interface.
Microsoft clearly saw the advantages to the end user of this streamlined, simplified BI solution – no doubt influenced by some impressive growth figures for user uptake. It therefore turned back to the issue of analytics in Excel, and created a Power BI desktop version as a solution.
Power BI desktop offers the same integrated, streamlined set of tools in a single interface as the cloud service. The point is that it can now sit right on top of Excel, providing a comprehensive yet user-friendly analytics and reporting suite to replace the previously segmented options.
In that respect, it makes Excel a more powerful productivity software solution. On top of all of that processing and programming power, you now have a single platform which takes care of presentation too, giving you an interactive design interface for sharing your data analysis and business intelligence with the world.
Learn more about self service BI
QUANTIQ is a leading Microsoft resale partner in the UK. Amongst the wide range of services we offer, we specialise in simple, meaningful self service BI, using Power BI dashboards to create a complete 360-degree view of our clients’ business. Contact us today to book your free Discovery Session to find out exactly how we can help transform your business.