The Excel Alternative: How to Tell When You Need a Dashboard

There’s no doubt about it: Excel is a remarkable piece of software. Since 1985, Excel has become the most used business application in the world. Inexperienced Excel users can create simple spreadsheets, while Excel wizards can program and script dashboards. Such ease and popularity has made it the number one BI tool on the market.

However, when it comes to reporting data for larger corporations and businesses, an Excel dashboard begins to lose its dominance. A single Excel spreadsheet can’t handle the size and frequency of information that larger companies require on a regular basis. Worse yet, Excel spreadsheets can’t convey accurate and up-to-date data.

Put simply, the larger the company, the more cumbersome and ineffective Excel becomes.

Compare Excel to your first car or home. Both can handle a single driver or occupant, but grow your family and the limitations become obvious. A small car isn’t large or safe enough for children, and a small home won’t comfortably fit a big family. Excel is similar in that it gets the job done for small, experienced teams, but most businesses will outgrow its usefulness fairly quickly.

A lot of people researching dashboard and BI software are interested in transitioning away from Excel. Perhaps Excel is working for you, but you’ve heard the buzz about dashboards and are curious about what they can do for you that Excel can’t.

Look no further: this guide will help you determine when Excel is no longer enough.

First, let’s take a look at the top five reasons why using Excel as your primary BI solution can actually hinder your business operations.

1. Data needs to be entered manually

Anyone familiar with Excel likely knows the painstaking process of creating spreadsheets, graphs, tables and even dashboards within a workbook. Excel workbooks that contain multiple sheets and tons of data were made from scratch.

Yes, Excel produces sums and totals when its programmed to, but it can’t automate the inclusion or generation of new information from a database. The software requires an operator.

2. Human errors are more likely

Copying and pasting a tremendous amount of data only exacerbates the chance that mistakes will slip through the cracks. Since Excel requires a person to manually enter their data, this leads to more human errors.

3. Data isn’t real-time

The data in an Excel spreadsheet is always old. In order for Excel to provide real-time data, an experienced developer needs to build scripts and macros that enable Excel to pull data directly from a database. This is ineffective, however, given that dashboards and reporting software are designed around database integration.

4. Collaborating is difficult

Sharing and collaborating on an Excel spreadsheet is challenging. While the cloud has made it slightly easier for multiple users to make alterations to a single spreadsheet, it’s still challenging to manage the most up-to-date version when everyone is looking at a different report.

5. No security options

Anyone with access to an Excel spreadsheet can change the data within it. There’s no way to secure the data beyond applying a built-in spreadsheet password, and even this is a fairly simple security measure to bypass.

When do you need an Excel alternative?

How can you recognize the signs and symptoms of an Excel dashboard that’s on it’s last leg? Besides avoiding the aforementioned negative aspects of Excel, businesses should keep an eye on the following tell-tale signs. Chances are it’s time to take the plunge and migrate away from Excel.

You rely on an Excel Wizard

Relying on one experienced employee to run Excel reports is a big risk. Not only does this limit the productivity of an employee, but if they’re sick or suddenly quit then the business is suddenly missing its only means of reporting.

Dashboards enable every employee to be a BI expert. In essence, a dashboard gives your entire organization the power to create reports and build dashboards. Each user has their own secure account that they can use to collaborate on dashboards.

You need relevant data

The nature of Excel prevents it from reporting up-to-date data. Although a lag in data reflection might be minimal, those figures matter when a business is dealing with time sensitive decisions. Excel is no longer beneficial if you want to watch your data change and react in real-time.

You want better security

As mentioned earlier, Excel spreadsheets aren’t secure. Classified information in a spreadsheet can be obtained and altered easily by anyone. By using Excel as a primary BI solution, you risk the chance of multiple people accessing crucial data.

Dashboard data is either secured by the BI vendor if it’s hosted on their servers (cloud-based) or by your organization if hosted on your servers (on-premise). Using a dashboard lets you choose whether you want a professional vendor to protect your sensitive information, or secure the data yourself.

You want to save time

Dashboards are time-savers and productivity-boosters. Not only can users collaborate on the same data together from a central hub, but reports and dashboards can be shared instantly to managers and stakeholders. Reports can be scheduled and automated so you receive data on a regular basis. Certain BI software can be used with little to no training, as well.

Next up: How Much Do Dashboards Cost?

Business dashboards can help your organization gain valuable insights, improve processes and save money. But knowing how much you should spend on software can be confusing. In this article, we look at the average cost of BI software. We also look at any hidden costs you should be aware of, such as training new users, adding licenses and customizing your new dashboard.

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