From Excel to BI: The Much-Needed Transition to Standard Reporting
Let me start off by saying Excel is awesome. It is undoubtedly one of the most popular programs in the business world and does everything from simple calculations to complex financial modeling. Everyone knows how to use it because it has been the standard of the business world for so long. But it is this deep-seated reliance on the tool which creates a reluctance to adopt Business Intelligence reporting.
As a BI Consultant, my most difficult challenge isn't gathering requirements or building dashboards with complex logic... it’s trying to convince business users and leadership to adopt BI and divest of their bulky, manual, yet ever-reliable Excel reports. How do you successfully take away a tool people have used from the beginning of their careers and expect them to trust an automated process that they have no control over to magically give them the data they need to do their jobs?
Standardization from the top down
From my experience, I have found the best way to convince a business to make the switch from Excel reports to BI is through leadership requiring standardized reporting. Leadership should understand some of the potential risks and hidden costs of using Excel as their company-wide reporting tool.
With Excel you run the risk of users changing numbers to make their business look better. Excel also lacks security around report and data access, so when someone emails a report with sensitive information to the wrong group or to an external email, there is nothing limiting what the receiver can see. While Excel allows users to double check the data is correct by doing simple validation, it also allows them to build one-off reports using Excel as their data source. This lack of standardization makes version control a nightmare and can lead to hours of editing down the road. Editing multiple versions of reports and trying to keep track of the logic in each individual report is exhausting and costly in both time and budget.
If leadership understands these risks, their top down strategy should encourage reporting teams to accept the new tools. If leadership is not able to make this decision, I have found the next best option is...
One client I worked with had a 40MB Excel file with a different tab for each slice of data that anyone in the organization wanted to see. This was just one of hundreds of manually maintained Excel reports that were refreshed and distributed monthly. All it took to convince them was to rebuild that 40MB view in BusinessObjects Web Intelligence, allow them to filter the data using input control drop down menus, and put the report in their hands to try it out. We built 10 report views which 15 different Financial Directors were each manually refreshing in Excel. Using Web Intelligence scheduling, they now receive monthly reports with refreshed data tailored to each of their categories. This saved each director over 3 hours a month (a collective 45+ hours a month) that they can now spend analyzing their data and making decisions instead of refreshing reports.
Partnership between business and technology departments