Is Excel the best for data management and what is the alternative?

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If we try to pick the most influential Microsoft product so far, it would probably be the Microsoft Excel. Well, we can argue that the operating system is a prerequisite for spreadsheets (and therefore Windows is the most important one), but other than that it’s definitely Excel.

Contents:

  1. Disadvantages of Excel

  2. Excel is really not designed for collaborative work

  3. Excel has its limitations (obviously)

  4. Excel is not real-time

  5. All-inclusive Excel alternative - let your data work for you

Disadvantages of Excel

Most of our data today is stored in Excel files – our healthcare records, our financial and insurance information, even our taxes are calculated with Excel. So it’s really good to know Excel when you’re planning to analyze any data. 

 

But what you should do after is transfer the important data somewhere else – the bigger your company, the more urgent the need is. Here are some reasons why. 

  • Excel isn’t the best solution for often changing data
  • Limiting the amount of data
  • Not good for the automatic updates from many different sources.

 

Excel is really not designed for collaborative work

If your team needs to work on shared datasets and there is a need to often change the data, Excel is probably not the best solution to manage the data. There are many tools to prevent unwanted changes, but it is not really flexible. Also, you always risk that there will be too many local copies to find the information or – even worse – in case of differency, to establish which information is true. And that’s really bad – according to some estimates, around 88% of spreadsheets contain errors. 

 

Shared Excel documents are used for many different tasks. As a CRM, to store clients’ data, for task management (really!), for planning. There are different software tools that can replace spreadsheets and save your time – especially the time you would spend to search for information that has been lost if you were using Excel.

Excel has its limitations (obviously)

You can say that every application has its limitations. But with Excel you can’t change them by yourself. And when you operate on large amounts of data, this is getting serious. First of all, the limit of rows and columns – you can’t work with data larger than one million rows (1 048 576 to be exact) and 16 000 columns. But that’s not all – even if you have less data than that, you’d have to have a really powerful computer to comfortably work with it.  Each formula and each additional bit of information is slowing down your work. So even a relatively small company will have some problems with Excel files at some point.

 

Excel is not real-time

Excel is not a big data tool not only because of the limit of amount of data you can calculate. It’s also how the connections with external sources work. Excel is designed for manual work, not the automatic updates from many different sources, and the data engineering part of the job can be really problematic. So if you want to have a tool that works (almost) real-time, Excel is not the solution you should go with.

 

All-inclusive Excel alternative – let your data work for you

Let’s say this again: Excel is great if we’re talking about doing quick analyses on relatively small amounts of data. If you need to crunch the numbers for a PowerPoint presentation that starts in an hour, there is no better tool. But if you meet any problems listed above, you should reconsider.

 

If you really need to use Excel to source the data, the best solution to share information across the company is to use a PowerBI dashboard. PowerBI is easy to use for Excel users, so switching to PowerBI as a data analysis tool would not be a problem. 

 

First of all, PowerBI allows you to analyze large amounts of data a lot quicker than Excel. it works with various sources better than Excel (e.g. cloud solutions), allowing you to analyze the data in real-time.  But the list of advantages doesn’t end there. 

 

If someone has access to a certain Excel file, they also have access to all data in it. That’s it. If we are talking about sensitive data (e.g. healthcare records or even payroll data), it’s really difficult to limit the access for different groups or individuals within a workbook. With a business intelligence tool, such as PowerBI, you can easily manage permissions of certain users – which information they are allowed to see. This also resolves the problem with collaborative work – many people can work on one dashboard without interfering with others’ work. (Have you tried to filter a table in Excel when other people are trying to do the same? Right.)

 

Communication. Copying data from Excel to PowerPoint is a reality of many analysts. It is really boring work and can be done with VBA only to a certain extent. Clients expect good looking visuals that can help them to make business decisions. Business intelligence tools are the answer to that – they were created as visualisation tools, not just analytical tools. It’s not just a matter of look, but the whole system of filters that allow you to comfortably work with your charts. That can easily replace a system of creating presentations with hundreds of slides – if you try using a dashboard on a business meeting once, you will never go back to PowerPoint.