Spreadsheets Versus Business Intelligence

Michael Vizard

Advocates of business intelligence software have long argued that users' attachment to spreadsheets is one of the biggest hindrances to BI adoption. For many users, spreadsheets provide all the BI capability they need. And if proponents of BI software were completely truthful, they would concede that spreadsheets are not only a data source for BI applications, but often the preferred front-end tool for access to data stored in a BI application.

Making things more interesting, Microsoft's enhanced PowerPivot in the latest edition of Excel 2010 provides a lot of BI functionality. This raises the question of whether this will mean even fewer people will see a need for dedicated BI software or help drive interest in it.

Panorama Software CEO Eynav Azarya is betting on the latter. The company this week released version 6.2 of its NovaView software, which adds tight integration with PowerPivot technology. That's only natural because Microsoft gained access to the OLAP in-memory technology that enables PowerPivot through a deal with Panorama.

The question is to what degree will the rest of the BI community embrace PowerPivot? Clearly, it's a threat on the one hand. But the dominance of Microsoft's spreadsheet software could easily make PowerPivot a BI requirement.

Whatever happens, the tension between spreadsheet proponents and BI advocates is likely to increase over the next few months as more IT organizations become familiar with Excel 2010 and the rest of the Microsoft Office 2010 lineup. But in the end, it's more likely that PowerPivot will become an integral component of just about any total BI solution.

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Jun 3, 2010 7:24 PM John Kyle John Kyle  says:

Michael, this is really interesting.  Excel 2010 definitely offers a lot of BI features that will blur the line between traditional BI tools and Excel.  And, as you point out, this may increase the tension between the two camps.  Personally, I am hopeful that it will bring the two camps together.  Excel Automation, for example, is a great place for companies to start with BI.  Excel Automation solutions are less expensive and easier to deploy than most BI products, and it allows the organization to get used to reporting and analysis in a comfortable, familiar environment (namely, Excel). Thanks for the interesting article.

Jun 25, 2010 11:56 AM Nikolaj Henrichsen Nikolaj Henrichsen  says:

In my opinion, spreadsheets are spreadsheets and BI tools are BI tools for the foreseable future.

At every new release of Excel, Microsoft paints a vision of the next big thing, which is natural for a software vendor. And of course every version is better.

But the point to keep in mind is that the choice most companies face is the steep transition from simple type-your-own-numbers spreadsheet tools to bite-your-tongue enterprise wide data warehouse implementations.

Obviously, large companies need such ambitious targets, but much simpler approaches exist. In particular, small and medium sized organizations don't have highly educated BI personnel and neither do they have very complex IT infrastructures.

Such smaller companies should adopt simpler frameworks for BI implementation that will give them all the benefits of large-scale EDW implementations but at a fraction of the cost.

It is not just about tools.


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