With over 750 million users worldwide, Microsoft Excel is the traditional tool of choice for presenting and analyzing data.
And now, it’s in a position to be the new BI tool of choice, as well. With Excel 2016, Microsoft announced some forward thinking built in Business Intelligence (BI) features. In the age of big data, this is huge.
This announcement, however, raised many questions in the field of big data manipulation. Is Excel powerful enough? Can it manipulate the amount and types of data businesses deal with today? Does Excel have a future in Business Intelligence workflows?
In the search of answers to these questions, we rounded up renowned MS Excel experts and picked their brains on it. We asked them one visionary question:
Where do you see the future of MS Excel in Business Intelligence Workflows?
And here is what they shared with us:
1. Purna Duggirala – Chandoo
There is a running joke in BI communities.
“What is the most used feature in any business intelligence solution?”
It is the Export to Excel button.
Jokes aside, Excel continues to be the #1 platform when it comes to analyzing data, finding information, preparing charts and presenting them to decision makers. In that sense, I see Excel playing a strong role in BI workflows in future.
Excel continues to be the #1 platform when it comes to analyzing data, finding information, preparing charts and presenting them to decision makers. In that sense, I see Excel playing a strong role in BI workflows in future.
– Purna Duggirala
With the addition of features like Power BI (Power Pivot, Power Query, Power View, Power Maps etc.) that naturally integrate with Excel, analysts, reporting professionals and BI people are finding Excel more relevant for full-length BI implementations.
In order to remain the favorite analytics app of everyone, Excel needs to do what it is amazingly good for. These are – offer a sandbox-like environment where anyone can play with data and come up with information, keep the Excel software offerings clean & simple (with the addition of Power BI, buying and using Excel has become a complex process), give users competent & compatible Excel apps for tablet & phone devices and include features to do powerful data analytics processes with one-click (as against a complex set of formulas, pivot tables & manual steps that many analysts do now).
Long live Excel.
2. Ken Puls – Excel Guru
No matter how many systems a company has, how big they are, or how many millions of dollars have been spent on them, the reality is that the majority of data is exported to Excel before decisions of serious consequence are made. I’d go so far as to say that there are only a handful of finance departments in the world who don’t run their critical decision making analysis through Excel.
With the increasingly diverse toolset being added to Excel — Power Query to source and clean data from disparate dirty sources, Power Pivot to aggregate those disparate sources into business intelligence models, Power View to create dynamic dashboards from those models and Power Map to tell the data story on a geo-spatial plane – it’s very clear that Microsoft is investing heavily to make Excel the Business Intelligence tool of choice.
I personally see Excel as THE future of Business Intelligence workflows.
– Ken Puls
The killer for Excel today is not the fact that it isn’t the best out there for building business intelligence, it is the fact that far too many users are ignorant of the vast amount of capability that was added in the last five years. The attitude of “Excel can’t do that” is still pervasive and relied upon by its competitors to sell THEIR products.
My advice to anyone looking at building business intelligence systems today and considering switching to a competitor’s product: find a business intelligence expert who REALLY uses Excel. Ask them what can be done. Chances are you already own the software that will do it all, you’re just not aware of how.
3. Bill Jelen
The new Power BI Desktop offering from Microsoft will make it easy to create powerful dashboards that you can share to various end points such as iPads within your organization. The easiest way to get data into Power BI is from an Excel file, so Excel continues to be the most important component in the Power BI workflow.
4. Brad Edgar
It’s the only application where you don’t truly need to be 100% technically adept but at the same time you can feel like you are. I think as we move forward, you’ll see Excel adapt to make it easier and easier to integrate with enterprise level databases but also you’ll see seamless integration with BI software. Many different BI Software applications have already decided to add integration elements into their software such as Oracle Answers (they use .iqy files so that you can load your data and reports directly into Excel) and even heavy data visualization software like Qlikview have decided to allow you to export data into Excel because really, that’s what business users want.
I truly believe that Excel is here to stay and it’s going to do everything in its power to become a BI tool as opposed to a support tool for other business intelligence software.
– Brad Edgar
That all being said, with Excel 2013 came data models and Power View, which just goes to show you how serious Excel is about getting into the BI world. I think as time progresses, we’ll see Excel come up with better tools to integrate directly with data warehouses and databases so that the requirement for other mid-level/in-between software can be completely eliminated. I truly believe that Excel is here to stay and it’s going to do everything in its power to become a BI tool as opposed to a support tool for other business intelligence software.
5. Andy Pope
For developers Excel has always been a great tool for creating BI solutions for users, although it required a lot a technical effort. Over the last few years, Microsoft has invested heavily in producing a series of Add-ins, leading to full application integration, to make BI available to all users of Excel. The power tools, such as Power Pivot, Power Query, Power Map and Power View, now make it much easier for users to connect to and manipulate their data. Gain more insight by analysing and exploring the data. Being able to presenting that in a more graphical and interactive way. The future looks very bright for Excel and BI.
6. Mynda Treacy
Excel is affordable self-service BI for everyone.
– Mynda Treacy
The future is already here, we just need to spread the word. With Excel 2010/2013/2016 we can use Excel tools like Power Query to get data from almost anywhere, filter out what we don’t need and clean it before sending it to Power Pivot, where we create relationships between the different data sources, mash them up in PivotTables and present it in amazing, interactive Excel Dashboards. And when you want to update your dashboard you simply press the ‘Refresh All’ button. Job done! Excel is affordable self-service BI for everyone.
7. Chris Webb
In the future I think Excel will be right where it always has been – at the centre, loved by its users, disliked by IT and the target of endless attempts to replace it by third party BI software vendors.
Excel will be right where it always has been – at the centre, loved by its users, disliked by IT and the target of endless attempts to replace it by third party BI software vendors.
– Chris Webb
I come from an IT background and I fully understand all the hostility that exists towards Excel in this area: it results in ungovernable, out-of-date spreadmarts of data, inconsistent and error-prone calculations and difficult-to-maintain reports, all of which create real problems for IT. Yet the cause of these problems, the flexibility of Excel and the power that it puts in the hands of its users, is the reason why non-IT people use it and love it so much and why it won’t be replaced in the foreseeable future.
8. Jordan Goldmeier
This is a hard question to answer, because the use of Excel has been so varied. Microsoft has imagined Excel at the beginning of the BI process, but in practice, many users employ Excel near the end of the data workflow; that is, they let their BI system do all the number crunching, and then they pull the results into Excel for final data transformation and presentation.
The user will ultimately define how Excel fits into the BI workflows. It could happen at any point in the BI process.
– Jordan Goldmeier
Concerning the future however, I don’t think Excel will have any specific place along the BI workflow. New technologies like Power Pivot shift the burden of some of the number crunching to the regular user. Power Query can be used to fix data coming out of a large enterprise system and to fix data going into a small-business system. That the features of Power Query (and the other Power BI utilities) can be used both at the beginning, end, and really at any point throughout the process, challenges the notion that Excel can fit squarely into any specific point in the process.
So my answer is that the user will ultimately define how Excel fits into the BI workflows. It could happen at any point in the BI process. If nothing else, Excel picks up the slack; where certain business intelligence systems lack certain features, Excel steps in to fill the needed capability. This is the future I see for Excel: not one of defined use in a workflow, but one of continual use as needed.
9. John Michaloudis
With the introduction of Microsoft´s Power BI suite (which includes Power Query, Power Map, Power Pivot etc.) you will be able to connect to your company data seamlessly, analyze and create interactive dashboards which can be shared with fellow colleagues. The following months the same process can be done with a couple of clicks, saving lots of time and effort!
MS Excel will be the go to software to analyze, chart and tell a story about your business, spotting trends, risks and finding opportunities….all in one place.
– John Michaloudis
MS Excel can connect to web pages, ERP systems and various cloud BI tools, like Salesforce, and will continue to develop the compatibility with most big data analytic companies.
MS Excel will be the go to software to analyze, chart and tell a story about your business, spotting trends, risks and finding opportunities….all in one place.
10. Aydin Aliyev
Power BI is a powerful feature and makes MS Office/Excel a trustworthy and much-needed tool. This is the biggest success in the past two decades. Periodically, Microsoft Excel and SQL have been trying to do their best. And the result: using great features such as DAX formulas, “M” query language and visualizing the data with Power View.
MS Excel will maintain the good reputation in Business Intelligence for a long period of time.
– Aydin Aliyev
From time to time, the data that we use becomes larger and larger. In this case, Power BI is the Necessary Solution for working with BIG DATA (get data, analyze, transform, refine, visualize, share and consume). Also, the UI (user interface) is very friendly and easy to use for everyone.
Power BI Designer is available, including all mentioned features. It allows you to avoid most scripting tasks (such as SQL or VBA) . That is why it is obvious that MS Excel will maintain the good reputation in Business Intelligence for a long period of time.
11. Jan Karel Pieterse
I see Excel gaining an ever more important role in this area, which I base mainly on the continuous investments Microsoft makes in their Power BI products. I also see more and more companies offering services in the BI area based on these products.
12. Sumit Bansal
MS Excel has upped the ante with a pack of power BI tools (Power Query, Power Pivot, Power View, etc..). These new add-ons and many functional enhancements make Excel well suited to push its way into the business intelligence sphere. It has rapidly evolved from being a tool for data entry and data cleaning, to being a powerful data analysis and visualization tool. And to make it all so easy to use for the end user is a must.
13. Carlos Miguel Muñiz López
Obtaining data from any BI for administration and manipulation used to be very difficult. Starting from Excel 2013, which incorporates the Microsoft Business Intelligence package, it was possible to make certain connections and develop advanced analysis, and this can be done through Power Pivot, Power View and Power Map.
In my view, the day when Excel will be able to interact with full capacity with some BI is very close.
14. Jon Wittwer
With Microsoft continuing to cater to BI needs with new chart types, sparklines, Power Map, Power View, etc., I see Excel continuing to be the default tool of choice.
– Jon Wittwer
Excel is extremely versatile and ubiquitous. Though other software for BI and analytics will continue to grow in popularity, you just can’t get around the fact that Excel remains an essential business tool and people like using what they are familiar with. If you need to analyze data in a way that your custom BI software can’t handle, what is your go-to tool? With Microsoft continuing to cater to BI needs with new chart types, sparklines, Power Map, Power View, etc., I see Excel continuing to be the default tool of choice.
15. Michael Alexander
Over the last decade or so, corporate managers, eager to turn impossible amounts of data into useful information, drove the BI industry to innovate new ways of synthesizing data into meaningful insights. During this period, organizations spent time and resources to implement big enterprise reporting systems to help keep up with the hunger for data analytics and dashboards.
At the same time, business analysts were quietly using Excel to fulfill the hunger of the BI revolution. Whether IT managers were keen to acknowledge it or not, most of the data analysis and reporting done was still being done using Excel.
The truth is, for many organizations, Microsoft Excel has always been a part of their BI portfolio. For several reasons:
• Familiarity with Excel
• Built-in flexibility
• Rapid development
• Powerful data connectivity and automation capabilities
• Little to no incremental costs
Recognizing the importance of the BI revolution and the place Excel holds within it, Microsoft has made substantial investments in improving Excel’s BI capabilities. Specifically focusing on Excel’s self-service BI capabilities and its ability to manage and analyze data.
Excel is increasingly becoming a player in the world of Big Data BI. This is good news for the millions of data analysts… For them, Excel is familiar, readily available, and now more powerful than ever.
– Michael Alexander
Excel is increasingly becoming a player in the world of Big Data BI. This is good news for the millions of data analysts out there trying to keep up with the demands for reporting and dashboarding on bigger and more complex data sources. For them, Excel is familiar, readily available, and now more powerful than ever.
It remains to be seen where the BI story in Excel will end up. But one thing is certain, the new BI features released with Excel will ultimately have an impact on the way organizations think about BI. There is already a palpable shift from heavy enterprise reporting portals to lighter self-service BI systems that provide individuals with user-friendly BI tools. The rise of Excel BI will only speed up that transformation.
16. Ismael Romero
Microsoft is clearly working hard to integrate in your spreadsheet many powerful BI tools (Power Pivot, Power Query, etc.) … so it seems that in the close future, the end users will have all that power at their disposal.
However, the complexity of the working structures of these BI tools, make it difficult for any extensive and adequate implementation of this way of working. The fact that another tool like Access (much more complete and appropriate for tasks that Excel proposes to perform) has not been accepted by users for many years, draws attention to the long road ahead for Excel’s new Power Tools.
Finally, I would say that it is not a matter of generating more work tools to solve an old problem by Microsoft, but rather a problem of knowledge and adaptation of users to these tools.
17. Sergio Propergol
I think the future of BI will be focused on Big Data. Microsoft has recently created tools such as Power Pivot, Power Query or Power Map, which are clearly aimed to analyze huge amounts of data.
18. Roger Govier
When Excel 2016 gets released in due course, these will no longer be Add-Ins, but will be fully incorporated with Excel itself, thereby enhancing Excel in the BI world.
– Roger Govier
The development of the Power Add-Ins, especially Power Pivot and Power Query have already enabled Excel to be used to create great BI information.
The development of these 2 products has proceeded with such speed over these past months, that they are now an integral part of BI. When Excel 2016 gets released in due course, these will no longer be Add-Ins, but will be fully incorporated with Excel itself, thereby enhancing Excel in the BI world.
19. Andrew Engwirda
Not everyone works with millions of rows of data. What matters to everyone, anywhere, is what they can do with the data.
– Andrew Engwirda
Even as a programmer, I have to jump through some gnarly hoops at times. Once I have my generic code, it becomes easier, but getting there can mean a lot of trial and error.
At the same time, one of the best things I have seen are simple improvements like COUNTIFS and SUMIFS etc, that were introduced a few versions ago. They may seem trivial, but I imagine they helped a lot of people significantly.
Not everyone works with millions of rows of data. What matters to everyone, anywhere, is what they can do with the data.
20. Glen Feechan
I think Excel will continue to play a major part in BI for the foreseeable future. No other BI platform provides the flexibility that Excel does in tweaking or adding to the data, as well as reporting on it.
21. Somkiat Foongkiat
I believe that MS Excel is going to be more uncontrollable and used with higher risk in the future. Few users have control over how they apply Excel in businesses. Excel is easy to start using, but it is very difficult to apply it correctly.
22. Rory Archibald
I have mixed feelings. Excel now has excellent BI tools which are becoming better integrated with each version. However, since 2010 they seem to be aimed at enterprise customers who, in my experience, tend to have their own tools in place and whose IT departments tend to guard access to the data sources with an almost religious fervour.
The real benefit of self-service BI to my mind is in the SME sphere but they now need to pay for more expensive ProPlus subscriptions or stick with Office 2010 for the time being and hope for the best.
Finally, Microsoft needs to stop changing the names of the tools!
23. Gašper Kamenšek
Recent history (a very loose term in the IT world), has singled out Excel out as the most useful tool from the Office package and one being used daily in almost every business scenario. It has always been at the heart of decision making processes in any company, but recently with the introduction of Power BI, it became the center of business intelligence “processes”.
With this in mind, where does Excel fit in the future?
Since it already is at the heart of the matter, it’s not going to be a big surprise that that is where it will stay, and even tightening its grip on that position. But the development will be in the seamless integration into every part of the process. If you look at Excel 2013, one of the biggest features is a so called Quick Analysis button. If you selected data, Excel started figuring out that data for you. It started to see patterns and if you selected the Quick Analysis button, Excel had already prepared the Charts that fit your data, the Pivot tables, Calculations, it already did that for you and it was no more than a click away from every user of Excel. And that struck me as a revolution, since a user with no Excel knowledge could now create a pivot table on the fly.
If many of the new features in Excel didn’t already have the power prefix, this button should in my opinion be called the Power button. But in the Power BI world, they took it even one step forward. The Q&A feature turned giant databases into encyclopedias. If you learned how to speak its language (just as you once had to learn how to use encyclopedias) any information you wanted was now at your fingertips. Sometimes it took a bit of time to sink in, but this was true empowerment of each and every user. You no longer needed an SQL or Excel experts to get to a number you wanted. All you had to do, was to ask a question, and not ask your coworkers or your analysts, but rather ask SharePoint or Power BI (which to me kind of is Excel).
This is the route I see Excel taking in the future. Truly empowering a user to do amazing in depth analysis without writing a single equal sign (if you know what I mean). Maybe even taking it a step further and anticipating future events by just analyzing data without any human intervention and giving advice to users. So Excel will get a lot smarter and in the process, so will the users, and for this ability only, Excel will probably find its way into countless even non Microsoft applications.
24. Tom Urtis
My first step to answer this question is to outline a couple of terms. Microsoft Excel is the world’s premier electronic spreadsheet application. Microsoft estimates that Excel is loaded onto some 600 million computers worldwide. “Business intelligence” (BI) refers to the systems, techniques, and tools to gather, store, and access large volumes of data for retrieval and analysis.
As business practices and management theories have evolved over the years, so too have software programs to make sense of the limitless volumes of data requiring meaningful, concise methods to represent that data. Some BI programs are better than others; even the best ones can be more than you need, depending on your data and the cost to learn the software and train your employees. Growing companies are commonly approached with the latest “name” software version that may not be the best solution for their data storage and analysis needs. It reminds me of a quote by Albert Einstein, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.
BI makers understand that Excel is here to stay, it is versatile and works excellently with the web and BI systems.
– Tom Urtis
Every BI application worth its salt has the built-in capacity for downloading its data and/or reports into Excel. Some BI vendors say Excel should be eliminated in favor of their own software interface, but that is unrealistic and in my estimation, will never happen. Excel is firmly entrenched as the world’s leading spreadsheet app, and Microsoft is committed to improving it with each new version. Microsoft is fully aware of the important role that BI applications play in corporate data management. BI apps have become more affordable for small and large businesses, and the makers of these apps are equally aware that SMBs new to BI have relied upon Excel workbooks, requiring a seamless method to upload their spreadsheet data into BI software. There is a need for both entities for their products play well with each other, especially when the result is profit-positive and the voracious need is growing for smart data management.
BI makers understand that Excel is here to stay, it is versatile and works excellently with the web and BI systems. What matters most is the research and consideration by potential buyers of BI systems — be they small or large companies — to choose a BI vendor that can provide them with the right solutions for their business. As this includes (which in my opinion it should) treating Excel as the ubiquitous asset tool that it is, the future of Excel in BI workflows is solid.
25. Tobias Ljung
When I started working with business intelligence over 10 years ago, the Microsoft BI stack was SSIS, SSAS and SSRS. Excel was only used as the end user tool for analyzing data. At that time Excel had 65.536 rows, 256 columns and small capabilities of analyzing data by itself. Business intelligence was created and managed by IT people who delivered it to end users. End users had no possibilities or small opportunities to make changes.
In 2009 Microsoft introduced Excel 2010 plus the add-in PowerPivot and I remember meeting an enthusiastic Steve Ballmer in Stockholm shouting “BI for the masses”. Analysts and advanced Excel users could now get loads of data from several data sources into a BI model and create nice reports with pivot tables, slicers, pivot charts and even use cube functions to make reports look nice. With DAX functions almost any desired measure could be created. In Excel 2013 and Power BI this was improved even more. Excel is now a more central part of Microsoft business intelligence. But…”BI for the masses”? No, rather “BI for analysts and advanced Excel users” than for a large amount of end users.
What about the future for Excel in business intelligence?
Steve Ballmer was right; “BI for the masses” is the future and I think Excel will play a central role to implement this in reality. Microsoft had lost their leading position in Gartner Magic Quadrant 2015 in aspect of ability to execute to Tableau and Qlik. A wider range of business users are demanding access to interactive styles of analysis and insights from advanced analytics, without requiring them to have IT or data science skills. End users also demand their BI in mobile platforms.
In the near future I suppose the use of Power Query will increase even more then the use of Power Pivot did some years ago.
– Tobias Ljung
This year Microsoft will release Excel 2016 and the next version of Power BI and what I have seen so far they will take these challenges seriously to make their “Self Service BI” better. The new version of Power BI include Power BI Desktop (free) which combine the goodies from Power Query (for self-service ETL and data preparation), Power Pivot (for sophisticated data modeling) and Power View (drag-and-drop visualization into one streamlined user experience). Power BI is a cloud based analytic service with optional connectivity to on-premises data and access via mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows (free). I have tried the iOS app and it looks really good. Drill down possibilities and easy to share within your organization. This together with six new chart types in standard Excel (Waterfall, Histogram, Pareto, Box & Whisker, Treemap and Sunburst) and even more in Power BI Desktop could meet requirements from the masses.
Power BI Desktop is free and a mix of Power Query, Power Pivot and Power View and I therefore request it could be integrated into Excel in future versions. Power BI Desktop is easy to use and in less than five minutes I did connect to data source and building a dashboard with map, slicers and several charts. But maybe it was “too easy”, because I do miss a lot of formatting features for charts and slicers. If this could be added in the near future this tool could be really good.
In coming versions, I also think the functionality delivered by Power Query will increase. Most Excel users all over the world use different ways of consolidating sheets/files and put together reports/dashboards (i.e. copy/paste, advanced formulas, VBA, MS Query). The launch of Power Query already ease this work (Excel 2010/2013). With Power Query you could build connections to all kind of data sources, transform the data somehow in order to meet our desired structure, adding columns/rows and performing operations for analysis.
You could also combine, consolidate, append and merge data. In the near future I suppose the use of Power Query will increase even more then the use of Power Pivot did some years ago. It has a many capabilities, simple to use and in Excel 2016 a native Excel functionality and useful for all kind of reporting with data sources. While Power Query integrates with Power BI you could share and manage queries within an organization.
Later I think more about predictive analysis and smart data discovery and pattern detection capabilities will be added in Excel.
26. Brian Krisanski
For businesses to take full advantage and embrace and realize the power of their data, it needs to be accessible and up to date and available in Business Intelligence tools to allow decision makers to undertake analysis and make informed decisions.
These Business Analysis tools were once only available to large corporations (due to their cost and complexity). With Microsoft Excel being practically available on most computers within today’s modern businesses, its data analysis and data manipulation capabilities, combined with its relative ease of use, makes it a strong business intelligence tool that is now available to the masses.
With Excel being a low cost, but big capability tool, Business Intelligence solutions are now readily available to small and medium size enterprises (SME’s) allowing them to gain valuable insights that were once only undertaken by large corporations that could afford such workflows and processes.
Business Intelligence solutions are now readily available to small and medium size enterprises (SME’s) allowing them to gain valuable insights that were once only undertaken by large corporations that could afford such workflows and processes.
– Brian Krisanski
A simple example of this, is the capability to build Business Intelligence dashboards in Excel to display data such as sales within a specific area during a set period, using graphs and tables. A dashboard such as this, allows SME’s to have a real-time, customisable solution that can source information from multiple locations and provide a consolidated page of key performance indicators, and business critical data and metrics on a single screen.
Turning large volumes of data into meaningful information that can be leveraged to the benefit of the SME.
I see this trend here to stay and continue to grow as more and more SME’s start to self-manage their business intelligence needs and take full advantage of the power of the data they have at their fingertips.
27. Jon Acampora
The new suite of Power BI (Business Intelligence) tools from Microsoft provide a lot of opportunity to improve business processes and gain new insights about our data.
The addition and integration of the new Power BI tools within Excel really opens up the possibilities for any type of analyst or everyday user to get involved in Business Intelligence.
– Jon Acampora
These new tools like Power Query and Power Pivot are becoming more integrated with Excel, and are continually being enhanced with new features. This is important because it allows every Excel user to use these tools in an environment they are familiar with (the Excel application).
Millions of people and businesses rely on Excel everyday to keep their businesses running. The addition and integration of the new Power BI tools within Excel really opens up the possibilities for any type of analyst or everyday user to get involved in Business Intelligence.
These skills are in high demand by employers because they not only provide new insights for decision makers, but they also allow us to create automated systems that save time and money. Putting these tools in front of millions of Excel users will make Excel a vital part of Business Intelligence solutions and workflows.
As you can tell, I’m really excited about this!