Of course, there’s no question about the popularity of Microsoft Excel. Once people started putting multiple measures in a spreadsheet, they realized that they could use it to create a simple management report. And because of functionality like hiding columns and adding macros, it has became one of the most widely adopted reporting frameworks!
But depending on your organization’s size and strategic reporting needs, Excel may not be the best fit—and software built specifically for reporting could be a much better option.
Microsoft Excel is a great entry point for many in the world of reporting and analytics. Like we shared, the widely-used spreadsheet tool was only designed for simple data entry and analysis. Your data process and reporting calculations will quickly outgrow the simple data entry tool.
Below, we’ll walk you through the good, the bad, and the ugly of Excel reporting, and let you make your own decision as to what’s best for your reporting process.
There are some great benefits to using Excel, not the least of which is its popularity. Because it is so ubiquitous, most people in your organization are likely to be familiar with it. This will ensure a short (or nonexistent) learning curve during implementation.
Another benefit is that Excel allows you to use templates and formulas to aggregate data. Excel offers a support center, and there are a wealth of online forums that can help you learn advanced functions as well.
Excel has very easy-to-use charting functionality compared to other software, and several helpful built-in features. For example, you simply have to select a data range you want to work with and the Excel wizard guides you through all available options.
Excel is also great because you have the ability tocut and paste into reports. Most people write reports in Word, so it’s easy to cut and paste data or charts from Excel into Word.
Finally—and this is an obvious one—Excel is seemingly free. It is typically included as a part of the Microsoft Office Suite, which has become a standard for all business employees—and most everyone has it on their computer by default. Therefore, there’s little to no impact to your budget and you can start using it immediately. (But there is a catch here, which we’ll come back to.)
The downfalls of Excel mostly revolve around the problem of outgrowing it. All the advantages listed above apply to for entry-level users. As your organization expands you’ll need more complex reporting functions, and Excel has very defined limits.
For one, Excel requires a significant amount of manual effort to compile data. Completed Excel spreadsheets appear to be nice, clean graphs in organized workbooks, but peek behind the curtain and you’ll realize it took hours of pasting data, creating formulas, and tweaking formatting. In Excel, nothing is automatic except for the calculations you create. With ClearPoint and other dedicated reporting tools, the reporting process is streamlined thanks to tools like the Data Loader, which automate the most time-consuming steps of collecting and reporting data.
With all that manual entry comes the risk of human error. As the amount of data in a workbook grows, so does the likelihood of formula errors and typos, because all that data was inputted through cutting and pasting. It becomes too easy to fudge numbers and data. Either unintentionally or intentionally, your data integrity may be compromised.
Another downfall of Excel reporting is that it doesn’t show data in real time (unless you’re a developer who can connect Excel to a database and automatically refresh the data). By default, the data you’re using may be old. Cloud-based strategic reporting frameworks like ClearPoint are constantly updating—you’re looking at data in real-time, ensuring you always have the most accurate numbers to make informed decisions.
Similar to the real-time data problem, it can be difficult to collaborate with others in Excel because it’s a locally installed application and not cloud-based. If you’re using Excel as your main data dashboard and sharing it via email or a shared server, it can be hard to manage versions of your report, making it necessary to continually share updated versions with everyone who needs the report. With ClearPoint or other cloud-based strategic reporting frameworks, everyone can access the tool simultaneously, make updates, save, and see those changes in real time. It’s much easier to collaborate around the data.
Finally, one big problem with Excel is its lack of security. There’s no real way to secure the data aside from creating a password for the spreadsheet (which can be easily bypassed). This can become a major issue if you’re dealing with sensitive information. Strategic reporting software like ClearPoint allows you to create user permissions, boosting the level of security around your data. You can have different people viewing and updating different information across ClearPoint.
Remember when we said Excel was free? It isn’t really...
Technically Excel is a free tool, but costs can add up when you think about the ways it can negatively impact your organization. If you’re considering moving away from Excel toward more sophisticated reporting options, don’t be scared of that change. Just because Excel is the affordable and familiar doesn’t mean it’s going to be the most effective tool for your organization. Choose the software that saves you time, resources, and money in the long run.
Feel like you might be ready for a change? We don’t blame you! The small investment in reporting software will pay big dividends in time savings, data accuracy, and version control. You will be able to create better looking reports and have access to a common repository of data to generate different reports for different audiences (with the same updated data sets).