PLM Prompt: Why Excel is not Enterprise System yet?

I was reading the following article “Why Excel is not Enterprise BI Solution Yet. What I liked is the way author presented the anti-Excel case in BI. I thought, this is very co-sounded with my Excel-PLM discussions. Everybody like Excel, but Excel have hidden cost and complexity you won’t be able to manage.

What is my conclusion? There are two possible ways:

1. To transform Excel into Enterprise Platform. Microsoft is trying to do so by introducing Excel Services and marriage of Excel and SharePoint.
2. To think about how to improve usability of enterprise solutions.

Just my thoughts… Best, Oleg


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  • Oleg,

    The author presents 2 major “anti-Excel” points in the article:
    -possibility of human error increases with the number of users.
    -Poor data imported into excel.

    But thinking about it – this is a human error, not Excel. Proper security permissions and data quality management should ensure that Excel spreadsheet posted on Sharepoint for everyone to use, can help avoid these problems.

    Enterprise BI systems are not guaranteed from either problem the author describes either. Besides, costly to install and develop, there is a bigger issue with them – recognition from users. Everyone knows how to use Excel (at least pre-2007), but it takes months for users to learn build reports in new fancy Ent BI tools.

  • Feyzi, Thank you for your comment! I see what you are saying – error can go everywhere and Excel is simpler, so why not? The question is what will be total cost to prevent errors in Excel vs. to manage they same level of trust in enterprise system? Is it the same? Do you think “complexity” will be more expensive? Regards, Oleg.

  • Oleg,

    sorry for the errors in the previous message, I skipped proofreading 🙂

    To answer your question, it depends on adaptability. In my experience, no matter how great is the BI tool, no matter how user friendly its features are, without proper, continuous and repeated training, users are unlikely embrace the new tool. Rather, they will prefer longer, tricks and work-around infested old way, than the new “simple” tool. In my personal opinion, people are scared that if the new tool acts in an unforeseeable way, they will spend more time figuring their job out, than using something they already know.

    I’ve seen a web presentation, that said that the main problem of users with any BI tool is not how to build a report, but where to find it. And most of the times, excel, stored on a network drive or share point is a safer place for a report, than a new folder in a new tool.

  • Feyzi, so what you are saying is that we need BI tool to find BI tool/Excels ;)?. Some navigation could be beneficial, in my view. Regards, Oleg.

  • Not exactly. I guess the problem is common to the BI Tool, and with Excel/SharePoint combination – with creating the structure – different users create folders for their convenience and put reports as they want, as a result other users have hard time locating the report they need, or just creating a duplicate new report and putting it in the new location.
    I totally agree that navigation could be beneficial, but a proper security design, report naming conventions as well as search engine are of the same importance. IMHO

  • Feizi, The biggest problem of SharePoint in general and BI in SharePoint specifically, in my view, is that everything is floating there. You can do whatever you want in the way you want. And this is what users are doing. After few month in SharePoint, users have 1’000s of excels, pages sites etc…. Regards, Oleg

  • Excel is an excellent reporter, but Excel is a data silo that gives a false impression of accuracy. The simplicity and ubiquity of Excel means it is used everywhere, but being everywhere is the problem. There is no central place for accurate enterprise content and hence, creating/sharing Excel reports are the opposite of a solution.

    Better is to have flexible BI tools in your PIM/PLM/MDM environment that do not require IT to generate. That is the direction we went, allowing users of the system repository to generate ad hoc reports as needed.

    One customer of ours had as many as 8 different weights for a product; every department weight was different, all stored in Excels. Excel gets very costly when used inter-departmentally. Errors don’t just propogate, they breed.

  • Mark, Thank you for your insight. Yes, excel creates a perception of simplicity and ownership. However, trails future cost. I believe many vendors in PIM/PLM/MDM space are trying to develop BI solution. However, they have tough time to compete with MS BI. Best, Oleg/