Today’s organizations are being flooded with new data from all directions and executives are expected to make smarter decisions with that information. While small to midsize businesses (SMBs) may find using Microsoft Excel a convenient receptacle for data during their early days will soon realize that spreadsheets, however, are blunt and insufficient to deal with this kind high volumes of data. There’s now a new crop of business intelligence (BI) tools to fill the gap. These tools combine all of the sophisticated data hooks on the back end with a new style of front end that combines ease of use with things such as natural language querying to make using BI accessible to anyone. These tools also provide new data visualization capabilities that let you turn your insights into clear and easily parsed graphics to help co-workers understand your discoveries.
Spreadsheets also fall down when the data isn’t well-structured or can’t be sorted out in neat rows and columns. And, if you have millions of rows or very sparse matrices, then the data in a spreadsheet can be painful to enter and it can be hard to visualize your data. Spreadsheets also have issues if you are trying to create a report that spans multiple data tables or that mixes in Structured Query Language (SQL)-based databases, or when multiple users try to maintain and collaborate on the same spreadsheet.
A spreadsheet containing up-to-the-minute data can also be a problem, particularly if you have exported graphics that need to be refreshed when the data changes. Finally, spreadsheets aren’t good for data exploration; trying to spot trends, outlying data points, or counterintuitive results is difficult when what you are looking for is often hidden in a long row of numbers.