PowerExcel – BI for All Tastes
One of life’s more deflating aphorisms is that “you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” But doesn’t technology promise otherwise? — a way to mix-and-match (very much like a plate of canapes) your favorite tools, applications and work process…
Perhaps not. Let’s consider how BI (or, more widely defined, planning, analytics and reporting software) has disappointed us consistently, so we can’t have our cake and eat it. These statements below—whether one or all, or some variant—are effectively what BI vendors have been telling people for years. Following that, we will note how our product, PowerExcel, addresses each of these disappointments.
- “Abandon Excel as your BI tool.” Give up the tool that tens of millions of people use every day to do expert work for planning, analytics and reporting. To which we reply: It just ain’t gonna happen. Too much has been invested in learning and creating solutions—problematic as they may be (proliferating, elephantine spreadsheets)—and, key point, too much has been invested in exercising spreadsheet logic: cell-based formulas; graphing and formatting; macros, etc. These constitute our very syntax and understanding of how to interpret data for BI purposes. So a BI solution without Excel is going to be, from the outset, a foreign interloper at any firm
- “Use my product’s database.” This takes a little explaining, because it’s an unspoken (for good reason!) assertion. Let’s start with Excel: everyone knows that if you save a workbook, then it exists as an XLS/XLSX file. Now consider: that file is a database. It contains data, calculations, formatting and other logic…and if you send that file to another person, it’s nearly 100% certain that the recipient will be able use it. Note that this is not an argument for using Excel as a database! Rather, it’s to illustrate the fact that what most BI vendors are arguing for is that you start using their product’s database. So you need to ask, what is the likelihood that someone can obtain critical BI information from that database through standard tools…or is the database “proprietary” to the extent that you have no choice but to use the vendor’s tools?
- “It’s all about the visualizations.” In a word: No, it’s not. Sure, the exciting way that data is presented in top-notch visualization tools has been an incredibly important advance in BI technologies. Indeed, what used to be called “decision support” has morphed to such an extent that BI is nearly synonymous with visualization software. However, no matter how brilliantly they present graphical data, visualization products will never satisfy any firm’s full appetite for comprehensive BI. End-users need to get their hands on the data for analytics, and they need to enter data for complex planning applications (via “write back”)—think of people creating new drivers and typing forecast numbers into Excel. Put another way: how can budget or forecast contributors enter “what if” numbers into a bar chart?
We developed PowerExcel, first, to serve the spreadsheet community: to provide a collaborative, mostly (though not necessarily) Cloud-based BI solution inclusive of planning, analytics and reporting. The hallmarks of PowerExcel—addressing each of the points above—are as follows:
- PowerExcel takes the burden off Excel but does not subtract any of Excel’s native capabilities. We recognize the centrality of Excel to any BI solution: rather than asking firms to toss out Excel, we elevate it to a whole new level of operability.
- The backbone of a PowerExcel solution is any standard, statutory relational database: Transactional and BI/Planning data lives side-by-side (for example, in SQL Server); all data is available to all BI tools, dynamically. There is no proprietary data store with PowerExcel.
- PowerExcel features an “elevated Excel” node in the overall solution as well as any BI visualization tool—Power BI, Tableau, Qlik, etc. Data is synchronous throughout the system: planning numbers (typed in by budget/forecast contributors, and for any “what if” purpose) are calculated and appear dynamically, including for variance purposes.
The image below illustrates how PowerExcel works with transactional/relational databases and Excel, visualization tools and any other node in the data ecosystem, accommodating all requirements—from soup to nuts, and with icing on the cake. Now that’s appetizing!