If you consider yourself to be a data guru, what I’m about to say may surprise you. One in five businesses are still using spreadsheets as their main tool to communicate data internally. Now, don’t get us wrong, we understand the value of spreadsheets. They have their time and place, but they are certainly not the best tool for visualizing and communicating data. In this blog post, I’m calling on some key evidence to help me build a case against Excel. If you haven’t yet made the switch from spreadsheets to data visualization, here are some reasons why you should reconsider.
Excel Leaves More Room for Human Error
When we depend on data to inform our decisions, we’re using that data to give those choices more credibility, weight and (hopefully) accurate direction. What happens, then, if the data itself is not accurate? Unfortunately, as with any human-involved endeavor, errors occur when analyzing and interpreting data.
Some methods of data management are more error prone than others. In fact, 88% of spreadsheets have errors on them. Perhaps this is because employees tend to copy and paste information from one spreadsheet to another. Each time this happens, there is a greater potential to introduce new errors into subsequent reports. A minor error along the way could have a major impact, costing your business a lot of time and money in the end.
Dashboards work to eliminate human error as much as possible by linking directly to enterprise information management systems, databases and (yes) Excel spreadsheets. This minimizes the amount of data manipulation and manual intervention where mistakes are likely to occur. With the help of an ETL tool, preparing accurate and relevant data becomes even easier. If your tools are limited to Excel, blending multiple data sources together is a huge undertaking, especially when that data arrives in different formats. ETL tools allow you to:
- Take data from multiple sources
- Standardize it into a unified form
- Write that data into a target destination or database
In the end, you’ll have precise information that can be analyzed and visualized in an engaging dashboard – without having to worry about typos.
Spreadsheets Are Time-Consuming to Create and Maintain
It takes a lot of time and concentration to do manual data entry, so working in Excel can be pretty draining. Plus, you have to create a new spreadsheet every day, week, month, or quarter. The worst part? By the time you finish, the data is already old news. Wouldn’t it be easier if your reports and spreadsheets updated themselves?
Dashboards can be scheduled to automatically compile reports from all of your systems. You can even connect to APIs and watch your data update in real-time. Either way, whether it updates live or on a schedule, you are saving time and delivering fresh, current data to stakeholders. That way, you can spend more time analyzing the information and less time preparing it.
Excel Doesn’t Provide as Many Options as a Dashboard
Spreadsheets have a reputation for being a little dry, and while there are (limited) options for visualizing the data, it’s nearly impossible to get them to look just the way you want. Moreover, it’s difficult to get all of the information you want to see into a single view. Dashboards are much more engaging, not to mention customizable. The right dashboard software will allow you to create interactive elements that entice viewers to engage with your data. It will also provide you with the chart framework to build from, while giving you plenty of opportunities to customize.
Excel has a greater “barrier to entry” than a dashboard, too. It can also be difficult to share your data with people both inside and outside of your organization for a few reasons. Files might contain so much data that they exceed email attachment size limits, not to mention that massive spreadsheets are not exactly digestible for the average reader.
Dashboards, on the other hand, can be shared online or through your company’s intranet, and are easy to understand at a glance. You can also display your most important metrics and KPIs on a TV monitor in your lobby, conference room, or wherever people gather. Wall displays help to create a culture of transparency, which leads to better communication and more honest, productive conversations about metrics.
Excel Isn’t Always the Most Secure Option
Sensitive data, whether it be private customer information, financial records, passwords, or anything delicate, is susceptible to misuse if you don’t protect it. When that data must be shared between multiple parties over email, for example, the risk for misuse or data breaches increases. Excel does have the option to password protect spreadsheets, and while their encryption has strengthened over the years, it may not be sufficient for your use case.
Depending on the sensitivity of your data, you may require multi-layered data encryption. When you’re evaluating data visualization and dashboard software, ask about data security.
- Can you assign permissions for accessing, editing, and viewing dashboards?
- If you’re using a single sign-on (SSO) method for better UX, how many layers of obfuscation are available?
- Where is the data hosted?
At the end of the day, you want to have complete control over who can access the front and back end data, and understand just how the information is protected.
Spreadsheets Are Often Difficult to Analyze
With Excel spreadsheets, seemingly endless rows of raw data make it difficult to interpret what’s important and what’s not. Data visualization tools show important trends, correlations, and patterns in the data. That way, you don’t have to spend hours looking at the data to get the insight you are looking for.
Data visualization works with our brains to enhance decision-making and provide a deeper understanding of data. Images are processed with more speed and with greater impact than simple words or numbers. Studies show that people remember only 20% of what they read, yet 80% of what they see. When data is presented using visually-appealing charts and graphs, you can more easily see and understand the relationship between data points.
Spreadsheets are also typically without context. It’s difficult to correlate different data sets together in Excel to see how they interrelate. Dashboards, on the other hand, can have different layers of information and blend multiple sources seamlessly. You start off with a high-level view of your metrics and add in drilldowns to show the data driving those numbers with a single click.
What do you think? Are you still an Excel evangelist, or do you think dashboards deserve their due? Let us know in the comments below!