Excel 2013: Improved BI a good thing?

Microsoft look to be getting pretty serious about using Excel as a self-service BI tool, with the promised features in Excel 2013 advertised here http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/bi/Products/OfficePreview.aspx

PowerPivot is going to be incorporated into Excel itself (rather than being an add-in), and Power View reporting will be able to done in Excel. If you’re the kind of Excel user who mostly plays with data, rather than crunching numbers, then this news will be music to your ears! But is a more powerful Excel, in terms of BI, a good thing?

I’m quite excited about it myself- but that could be mostly because of the frustrations of Power View only being available in SharePoint so far (and PowerPoint, if you export a report from SharePoint). BI people have, for the longest time, advised against excessive Excel use for sharing of data- and that’s not just because Excel wasn’t as good at it as ‘real’ BI tools. It was because of good data governance, and data lineage- people doing their own thing in Excel was seen as a ‘bad thing’, where something more manageable and controlled like a data warehouse was seen as the solution to silos of Excel data on the desktop. When you can service people’s needs via standard reports and ad-hoc reporting capability, you reduce their need to ‘do BI’ themselves, achieving all the benefits of decision making using high quality data.

However, reality and experience suggests that an enterprise DW doesn’t solve all of an organisation’s craving for information. What if you need a report now, rather than waiting weeks or months for IT to provide you with a report? What if you need to combine data from carefully curated data warehouses with other publicly available sources? What if you want to tell a story with data, and don’t have the budget or expertise to build a full BI system? As a BI consultant, what if you want to prototype a report with a user, to help refine your understanding of their requirements? I frequently find that Excel is the answer to this, and PowerPivot is the key thing that you need to deal with these questions.

The only thing missing is manageability. This comes via SharePoint- by publishing Excel-based PowerPivot ‘cubes’ to SharePoint you can again define and manage a ‘single version of the truth’, but in a much more agile way than a typical enterprise data warehouse development.

So I welcome incorporating PowerPivot into Excel, and I’m such a fan of Power View that giving it a wider audience is very exciting- maybe they’ll even include it in non-SharePoint SSRS deployments in the future. I think there will always be a place for a well designed data warehouse and purpose-built BI toolset, but Excel 2013 will give BI power to end users, and when managed via Sharepoint, organisations might not consider there is a need for traditional BI at all.


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