January 14, 2020

5 Disadvantages of Excel for Data Visualization

Sigma Team
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5 Disadvantages of Excel for Data Visualization

Spreadsheets have become the de facto tool for data storage and analysis. And the number one spreadsheet program — Microsoft Excel— is estimated to have more than 750 million users around the world. The rise of Excel makes sense, it’s a powerful program that most business people interact with on a weekly basis to crunch numbers and visualize data. When exploring data and making charts or diagrams, 62% of people report using Excel because of its flexibility and ease of use.

The ease and flexibility of Excel often makes it a first stop for creating data visualizations. But that doesn’t make it the best tool for data visualization—like everything else, it has disadvantages. Excel is first and foremost a spreadsheet tool. And while it does have some data visualization capabilities, they are very limited compared to modern data visualization software, like Sigma.

Cloud-based analytics solutions makes it easier to rapidly build out data visualizations, create business dashboards that automatically track organization KPIs, and drill down and explore data on a granular level.

If you use Excel to make data visualizations, you’re not alone. But here are five disadvantages of data visualization in Excel to help you reconsider using it in your daily workflows and switch to a more robust cloud-based analytics solution like Sigma.

1. Excel Makes Unstructured Data a Challenge

A major disadvantage of Excel is the challenge of analyzing real-time unstructured and semi-structured data in it. On the contrary, many new and upcoming data analytics tools can quickly recognize this type of data and create visualizations.

Excel also flounders when it comes to data formats such as JSON. The proliferation of mobile data, apps, and IoT devices have made JSON the fastest growing type of data. Yet, its complex structure poses a challenge for even the most experienced users of Excel. But, those using modern analytics software can unravel and analyze this type of data in an Excel-like environment in seconds.

Learn more about structured and semi-structured data in Making Sense of the Different Types of Data Structures.


Working with semi-structured data like JSON? Schedule a demo of Sigma to see how easy it is to extract JSON and find meaningful insights fast.

2. Excel Can’t Design Interactive Dashboards

A data visualization tool allows you to combine several types of charts to create interactive dashboards that display all of your KPIs in one place. Then, you can dig deeper into each chart, exploring its granularity and investigating trends.

You can create dashboards in Excel, but they are static, showing only high-level trends, and serve as a conclusion as opposed to a starting point for further exploration. This is a disadvantage when compared to dynamic dashboards which have the ability to automatically update.

Interactive dashboards, on the other hand, allow you to drill down and answer follow up questions raised when you see a trend in your visualizations. These dynamic insights act as a launchpad, propelling teams toward deeper questions, smarter answers, and closer collaborations.

3. Excel Doesn’t Update in Real Time

Data kept in Excel spreadsheets are stale. The moment you import a CSV file and build out a worksheet, data becomes out of date because it doesn’t connect to a live data warehouse. This forces users to suffer through manual processes to report the same information over and over again.

While Excel is capable of connecting to external data sources via plugins, a cloud-based data visualization tool can seamlessly connect to dozens of data sources via a cloud data warehouse like Snowflake. This way, you get the most up-to-date data fast, can visualize it quickly, share it across your organization and use it to make better business decisions on the fly.

Still have questions? Learn more about the value of real-time data analytics.

4. Excel Doesn’t Foster Collaboration

Most Excel docs live locally. And while they do have cloud access, it’s really designed for individual use worksheets lacks comprehensive collaboration features. This results in endless duplication of efforts and creates a mess from an organization perspective any time someone wants to build off of another person’s work.

Conducting analyses in a vacuum is a poor use of time. Excel makes it difficult for teams to share, collaborate, and discover answers efficiently, and can ultimately put companies in a position of disadvantage.

With a data visualization tool, teams can break down data silos, easily collaborate and elevate each other’s work. This is how you build compound interest with data, by initially drawing insights from the principal, then drawing insights from those insights.


Sigma fosters analytical collaboration across organizations. Find out how by scheduling a demo today.

5. Spreadsheet Sprawl is a Security Risk

Downloading data to a spreadsheet and storing it locally is dangerous. Unlike BI tools, Excel spreadsheets don’t require specialized SQL coding expertise, which is why so many business users continue to use it—despite the risks. Unfortunately, the risks are plentiful and so are the disadvantages it brings. When data is downloaded to Excel, the data team loses visibility into how employees use or share the data, resulting in a lack of security and compliance oversight. This leads to vulnerabilities, lost data, and misuse.

Even Microsoft suggests “moving sensitive information and systems to a cloud provider” rather than storing it on a personal computer to prevent security breaches. Opt for a data solution that provides answers to critical business questions without removing data from the data warehouse or downloading it to a PC.

For complex organizations with modern data analytics programs that want to achieve beautiful, yet useful data visualizations quickly, Excel simply won’t do. Make the switch to a solution that offers a familiar spreadsheet experience backed by the full power of SQL and the cloud data warehouse.

Sigma is always adding new types of visualizations to our tool. To see which of these are currently supported, visit our help center.