DATA ANALYTICS

5 Limitations of Excel For BI and Ways to Overcome Them

Nazim Foufa

Marketing Content Specialist at Sigma Computing

Users continue to hold onto Excel despite having access to BI tools that are more capable and less time-consuming to use. While Excel allows business users to slice and dice their data however they want — it has limitations when it comes to the volume of data it can process. The larger the data set the slower Excel functions, anything above one million rows of data is near impossible to deal with.

So why do users stick with Excel? In this article we’ll look into why users are hesitant to leave the popular tool — and why they should consider a full self-service BI tool that is purpose-built for the cloud data warehouse and the modern data stack.

Excel is a universal tool that has close to a billion users — making it incredibly appealing to companies since their business users can easily work within the tool and require less training. It’s simply convenient and inexpensive.

Business users love Excel because they are curious, like to be the person with all the answers, take pride in getting to that answer faster than anyone else, and like to be independent and free from restrictions. They like to be self-sufficient and able to find answers without having to go to anyone else, like the BI or data team for help.

Small data sets are where Excel shines but once a business begins scaling quickly and exponentially, amongst other limitations, Excel becomes extremely slow, limiting, and risky.

People Love Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are the most well-known and loved analytics tool. People have been using spreadsheets since the beginning and for good reason, it’s easy and works. When exploring data, 62% of people use Excel because of its flexibility and ease of use. Even technical people love spreadsheets, 88% of people who write SQL still use Excel when exploring data.

There’s nothing wrong with loving the spreadsheet interface, it is well known and works very well. Which is what makes Excel so appealing to business users. It comes down to the limitations of how much data your spreadsheets can handle and with larger data, it can be tricky and difficult to manage and analyze.

We will look at some of the ways Excel falls short and how other tools can make BI more collaborative and efficient.

5 Limitations of Excel

Excel comes with some major drawbacks that make it a difficult tool to work with. Users might be comfortable in Excel but most don’t know how limited they are and how much more efficient they could be.

  • Difficult collaboration
  • Data integrity/security risks
  • Outdated and unreliable data due to exports
  • Slow and limited data intake
  • Not scalable

What If There Was A Better Way Without These Limitations?

Instead of sinking time, resources, and putting data at risk by extracting and copying it into Excel. With a self-service BI tool, you could work with the data and gain insights directly from the source in real-time in a spreadsheet interface that won’t crash with large datasets. Create visualizations that you can interact with and drill down into to explore the data and investigate trends.

Having one single source of truth where users can access and play with data is critical for an organization. It allows users and teams to be on the same page across all parts of the business and make the right decisions to drive the business forward without being hindered by any limitations.

Convincing Users To Leave Excel: “Let The People Work”

A true self-serving BI tool should be able to scale along with the user’s data requirements. Not having the ability to drill down into the data, a limitation of Excel, means stakeholders won’t get the answers they need which makes critical decisions for the business more difficult to execute.

When you have a cloud-based BI tool, you don’t need to combine multiple CSVs, worry about the software crashing, wait days for a data analyst to answer your questions — and you don’t need to learn SQL to drill down into your data. Users are fully equipped to answer their own questions and any ad hoc questions without having to worry about any limitations.

5 Ways Sigma Makes Business Intelligence Effortless

  1. Fully Governed Data. When using Sigma, the data stays secure and managed from a single point. The Data can be safely accessed, and users can be assigned roles and permissions. Only the data they need will be available. 
  2. Unlimited Data Exploration and Speed. With Sigma, anyone can explore data in real-time down to the most granular level without any limitations. Users can analyze billions of rows of data quickly and easily without SQL.
  3. Collaboration and Ad hoc. Analyze data seamlessly between groups and across departments without worrying about version control. ​​Sigma’s spreadsheet interface makes iterative ad hoc analytics possible for anyone.
  4. Spreadsheet Interface. With Sigma you can continue using the spreadsheets you know and love with no limitations!
  5. No Risky Data Extracts. Once data is extracted from a BI tool to a spreadsheet, the data team loses visibility into how employees use or share data.

How Is Sigma Different From Excel

Sigma was built by people who love spreadsheets for people who love spreadsheets. The functions that Sigma offers are the ones you know and use in Excel.

Sigma has many differences and focuses on use cases. Specializing in self-service ad hoc analysis but also offering visualizations and dashboards.

Sigma enables exploration and analysis of data at a near-unlimited scale and speed. All while still using the familiar spreadsheet interface everyone loves and without any limitations. Business users can easily answer all of their ad hoc questions in no time without technical help.

Ready to visualize your data for actionable insights?