Microsoft Excel is the best known, most used product for analyzing and reporting data from a variety of sources. It provides business-user-oriented capabilities for data integration, transformation, modeling and analysis. Users can choose between the installed Windows client, the web client (Office 365) and mobile versions of the software. Data models created with Excel can be published to SQL Server, Power BI or Azure for reuse and governance purposes.
Microsoft is the world’s largest software company. Founded in 1975 and headquartered in Redmond, it has become a household name, primarily due to its Windows operating system and Office suite. Aside from these products, Microsoft has a vast range of enterprise software and cloud offerings including its own database, browser, various servers and ERP solutions. In recent years, Microsoft has focused its business on Azure, a cloud-based solution. Microsoft Azure now offers more than 200 products and services, which increasingly outperform on-premises offerings (e.g., for AI and machine learning).
Microsoft is a strong presence in the BI market and its offering is strategic to complement existing solutions and to drive cloud revenues. In the past, the vendor spread its BI capabilities across the Office, SharePoint and SQL Server product lines, providing tools for formatted reporting, analysis and dashboards. In 2015 Microsoft released Power BI, a dedicated BI and analytics product, which we cover separately in The BI & Analytics Survey 22. This product review describes the analysis product Excel.
Microsoft Excel is part of the Microsoft Office 365 package, which is available as a full client (Windows, Mac), web client and mobile client. Excel can either be used as a front end for a number of multidimensional data sources such as Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) or by importing data to its built-in data storage from various relational and multidimensional data sources. XML files and JSON files as well as web data and OData feeds can also be used as sources. Recently, SAP HANA was added as a data source.
Excel can be used for OLAP analysis, reporting, dashboarding and visualization, while some customers use it for planning and budgeting too. The software is especially attractive for business users in self-service BI scenarios. Of course, data can also be stored in Excel, but there are no governance functions to ensure data quality, security or integrity.
User & Use Cases
Excel’s customer feedback clearly shows it is a commodity software in enterprises. It is used on average by 34 percent of employees compared to The BI & Analytics Survey 22 average of 18 percent. “Good availability of skilled users” is cited as one of the attractions of Excel, underlining the widespread knowledge of this product.
Excel’s usage demographics are quite impressive, showing ubiquitous adoption of the solution. As Excel is a good ad hoc query solution, it is often used for this purpose. Its flexibility in querying, preparing and visualizing data is also often used to create enterprise reports. Therefore, it is not surprising that as many as 48 percent of Excel business users perform model/enrich tasks. After querying data, Excel is often used for visualization purposes as the high rate of use for standard/enterprise reporting shows.
Excel is also often used for planning – here by 67 percent of respondents. This is striking as there are no specialized planning functions such as workflow management and versioning or functionality for the handling of new planning elements. But, as always, Excel is available and you can do almost anything with it – even if only 11 percent say that its coverage of BI/analytics-specific requirements was one of the main reasons why they chose to buy the product.
Current vs. planned use
5 products most often evaluated in competition with Microsoft Excel
Percentage of employees using Microsoft Excel
Number of users using Microsoft Excel
Tasks carried out with Microsoft Excel by business users
Company size (number of employees)
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