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).
Compared to the huge business the company does in a range of different markets, its BI front-end revenues are still relatively small. Nevertheless, 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. This product review describes the analysis product Excel.
User & Use Cases
Excel’s customer feedback clearly shows it is a commodity software in enterprises. It is used on average by 31 percent of employees compared to The BI & Analytics Survey average of 17 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 38 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 63 percent of respondents. This is also impressive 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 10 percent say that it covers BI/analytics specific requirements well.
Interestingly – and in contrast to previous years when Excel was frequently evaluated also against other Microsoft products – none of its top five rival solutions this year come from Microsoft. This highlights a general trend we have observed in The BI & Analytics Survey this year: Many customers are now seeking a business-power-user-oriented solution to help them analyze and visualize data.
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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