At it’s very simplest, Business Intelligence (BI) is the collection and visualisation of data to help organisations make decisions. You can make each part of that process as simple or as complex as you’d like, or need, but ultimately it’s the same when you boil it down.
BI suites like Qlik are focused on the complex end of the spectrum. There is a dedicated tool for every part of the process, sometimes more than one, and it is designed to handle extremely large datasets.
Excel, on the other hand, is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. In comparison, it has very little capability. It can be set up to source data automatically, create spreadsheets and then manually create visualisations from this, but that’s about it.
Simple vs Complex
Sometimes there is a lot to be said for simple. It is easy to learn, easy to use and incredibly easy to maintain. Excel ticks all of these boxes. Most computer literate people are comfortable with Excel, and with a little training can become relatively advanced users. The learning curve for Excel when compared with other, more complex, BI platforms is drastically shallower. Maintenance is incredibly easy as well, just keep your Office 365 licence up to date and you needn’t worry anymore.
Qlik doesn’t share these benefits. The full Qlik suite comes with a multitude of different tools and platforms, each specifically designed for a specific process. They are specialist, and most require at least some training to get users up to speed. Although experienced BI users might be able to, these are not plug-and-play solutions. When there are this many tools to master, the learning curve is much steeper.
Despite its simplicity, Excel does have its strengths. It has a range of data sources it can connect to straight out of the box. This is the benefit of using a Microsoft product. Excel will easily connect to SQL Server databases, Azure services and even from Facebook.
From there, the visualisation is just as simple, if extremely limited. The Quick Analysis function, available from a simple drag selection of data can recommend different visualisations, or they can be selected manually from the toolbar. Don’t expect pages and pages of choice though, and sometimes you will struggle to find any that suit.
In the right hands, Qlik’s payoffs can be huge. For users with some training, or experience in data analysis, large and complex datasets can be interrogated with ease and transformed into easy-to-digest, and interactive visualisations. It is hard to compare the finished products of Excel and Qlik as they are so vastly different. Excel barely scratches at the surface of BI, Qlik is the full deep dive.
There are really very few scenarios in which we’d recommend using Excel as a BI tool. It simply doesn’t have the capability to make it that valuable. For freelancers or small businesses who don’t rely heavily on data, then Excel can satisfy a need. After all, everyone needs to keep track of numbers.
For organisations looking to extract real value from data, you must look elsewhere. Although the low price of Excel can be tempting, once you have tried a complete BI tool, we doubt you’d consider going back. Qlik offers a full suite of BI tools for the entire process and this may be too much for you as an entry point. Handily, you can pick and choose some of the tools to suit your needs. To better discuss this, you’re better off talking to one of our BI experts. Get in touch today.