Excel: Great hammer, lousy screwdriver

Overview | What you'll learn: 

For many, Excel is the go-to analysis tool of choice. But as pressure mounts to glean more insight from your data, Excel can’t always deliver the insight you seek. Trying to use Excel for advanced, responsive analytics like flexible charts and dashboards, or analyzing large volumes of data, is using the wrong tool for the job.

Read this whitepaper to understand the five capabilities that are critical to getting the most out of your data, which Excel can't do. See how they can have an impact on your organization with faster, more effective insight into your data.

We've also pulled out the first several pages of the whitepaper for you to read. Download the PDF on the right to read the rest.

Excel’s ubiquity often makes it the default analysis tool of choice. Whether one clamors to swivel pivot tables, build macros or invoke the function wizard, the instinct to turn to Excel for analytical tasks is undeniable.

But as useful as it can be, Excel can’t do it all.

Against the backdrop of what Excel does exceedingly well is a list where it falls short. In an environment of skyrocketing data volumes and pressure to eke every last drop of competitive advantage out of information, you need to equip yourself with tools to deliver insight. Fast.

There are five paths to get more value from your data, but you need the right tool for the job. For these five areas, Excel is inflexible, time consuming or just simply can’t get the job done.

5 capabilities you need that Excel doesn’t offer

  • Flexible charts. Sure Excel lets you create charts. But when you want to change a chart to add new data or view as a new type of chart, you have to start from scratch. Why re-create the wheel at every turn?
  • Dashboards. Who knew? Yes, you CAN make dashboards in Excel. But you probably don’t (and dread it if you do) because they’re fussy, brittle and take forever. Are you able to see all the factors that impact a question in a single place?
  • Lots of data. A measly million rows and you hit a brick wall. A couple dozen calcs to run and you’re out getting a coffee while you wait. There are tools that handle this much data and more – while Excel warms up.
  • Real-time data exploration. It’s never fun not to know the answer. Despite attempts to build a perfect model that anticipates every question, the reality is – you can’t. So set yourself up to answer as you go, not read the minds of others.
  • Maps. Nope, not even standard issue on Excel’s line-up of chart types. Can you afford to miss the “aha!” factor of seeing your data on a map?

Tableau addresses these gaps, delivering insight you need by providing a new addition to your analytical toolbox.

Designed from the ground up to support visual analysis at the “speed of thought,” Tableau is used in industries, departments and companies of all sizes to get data insight that Excel can’t deliver. With an intuitive user interface and the ability to tap directly into nearly any data source, Tableau is transforming the way even the world’s most complex, demanding data environments are shedding light on their data quickly, easily and with massive impact.

1. Charts that work with you, not against you

Does this scenario sound familiar?

You finish up your analysis, confident you know just the chart to show in an upcoming presentation. You’ve taken care to arrange your data so you can create a nifty Excel chart. You click through a bunch of steps and make the chart. It looks ok.

But then you realize you need to add another column of data. Or, now that you see the graph, you realize something is off and you have to re-do a calculation. Perhaps the chart doesn’t show the answer you expected when you saw the numbers. And now you have to start over.

There are two problems with this scenario. First, it’s a terrible waste of time. Second, by forcing you to make your chart after your analysis is complete, your ability to learn as much as possible from your data is inherently limited.

It’s the very act of viewing your data in charts in an iterative fashion, not relegating it to an output after your work is complete, that takes analysis to a whole new level. However, creating charts in Excel is so onerous that you aren’t likely to bother with this approach.

Tableau equips you to create charts quickly and easily – adding data, modifying calculations and changing scenarios on the fly. The result is that you see the implications of your analysis as you go, informing you along the way of what your data reveals. With this capability at hand, seeing your data becomes a fundamental dimension of your analysis, not simply the output of some spreadsheet work.

2. Dashboards with a drag and a drop

When was the last time you had enough time to enjoy the daily newspaper, much less digest all the key factors impacting critical decisions at work?

Assembling relevant information in one place so you can have focused, smart discussions is invaluable. (No, a pile of spreadsheet printouts doesn’t count as putting all relevant factors in one place.) Yet creating a dashboard where salient information can be considered in one interface is a step that most avoid. Why? For some, it’s because creating a dashboard carries the assumption that a painful, long IT project is the only path. For others who might turn to Excel, dashboards are so arduous they are avoided at all costs.

Tableau lets you create dashboards quickly, using the same drag-and-drop interface that makes creating individual charts and graphs intuitive and meaningful. Establishing filters and drop downs that are easy to create and navigate makes it easy to interact directly with your information. Not only do the dashboards reveal telling relationships between key analyses, Tableau lets you drill down in real-time to specific data points and calculations to answer questions that are raised by seeing your information in one place.

Adding dashboards to your analysis toolkit equips you to consider all relevant factors for your decisions in one place. Forget about development queues or tenuous Excel features and put the power of creating dynamic dashboards in your own hands.

3. Size and speed matter

There was a time when a million rows worthy of desktop analysis seemed unthinkable. Not anymore.

Social media, transaction data, customer records and web analytics are just a few examples of the mushrooming data that push beyond Excel’s capacity limits every day. Handcuffed by these boundaries, Excel users find themselves forced to use subsets of data for analysis. Does it make sense to be confined to these parameters and have to determine which data doesn’t need to be included before you even begin?

And whether you’re filling Excel to its breaking point or have smaller data sets, running sophisticated macros and calculations in Excel can often bring the program to its knees.

You are too busy to spend cycles sorting out which set of data you can live without or budgeting time to refresh your calcs.

Tableau gets rid of these restrictions, letting you analyze as much data as you choose to dig into. With the flexibility to analyze your data through a live connection to the data source or within Tableau’s own fast data engine, size no longer matters. Depending upon your data sources and goals, you have the flexibility to match your need for rapid analysis on data of any size for your environment.

Want to read more? Download the rest of the whitepaper!

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