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Best Practices for Using Excel as a BI Tool

December 10, 2010 topics: business intelligence Excel best practices BI Microsoft

Focus Research 2010

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Best Practices for Using Excel as a BI Tool


Best Practices for Using Excel as a BI Tool December 10, 2010 by Waqas Aleem, Bill Cabiro, Stephanie Cipresse, Louis Columbus, Daniel Power, Hrvoje Smolic, John Wilson topics: business intelligence Excel best practices BI Microsoft

Executive Summary Like its Microsoft Office cousins, Word and PowerPoint, Excel is de rigueur software in businesses around the world. And in offices that lack a formal Business Intelligence (BI) solution, Excel often becomes the go-to tool for compiling and analyzing business data. As John Wilson, CEO of Claim Insights, acknowledges, Excel is likely the most ubiquitousBI tool in the business side today. In this guide, Wilson along with fellow Focus Experts Waqas Aleem, Bill Cabiro, Stephanie Cipresse, Louis Columbus, Daniel Power and Hrvoje Smolic offers top tips and best practices for using Excel as a business intelligence tool.

Best Practices Checklist Clean up and normalize your data. Keep track of your data to make reports repeatable and reusable. Pick the chart thats appropriate for your analysis. Become a pivot table power user. Make use of Excels more advanced capabilities.

Best Practices for Using Excel as a BI Tool

Focus Research 2010

Best Practices for Using Excel as a BI Tool


Best Practices Clean up and normalize your data. Cleanse and structure the data by running lookups to bring the necessary customer and product dimensions into the main spreadsheet. (Cabiro) Clean up your data up front, using Excel to find the dirt. Otherwise youll discover the double-counting or the missing regions on the night before your big presentation and re-create all your analysis. Or worse, the Excel geek in the funding allocation meeting will point out that your totals dont really add up to 100 percent, and ask you why. (Cipresse) Make sure you are pulling from data sources that have been normalized at least with definition and format, and has been quality checked and/or transformed. Do not use unofficial spreadsheets with data that has not been transformed against some common internal data dictionary. Also, do not depend on manually loading data from the various sources unless you are ready for the nightmare of a lifetime. (Wilson) Keep track of your data to make reports repeatable and reusable. Name your datasets to make your masterpiece reusable and diagnosable if it breaks. (Cipresse) Track your sources of data pulled so reports can be re-created. Also, track your sources so you can understand how you arrived at the decisions/recommendations you are making. Defending spreadsheet results without good documentation is futile, particularly if someone has asked a similar question and gotten a different conclusion. (Wilson) Pick the chart thats appropriate for your analysis. Select the right type of chart for your data: line graph, pie chart, stacked bars and so forth. To add more meanings and life to your charts, use third-party add-ons. You will find a lot of useful and handy freeware. I go to juiceanalytics.com. They have a number of colorful charts (for comparison, trend analysis and more) that you can use for free. (Aleem) Know when to use different types of charts. What chart is most appropriate for the analysis? What is a regression line? How do you change titles, data series, chart attributes? (Power)

Become a pivot table power user. Be familiar with the Excel data analysis tools, especially pivot tables. What is a pivot table? What does it mean to pivot? What is drill down? What is a pivot chart? (Power) Dive into pivot tables, even if it makes you cringe. Spend 20 minutes on the pivot table tutorials on microsoft.com and youll be slicing and dicing like youre a Web analytics guru. (Cipresse)

Best Practices for Using Excel as a BI Tool

Focus Research 2010

Apply pivot tables and visualization graphs to expose the combination of measures and dimensions that identify both problems and opportunities and their causes. (Cabiro) Use sparklines, a transparent, compact and easy tool for displaying trends. Use slicer when you have a pivot table and you want to quickly analyze it for whole range of some dimensions members. With several slicers on a sheet, you can see what data is connected to current selection, and what is not. And use conditional formatting; with proper visual design, analyzers will be able to discern good or bad values in seconds. You can conditionally format numbers with association to color, shape, arrows and so on. (Smolic) Become somewhat of a power user of Excel, particularly pivot tables. If you dont use the grander functionality of Excel, you are basically just automating basic mathematical functions and likely will not get at the answers you were seeking. (Wilson) Download PowerPivot add-in for Excel 2010 by Microsoft. It is an easy way to import massive data from virtually any source to Excel in seconds. It also allows you to add amazing computational and data analysis features. (Aleem) Make use of Excels more advanced capabilities. Excel 2010 has some great BI features to analyze and simplify complex relationships in data sets. XML Import for RSS gives you the ability to integrate real-time Web-based data into a spreadsheet for analysis. Its useful for pricing analysis or monitoring several sites at once for numerical data. Also, click on Options and then Add-Ins to enable the Analysis ToolPak (a standard part of the application but not enabled by default). This is very useful for statistical, financial and engineering functions. Finally, I use the combination of slicers, pivot tables and pivot charts in Excel 2010 to create impressive dashboards quickly. (Columbus)

Best Practices for Using Excel as a BI Tool

Focus Research 2010

Contributing Experts

Waqas Aleem
Analyst, Stratasoft www.focus.com/profiles/waqas-aleem/public/

Bill Cabiro
Managing Director, Strat-Wise, LLC www.focus.com/profiles/bill-cabiro/public/

Stephanie Cipresse
Owner, Tobuka Consulting www.focus.com/profiles/stephanie-cipresse/public/

Louis Columbus
Sales/Marketing, Cincom www.focus.com/profiles/louis-columbus/public/

Daniel Power
Editor, DSSResources www.focus.com/profiles/daniel-power/public/

Hrvoje Smolic
Creative Director/Co-founder, Qualia d.o.o. www.focus.com/profiles/hrvoje-smolic/public/

John Wilson
CEO, Claim Insights, LLC www.focus.com/profiles/john-wilson-5/public/

About this Report Focus Best Practices Reports are designed to help professionals understand business and technology Best Practices for particular topic areas. The best practices included in each report are sourced from Focus Experts who have exhibited expertise in the particular topic. Best Practices Reports are designed to be practical, easy to consume, and actionable.

Best Practices for Using Excel as a BI Tool

Focus Research 2010