As business intelligence consultants, we come across Microsoft Excel where ever we go.

Excel is a fantastic tool. It is easy to learn, incredibly flexible and has powerful data management and business intelligence features. Our clients have sophisticated enterprise systems such as SAP, Oracle and Microsoft Dynamics that process massive volumes of transactions. Our clients also have the leading business intelligence tools in house. It is not uncommon to come across Teradata, Cognos, Business Objects and Microsoft BI products in the most environments. Yet, despite all the technology available within the enterprise, the employees continue to use Microsoft Excel.

One thing I find amusing is that a user will generate a report in Cognos or Business Objects, then immediately export the data from the report to Excel. Once the data is in Excel, it will be filtered, sorted and analyzed in a pivot table. Graphs will be produced and pasted into PowerPoint presentations. Often, additional columns are created alongside the exported columns to compute ratios or display categories. These new columns will then take a life of their own and will be used to make tactical and even strategic decisions.

The chain between the ERP system and Excel on the desktop can include a replicated database, an Operational Data Store, various ETL reporsitories, a dimensional data warehouse, cubes and the report. Borrowing a term from the telco industry, Excel is the “last mile” between decision workers at one end and the large enterprise transactional systems at the other.

My prediction is that Excel will continue to be an important part of the BI landscape. Microsoft continues to add impressive new features to it, and along with PowerPivot, it will fills a space that other enterprise tools cannot.