BI’s Dirty Secrets – Why Business People are Addicted to Spreadsheets

January 19, 2012
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SecretMicrosoft Excel spreadsheets are the top BI tool of choice. That choking sound you hear is vendors and IT people reacting viscerally when they confront this fact. Their responses include:

SecretMicrosoft Excel spreadsheets are the top BI tool of choice. That choking sound you hear is vendors and IT people reacting viscerally when they confront this fact. Their responses include:

  • Business people are averse to change; they don’t want to invest time in learning a new tool
  • Business people don’t understand that BI tools such as dashboards are more powerful than spreadsheets; they’re foolish not to use them
  • Spreadsheets are filled with errors
  • Spreadsheets are from hell

 IDC estimated that the worldwide spend on business analytics in 2011 was $90 billion. Studies have found that many firms have more than one BI tool in use, and often more than six BI tools. Yet a recent study found that enterprises have been “stuck” at about a 25% adoption rate of BI tools by business people for a few years.

So why have adoption rates flatlined in enterprises that have had these tools for a while? Are the pundits correct in saying that business people are averse to change, lazy or just ignorant of how wonderful BI tools are?

The answers are very different if you put yourself in the business person’s position.

First, business people are likely working many hours and multi-tasking. Demands on their time are ever increasing regardless of the state of the economy. Without any spare time, they need a compelling return on investment before learning a new tool. Spreadsheets have been the bedrock of reporting and analysis for quite a while, so if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

With spreadsheets business people can slice and dice data, pivot it, calculate new metrics and display in compelling visuals. What they need more than a new slick presentation tool is comprehensive, clean, current and consistent data.

Second, moving to BI tools mean that business people have to depend on their IT staff to create the dashboards, cubes, visualizations and reports. Since many business people feel that there is a significant IT bottleneck resulting in a long waits before they get their reports, they keep turning to spreadsheets. After all, neither their competition nor their boss is going to wait for IT to generate the report they needed yesterday.

There are certainly many compelling reasons to convince a business person to use a BI tool, but the usual slick demo and “it will practically do your job for you” pitch is not going to change a business person’s mind.

 

Next: What are the real problems and how do we entice business people to use BI tools?