Home Resources Blog

Excel vs business intelligence software: enhancing business data analysis

5 mins to read
Excel vs business intelligence software: enhancing business data analysis

Excel spreadsheets are a staple in many businesses for organizing information and performing a variety of tasks due to their flexibility and affordability. In small companies with limited budgets, spreadsheets can be sufficient at getting the job done. However, for growing companies with increasingly complex data needs, spreadsheets alone are inadequate for making accurate and timely data-driven decisions.

Time and accuracy

Using Excel spreadsheets as your data analytics solution involves significant manual processes such as manually creating, manipulating, verifying, updating, and consolidating multiple data sources. These processes are very time consuming and highly prone to human error, which can lead to costly mistakes. Studies have shown that one in five large companies have suffered significant financial losses due to spreadsheet errors. An error in a formula or data entry is often hard to detect and can cascade throughout the dataset, potentially leading to flawed decision-making based on inaccurate information.

Volume and complexity

Managing large datasets with increasing complexity in spreadsheets can be overwhelming. While Excel is easy to use at a basic level, it struggles to handle large amounts of data and to facilitate advanced data analysis. This often necessitates the hiring of additional staff or external consultants skilled in data analysis expression (DAX) language and SQL, negating the initial cost savings of using spreadsheets. Furthermore, data is not real-time because it is entered and refreshed manually, meaning any analysis conducted is only a snapshot in time and may not reflect current business conditions and up-to-date performance. This static nature of spreadsheets limits the ability to perform dynamic data analysis and respond quickly to changes.

Spreadsheets also fall short in facilitating more in-depth data analysis. They are not designed to easily compare multiple fields and metrics or detect trends that are not immediately apparent. For example, identifying which customers have stopped buying a particular product or which products could be cross-sold to maximize sales return requires significant manual effort and expertise. This often results in incomplete or inadequate analysis, missing out on critical insights that could drive business growth.

Security is another significant concern when using spreadsheets. Sensitive data stored in Excel files can be easily shared via email or USB drives, increasing the risk of data breaches. Even password-protected spreadsheets can be vulnerable to attacks. Additionally, version control issues can arise as different staff members work on and distribute various versions of the same file, leading to inconsistencies and confusion about which version contains the most up-to-date information.


Your business needs more than Excel alone

Phocas provides a comprehensive solution to the challenges faced when managing data with Microsoft Excel by offering a BI solution alongside financial planning and analysis (FP&A) products. Phocas Analytics is the foundational BI product of the Phocas platform. It handles big data volumes, integrating and consolidating data from various sources, such as ERP, CRM, financial, HR and operational systems. This ensures all departments and teams work with accurate and consistent information and eliminates the risk of human error in manual data consolidation and analysis. The automation of data entry and data refresh mean that the information is real-time and data is faster and easier for everyone to access. Allowing businesses to make informed decisions based on the most current information available.

Phocas' intuitive interface is designed in a familiar format to Excel spreadsheets, making data analysis self-service to everyone. This democratization of data empowers all employees to engage with and analyze business information, fostering a data-driven culture within the organization. 

With Phocas, you can quickly spot customers who haven’t ordered for a few months, which gives us a chance to phone them about the decrease in orders. In some instances, this will reveal that they may have received cheaper pricing from a competitor, allowing us to revisit pricing.”

Tom Francis, Managing Director of Obex
Sage + Phocas customer 

Speed and reliability

The time savings offered by BI tools like Phocas are substantial. Tasks that would take hours or days to perform manually in Excel, such as building and customizing reports or performing multi-dimensional analyses, can be completed in minutes with Phocas. This efficiency allows employees to focus on strategic activities that drive business growth and facilitate scalability rather than on time-consuming data management.

Moreover, BI tools empower all users, including sales, inventory and purchasing teams with deeper data discovery and analysis. Unlike Excel, which often requires complex pivot tables and manual calculations to reveal insights, Phocas enables everyone to quickly and easily drill into data (down to transaction level) to uncover trends, anomalies, and opportunities. This capability allows businesses to identify issues such as declining product lines or underperforming sales territories swiftly and take corrective action.

Self-service reports and data visualization

Unlike Excel where reports are largely created by finance or IT teams, the self-service functionality of Phocas enables all users to create and customize their own reports and data visualizations. It’s logical and straight-forward to customize pre-built reporting templates or to create new reports from scratch. You can also use data visualization tools such as interactive dashboards, charts and graphs to enhance data interpretation to a broader audience. These visualizations are also easy to customize to suit your business needs. 

I love Phocas reporting; this has helped our branches and operations in a big way and we can see our company performance as a whole at once. No need to check different reports to analyze data. Phocas software is highly user-friendly compared to Microsoft Power BI.”

Benoy James, Group IT Manager at Motovac.


Data security

Additionally, BI software like Phocas enhances data security by providing secure storage and stringent access controls that are defined at a user level. This ensures that employees only view and share information they have authorized access to. This is particularly useful for sensitive information like HR or Payroll data as it minimizes the risk of information being shared in error. Automated updates also ensure users have access to the latest information without worrying about version control issues.

To Excel or not to Excel

The answers is, have both! While Excel remains a valuable tool for basic data tasks, its limitations in real-time data processing, accuracy, data complexity, deeper analysis and security make it less suitable for comprehensive business intelligence needs or businesses who aim to scale. BI software like Phocas provides a powerful, secure, and efficient alternative with the added bonus of having FP&A capabilities such as Financial Statements, Budgets & Forecasts and Rebates. Excel workbooks will always have their place, but by integrating business intelligence tools, companies can overcome the inherent challenges of using spreadsheets and unlock the full potential of their data, driving growth and gaining a competitive edge.


Featured report

The Planning Survey 24, BARC

Download now
The Planning Survey 24, BARC
Written by Lindsay Harrison
Lindsay Harrison

Lindsay is an experienced writer with a passion for translating complex content into plain language. Specializing in the software industry, she explains the importance of data access and analysis for all businesspeople, not just the data experts.

Browse by category
Key data in one easy to understand view
Get a demo

Find out how our platform gives you the visibility you need to get more done.

Get your demo today