The spreadsheet, especially Microsoft Excel, is the most widely used business intelligence and reporting tool across any enterprise (small or big). It acts both as a data collection/integration tool as well as a good reporting & analysis tool. It has been the de-facto tool for both business analysis and reporting.
However, in the new age of on-demand business software and the need for a collaborative and always connected business setup, there are areas in which spreadsheets are limiting as your business intelligence tool.
Where Spreadsheets are found lacking as a Business Intelligence Tool
Collaboration: Inherently designed for personal use and for single-user access at a time. As a spreadsheet gets emailed along, each user tend to have their own duplicate & possibly conflicting copies.
Maintenance:: Difficult to maintain if the data is collected from multiple sources. Manual data entry adds to the woes.
Data Integrity: As time passes, spreadsheets become error prone. It is impossible to see the 'single version of truth' (data integrity) realized, especially when multiple users are involved.
Accessibility: Being a desktop-based application, anytime/anywhere access is not possible.
Functionality: Static reports with no way to drill down mean the potential to do a complete data analysis is lost.
Data Security: Being available locally in user machines, spreadsheets are prone to theft and data loss. Also, different access privilege can't be set for different users.
Querying Capability: Merging data across spreadsheets is a complex task. It is not easy to create and maintain.
Relating Data: Very hard to associate relationship between data which can naturally be linked. It becomes more complex if the data is from multiple sources.
Scalability: Working with large datasets will mean sluggish responsiveness, since all the processing is done by your local desktop.
Publishing Data: Publishing of data and reports in your intranets, blogs, websites or applications is not possible.
Top Takeaways in favor of Zoho Reports
Ease of Use. Offers a 'spreadsheet-like' interface for data collection, analysis and reporting. Any user can create reports by drag-and-drop.
Collaboration. Designed for multi-user collaboration and not just personal use
Single Version of Truth (Data Integrity). Everyone works on the same copy
Scalable for huge data sets and multi-user access
Always available, anywhere, anytime
Detailed Comparision: Spreadsheets vs Zoho Reports
The following table captures more in detail on how Zoho Reports compares itself favorably against Spreadsheets, for your analysis and reporting needs.
Data Input & Sources supported (Data Integration)
You can enter data right away or copy-paste data
Connectivity to Access, SQL Server, OLAP server and any ODBC connected data sources
Import from XML and Web URL sources
Summary: Offers a reasonable set of options to input data.
You can enter data in a 'spreadsheet-like' interface. Easy embedded controls for fast data entry like calendar etc.,
You can copy-paste data too
Import from CSV, TSV, XLS or HTML files
Tool to pull data from MS Access, SQL Server, Oracle and MySQL databases and upload the same into Zoho Reports.
Import data from Web URL. Also, scheduled periodic imports can be setup.
Command line tool for batch uploads and to push data from other applications/database. More..
Web API to push data from your application. Also create custom forms to submit data using API.
Summary: Offers a wider and more functional set of options to input data.
Wizard based report creation predominantly
Applying functions and formulas over data is possible, but needs extra clicks and steps
No drill-down capability to explore the data
Creating multiple reports over the same data, somehow ends up in bifurcating the data or duplication.
In multi-user setup, same data set (sheets) viewable by everyone to create reports. No easy model for sharing a subset of data for report creation without duplication
Summary: Basic reporting and analysis is easy to do. More powerful and advanced reporting/analysis becomes complex.
Intuitive drag-and-drop based report creation and analysis.
Visually analyze data instantly instead of opening up wizards for every minor change you would like to make
Easy to filter data relevant to a report, again through drag and drop. Also powerful filters are possible through logical operations and functions/formulas support
Applying functions/formulas is just a click.
Drill-down reports to view the underlying data
Create data subsets (with necessary filters applied) and share to users according to their necessity and privilege. This enables them to analyze and create reports only on the data set shared to them.
Summary: Complex analysis of data and powerful reporting is easy to do.
Basic querying can be done with filters
Advanced querying or filtering can be done using Macros.
Pulling (Merging) data across sheets is a complex task. Not easy to create and maintain.
Summary: Merging and querying disparate datasets is difficult to do.
Most of the querying and filtering can be done through the drag-and-drop interface
Easy to pull (or join) data across tables to create the necessary reports
Supports standard SQL (Structured Query Language) for complex querying
Summary: Complex querying is possible as it supports SQL.
Note: A Visual Query Builder is also in the pipeline.
No support for Automated analysis and report creation. Every report or analysis has to be done manually.
Supports Automated Analytics, which applies an advanced rules engine based on predefined rules to scan your data and generates reports automatically. These reports can be customized later.
Cuts down time on analysis and report creation. Makes you more productive.
Sharing and Collaboration
Spreadsheets are built for one person
You can email copies of a spreadsheet to other users
Conflicting modifications done are to be synced manually, which is error-prone and tedious. Maintaining single version of truth is a great challenge (can even be an impossible task).
Summary: Sharing and collaboration is difficult and error-prone.
Easy to share a view to users who have Zoho Reports accounts. Only on login, users can access these views.
You can even share views to anyone (general public)
The same (and latest) version of reports and data are visible to everyone. Naturally, this takes care of conflicting modifications.
You can share reports and data with fine-grained permissions like Read-only, Read-write, Data Export, etc.,
Revoke sharing permissions anytime
Summary: Being online, sharing and collaboration becomes much easier.
Excel 2007 can support up to a Million rows in a sheet. Previous versions support upto 65K rows in a sheet
As data grows, sluggish responsiveness will become an issue, since every processing has to be done in your local machine.
Summary: Sluggish responsiveness when dealing with larger datasets.
Evaluation edition supports upto 500K rows in each table.
Support for millions of rows in a single table
Processing is done on a powerful server grid (server farms) and not in local user machine. This ensures performance and scalability to support hundreds of users simultaneously.
Summary: Quick responsiveness even for very large datasets as the system is designed to handle huge volumes of data.
A spreadsheet is designed to be a personal productivity tool. As long as the data and reports are handled by a single person, things are fine
Multiple users working on the same data, reports and analysis, results in conflicting modifications. Syncing becomes error-prone and very tedious. Also, maintaining a single version of the truth is a great challenge. This affects Data Integrity.
Summary: Data integrity is hard to achieve.
The same (and latest) version of reports and data are visible to everyone through online sharing (no duplicate copies). This naturally takes care of conflicting modifications, thus enforcing data integrity and consistency.
Relational Modeling support also enforces data integrity. More...
Summary: The underlying design takes care of data integrity (single version of truth) by itself.
Accessible from your own machine
Email the spreadsheet or put it in shared repositories for wider access. Duplication & synchronizing is always a problem
Accessible from anywhere on the globe through the Web
Per installation cost for each desktop requiring spreadsheet
IT maintenance cost for upgrades and security patches
Summary: High licensing and maintenance costs.
Liberal free edition ($0) to take care of most of your basic requirements
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