How to Select between BI and Excel Data Analysis [Tableau Alternative]

The use of Business Intelligence (BI) software is on the rise across industries, and Tableau is one of the front runners in the field. It’s one of the renowned platforms on the market that empowers businesses to use their data to the fullest. It’s also a part of a long-standing discussion about the powers of […]

Tableau Alternative

Angelika Methner

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The use of Business Intelligence (BI) software is on the rise across industries, and Tableau is one of the front runners in the field. It’s one of the renowned platforms on the market that empowers businesses to use their data to the fullest. It’s also a part of a long-standing discussion about the powers of Excel as a Tableau alternative regarding business intelligence and data analysis. 

With BI software such as Tableau, companies can gain a deep and extensive overview of their business information. The tool offers intelligence and analytics that allow owners and managers to better understand the processes in their businesses. This is possible because Tableau visualizes data into easy-to-digest dashboards, as well as other powerful functionalities for data analysis. 

At the same time, many businesses still opt in to use Excel data analysis, despite having Tableau. Others choose to skip BI tools altogether. They prefer to employ only Excel and various databases as a Tableau alternative. 

While BI platforms such as Tableau allow businesses to execute a lot of important tasks, usually they need to hire a business intelligence analyst or a data scientist to interpret the result of the data analysis and its business impact. Thus, the complexity of the data may be a reason for some companies to avoid using BI tools. But is there a Tableau alternative?

Due to Excel’s prominence, flexibility, and calculation capabilities, it still has a solid place in the data analysis field. Forward-thinking business leaders today explore the possibilities of using Excel with no-code app platforms like Open as App. With automatic app creation, they can build apps that provide crucial additions to the Excel functionalities. This provides them with affordable and easy tools to execute data analysis, which can be used alongside BI systems like Tableau or even as a Tableau alternative. 

In the sections below, you can get acquainted with a comparison between using Tableau and Excel for data analysis, so that you can see for yourself if Excel can be a good Tableau alternative for your team.

What are Business Intelligence tools?

Business Intelligence tools are bringing a whole new dimension to the way companies approach their decision-making processes. They hold huge potential to offer actionable insights based on a thorough analysis of company data. Thus, BI tools can provide business leaders with in-depth information that can skillfully guide their strategies towards success. 

In essence, BI platforms analyze data sets to provide a realistic snapshot of a company’s performance. They are not focused on predictions and prescriptions, as are business analytics tools. Instead, BI offers a thorough look into the current state of a business. 

To reveal the most important trends for a company, BI tools interpret the data they’re fed with and transform it into digestible and often visual forms. They can present the analytical results as summaries, dashboards, and targeted reports. As for visual formats, BI platforms can also generate charts, graphs, and maps, among others. The most typical format of BI-generated content is a dashboard, which consists of different charts and graphs. 

While a Business Intelligence tool cannot tell a CEO what to do to boost the company’s performance, it is a powerful method for streamlining the use and analysis of business data. Searching and making sense of information is made easier and more accessible. 

Are companies using BI to the fullest, though? That said, not all businesses manage to benefit fully from using BI platforms. The most common reason is that they fail to create and apply a working BI strategy. Having a solid plan, as well as healthy data practices, are essential for making the best of such a tool. 

Additionally, it can be difficult for businesses to mobilize their employees to use BI – and to do it in the right way. For one, there may be internal resistance to change, which needs to be skillfully navigated. Another major factor that can have a negative impact is the excessive workload of the staff. It may not allow them to spare time for learning and innovating their working methods. This also relates to whether or not the company provides sufficient training for employees, which depends on financial resources and general willingness to promote the use of BI.  

What is Tableau?

In the BI space, you can find a wide variety of platforms that boast different sets of useful functionalities. Tableau is one of the most prominent ones. Let’s see when Excel could be a Tableau alternative.

It started as a computer science project at Stanford back in 2003. Growing exponentially since then, it became a leading player in the BI field. Its success led to Salesforce’s acquisition of Tableau in 2019

In a nutshell, Tableau is a self-service analytics platform that offers businesses data visualization, so they can get a full picture of their work. Its goal is to help business leaders nurture a new data culture, which empowers them to change how a company is being run. 

Tableau’s biggest power is its ability to visualize data for its easier exploration and management. It integrates with many data sources, including Microsoft SQL Server, Excel, Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, Google Sheets, and SAP HANA, among others. Its partner ecosystem includes most of the big names, such as Azure, Google Cloud, and SAP. 

Its connectivity and flexibility have made Tableau a top choice for companies seeking the right BI tool. Nevertheless, some businesses still stick to using Excel for their data analysis. Let’s dig into a comparison of the capabilities and perks of Excel and BI tools. 

Comparison of BI tools and Excel data analysis

At first, it can be difficult to differentiate between the purposes of Business Intelligence platforms and the data analysis that can be done with Excel. 

Undoubtedly, a BI tool like Tableau is much more powerful and intuitive than Excel. After all, the former is advanced in many respects, most notably in terms of data visualization, while the latter is a spreadsheet tool. However, using Tableau or another BI platform does not mean that Excel data analysis becomes obsolete. In fact, it is often considered a partial Tableau alternative or alternative to other BI systems. 

Many companies use the two alongside each other for different purposes, both of which are beneficial for business insights. 

Using Excel for data analysis

The positive sides of Excel are numerous, which makes it one of the most commonly used business tools. It’s among the most well-known products on the market and, in a sense, it feels like everyone is using it. That’s why it’s also one of the main contendents for a solid Tableau alternative.

Excel can be set up quickly, which makes it easy to adopt. Most companies are already using it, which means that most of their reports, dashboards, and charts are stored and handled in that tool. Its popularity also means that getting support and acquiring know-how is not difficult, since many people know a lot about it. 

Excel’s approach to working with data is to streamline it into spreadsheets. It stores information in a tabular format, allowing for the execution of complex calculations through its numerous functionalities. Excel is known as a great tool for data creation and for applying elaborate formulas. It’s practical to use for data pre-processing, as well as for multi-layered calculations. Thus, Excel can be a good Tableau alternative for a big chunk of a company’s data analysis. 

Finanzplan-App data analysis chart
Turn Excel data analysis into a mobile dashboard app

While it is a powerful solution, Excel has its downsides and is not the best option for all business needs. Data discovery, for example, is difficult, as it requires you to already have an idea where the data is leading you to get an insight. 

It can also be quite challenging to go through endless spreadsheets that are not in a visual form. You have to sift through the data and figure out trends on your own. Then you can recreate some of it in graphics, but the options in this respect are limited. This makes finding and visualizing correlations complicated and labor-heavy. In this respect, Excel is not a good Tableau alternative. 

The pluses and minuses of BI tools like Tableau 

BI platforms such as Tableau work with data in a different way than Excel. Their focus is on visualizing the information to make it more accessible and easy to operate with. 

In the battle whether Excel can be a solid Tableau alternative, the BI tool certainly wins in many categories. It provides a higher level of data connectivity and solidity. It’s also more resilient when it comes to bugs and mistakes that can compromise the data quality. In the case of Excel, you’d usually need an expert to fix such cases. Tableau is also the winner in terms of scalability, as it can work with huge amounts of data – in the range of one billion records and beyond. 

At the same time, several factors may stop a company from moving to a BI system. One of the biggest hurdles can be cost considerations, as BI platforms entail a significant financial investment. Additionally, when all existing business data is already in Excel, such as charts and reports, it may be difficult to make the shift. It would require manually recreating all in the BI tool, which needs a serious effort.

To start using the new platform, employees typically would need onboarding and training. This may entail hiring an in-house expert of an external consultant to set up Tableau and educate the team to work with it properly. Besides being expensive, this may also spur internal resistance if the change is not fully accepted. 

Undoubtedly, BI can provide great business insights. However, if a company does not develop a clear BI strategy, using a platform may still not achieve a real impact. Furthermore, the data records that need to be handled are usually in the range of 10,000 and rarely exceed one million. This means that the scalability of BI may not be a factor in the choice of many companies with more modest data sets. For them, using Excel may be a good Tableau alternative.

The power of no-code apps to boost Excel data analysis

Using a no-code platform such as Open as App together with your Excel spreadsheets can be a great way to handle your data analysis needs. By doing this, you can remedy some of the disadvantages of Excel.  

Some businesses actually use both a BI tool like Tableau, as well as the powerful combination of Excel and no-code apps. They employ the two options for different business purposes. Depending on your company size and necessities, you can use the combo as a Tableau alternative, or instead of it.

By using Open as App and Excel, you can create a wide range of tools that would complement your data analysis. You can build mobile dashboard apps, as well as interactive simulations. It’s also possible to build calculation apps that allow you to make complex computations straight from your phone. You can also easily handle and automate routine reporting

Open as App also allows you to use all Excel functionalities, but at the same time, they are made available in the form of a safe app. Your source data remains in the original spreadsheets but is not visible in the app. This means you can share it securely with different stakeholders while protecting your business know-how.  

In terms of performance, Open as App gives Excel a significant boost, thus making the two a good option for a Tableau alternative. It allows the wide distribution of an app and the data it contains. The no-code platform also offers a cost-friendly solution to handling many tasks that otherwise would require a BI system. 

As an illustration of the use of Open as App and Excel, let’s say that you want to boost the reporting on your company’s performance. By using the combination of the two tools, you can easily set up a mobile dashboard where you can monitor how a set of factors influence how other values develop. 

For example, you can create a reporting app to simulate dynamically changing values such as market growth, deal sizes, and costs. In case the report shows that there was a market growth of 3%, a BI system would not be able to inform you what happens if there is a decrease of 1% or an increase of 5%. Thus, you need to use Excel to make this simulation for your planning. In it, you can change an input value and get re-calculation in the tool in real-time. 

This is an essential step to make bulletproof conclusions to inform your business decisions. With Open as App, you get the calculation power of Excel alive in an app.

Get started with no-code apps for Excel data analysis

Whether you’re using a BI platform like Tableau alongside Excel or not, you can still explore new ways for data analysis. Combining Excel with Open as App’s automatic app creation functionalities provides you with the tool to build the right extensions for optimal data handling.

Ready to try out Open as App’s powers? You can get started with our app creation wizard to craft your business apps. 

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