The Hidden Challenges for Business Analytics -- Fighting the Spreadsheets War

Ask anyone who is working with data. What is your biggest challenge? the answer most of the times is "the inability to use our data fully". This and similar statements signify one common thread of pain that is affecting almost every other business serious about growth, want to leverage their data, but for some reason are unable to . With data growing at 44% over the next 10 years, it goes without saying that your business is going to be inundated with data from all sides. With "Making profit" on the minds of over 35% SMB survey respondents, it goes without saying that the challenge is multi-fold with being able to sustain business and ensure profitability being prime.

How is SMB Analysing Data
One of the most common ways of managing information and data in general has traditionally been through the use of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets applications such as Microsoft Excel and others have changed the way we manage information and work with information on an everyday basis. Information workers really benefited from spreadsheets and fro that we should really credit the companies that invented them.

In today's data intensive applications and a time when data is being generated to the tune of zettabytes, some of the challenges that have arisen because of this.

Spreadsheets are Great But !
There are over 750 million Excel users worldwide. These users comprise of power users, casual users, and users who manage every aspect of their business performance in Excel. The usage of spreadsheets has become more rampant not only in the financial side of things but also in every other aspect of business. This to the extent that users and organizations today are glued to spreadsheets like never before. Business operations today are fed by an intricate maze of connected spreadsheets that define price lists, financial models, revenue projections, production data, weather data, patterns, forecasts and more. Spreadsheets have also led to the phenomenon of 'spreadsheet addiction" where spreadsheets are being used to do every aspect of business, in essence jeopardizing the essence of business. One example that I can point out is actually that of a large bank that inaccurately used Excel to generate a financial projection that potentially jeopardized the entire organization. Here take a peek at the Report of "JPMorgan Chase & Co. Management Task Force Regarding 2012 CIO Losses" that will give you a completely different perspective on how Excel was used in the most inappropriate financial manner. Let's for once agree now that while excel sheets have tremendous features and functionality, they are not a swiss army knife of data and information.

The problem with Business Intelligence and Analytics
BI and Analytics forms a key strategic part of a business that is key to the overall success of the organization. To do justice to Excel, I must mention that Excel was never designed to be a Business Intelligence and Analytics platform. Imagine using your Chevy to plow the fields. Yes it can be done with due medications and a large amount of welding, breaking and re-welding, but its not meant to be. Its not what it was designed to do. It's the same case with Excel. It is not a BI tool and was never designed to be one, so Mr. IT Manager knows it all, just stop.

Why Exactly is Spreadsheet Usage so Rampant ?
Excel is conveniently available as part of your Microsoft Office. Other companies use excel in this format, Excel is easy to use, Excel has Pivot Charts, Excel has graphs and charts, I can design a macro in Excel. And so on. These are some of the answers we got when we asked a random set of excel BI users why they were using Excel for Analytics. Not one of them responded that they were using Excel because it was one of the best BI tools they had ever seen. I hope you get the picture. I don't blame any of this on Excel or spreadsheets but the whole blame is on vendors who have failed to inform their customers of the true value they can unlock with a true analytics platform or solution. A system based on sharing files is also prone t the problem of data insecurity. Spreadsheets are stored on network shares, private computers, on nonsecure online applications and as things go face the problem of not being bale to maintain versions and security in the most efficient way. Adding to that is the problem of the inability of easily integrating with multiple data sources that hold your data. This now being cloud databases plus many more. I hope you are seeing the larger picture.

Do you Really Want data To Drive Intelligence for Your Business
You have got to start thinking differently. With Business Intelligence or Analytics, you have to go through a new route to get to the destination you really want to go to. Traditional ways of IT that worked 20 years ago have really transformed and the battle today is more about helping people lose their bad habits than helping them adapt and build new habits. Building habits although time consuming may have an effect on your bottom line and If you are one of the businesses that are looking for sustenance and profitability, leave alone growth you may need to emphasize this more than anything else. BI challenges are faced by companies of all sizes and every type of business. Data analysis users within these organizations are still battling the demons of spreadsheets just like anyone else. Start thinking of your needs perspective and look at best practices that help you achieve more in less time with fewer resources. In many cases you can use the investment in manual time-consuming tasks to scale building applications and growth that will help your business grow.

Whether you have challenges at a small business level or at the enterprise level, they need to be solved with the right tools and problems in mind. You can think different, act different and be different, but to know the real picture you have to analyse right, not one time, but every single time.

About Ian Khan: I am the Author of Cloud Wars, The Internet of Things & the Future of Innovation, Make Me Like You, 21 Steps, Get Ahead . I am a Technology & Business leader, deeply passionate about helping people and businesses simplify their understanding of technology and how it can help derive more value for the betterment of humanity. I work with organizations of all sizes, evangelizing technologies such as Cloud Computing, Internet of Things, Business Intelligence and the Internet. Reach out to me to learn more about Cloud computing technologies, IoT and beyond. More than anything else I am a mentor, a business coach and a friend to many people, all of who bring enormous joy to my life. Visit me at to learn more

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