Spreadsheets vs BI - When to Use One Over the Other

As a C-suite executive, you know that data is critical to informing decisions across all departments in your company. But with so many different options for collecting and analyzing data, it can be tough to know which tools to use for which purposes. In this blog post, we'll pit spreadsheets against business intelligence (BI) platforms and help you determine when to use one over the other.

On the surface, spreadsheets and BI platforms may seem like they offer similar functionality. After all, both allow you to collect data from various sources, manipulate that data, and generate reports based on your findings. However, there are some key differences between the two that can make one more suited for certain tasks than the other. Let's take a closer look at each tool to see when you should use a spreadsheet vs a BI platform.

Spreadsheets: When to Use Them

Spreadsheets are typically best suited for tasks that are relatively simple and don't require real-time data. For example, if you need to track monthly sales figures or budget costs for the upcoming quarter, a spreadsheet will likely suffice. Additionally, because spreadsheets are less expensive and easier to learn than most BI platforms, they're a good option if you're working with limited resources.

However, there are some drawbacks to using spreadsheets for data analysis. First, because spreadsheets are designed for one person to use at a time, they're not ideal for collaboration. If multiple people need to access and edit the same spreadsheet, it can quickly become confusing and difficult to manage. Additionally, because spreadsheets are not built specifically for analyzing data, they can be limiting when it comes to more complex tasks such as tracking event attendance or click-through rates.

BI tools: When to Use Them

BI tools are designed specifically for manipulating and analyzing large amounts of data in real-time. This makes them ideal for tasks that require up-to-the-minute accuracy or collaboration among multiple users. For example, if you need to monitor website traffic or campaign ROI in real-time, a BI platform will likely be your best bet. Additionally, because BI platforms offer pre-built templates and drag-and-drop functionality, they tend to be much easier to use than spreadsheets once you get the hang of them.

It used to be that BI tools were expensive, hard to setup, and require more training to use effectively. That's not the case anymore. Today's BI platforms are cloud-based and easy to use, with a wide range of features that can be accessed by anyone in your organization.

So when should you use a spreadsheet, and when should you switch to a BI platform? Here are some factors to consider:

1. Data size: If you're working with a small data set - less than 500 rows - then a spreadsheet is probably enough. But if your data set is larger than that, or if it's growing quickly, then you might want to consider using a BI platform.

2. Data complexity: If your data is fairly simple - for example, if it's all in one table with a few columns - then a spreadsheet can handle it. But if your data is more complex - for example, if you have multiple tables with hundreds of columns - then you'll need a BI platform to effectively analyze it.

3. Data visualization: Spreadsheets are limited in their ability to visualize data. If you need to create complex charts and reports, then you'll need a BI platform.

4. Data sharing: If you need to share your data with others in your organization, then a BI platform is a better option than a spreadsheet. BI platforms offer features like collaboration and security that make it easy to control who has access to your data and what they can do with it.


So when should you use a spreadsheet vs a BI platform? The answer is simple: Spreadsheets are best suited for relatively simple tasks that don't require real-time data while BI platforms are best suited for more complex tasks that require up-to-the minute accuracy or collaboration among multiple users. Of course, there are exceptions to every ruleā€”but in general, following these guidelines should help you choose the right tool for the job at hand.