For Business Intelligence and Reporting, the Client is Excel

May 7 2012

Microsoft recently released Management Reporter 2012 and a lot of people are excited.  The Management Reporter team has been very accessible and they've done an admirable job of tackling questions and promoting the new release. However, I'm stuck on one significant flaw of Management Reporter.  It's not Excel. 

About Mark Polino

Mark Polino is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a former Microsoft MVP (2007-2018) for Business Solutions. He is the author or coauthor of 5 books related to Microsoft Dynamics GP.  Mark also maintains the Dynamics GP focused website He speaks and writes regularly about ERP related topics. Mark has been a controller and CFO for a division of a publicly traded company and he has  worked as a consultant implementing ERP solutions. Mark holds additional certifications including Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP), Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) , Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA). Dynamics Credentialed Professional for Dynamics GP 2015 (Core Install and Core Financials), Xero Certified. He holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of Central Florida and an MBA from Rollins College. Mark lives with his family in Florida.

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RickSchultz's picture

Mark, I've been using Excel for about 15 years now. While I fully appreciate your perspective on this, and recognize that Excel (for better or worse) is the defacto client for most BI (intentionally or otherwise), there are some glaring issues with Excel that make it less than desirable as a cornerstone for a BI implementation. First off, there's the ubiquitous user error. I have spent a lot of time building user apps in Excel, locking cells and putting in formatting macros to make SURE that the user will never need to touch anything sensitive...and then they do something I never expected and the whole thing crashes. Excel's flexibility is delightful, except when it allows so many options that you can't safely say you've covered all the bases. Second, Excel is very poor as a data repository (although it's often used as one). Having worked in FP&A for many small to mid size clients, I know that any data set which lives and is updated IN EXCEL is eventually going to corrupt. Having data live outside Excel is always preferable. In short, once you have your data set, and you want to perform additional formatting/analysis on that data set, Excel is great. Getting the data, however, is better suited to a more-structured application (like an FRx) which will make sure you're getting the right data every time. That said, I think the interface for MR could do with a lot of improvement. I just don't see something as flexible as Excel being the right starting point for critical analysis.

mpolino's picture

Rick, The point is that with other tools (deFacto, BI 360, Hyperion, you name it) the data still resides in the database. Excel is NOT the data repository, it's simply the presentation layer. Simplifying, it's a lot like GP's refreshable Excel reports. Refreshing Excel brings in the latest data for financial reporting and you have all of Excel's tools for formatting. Excel in my experience is ALWAYS the analysis layer. Users just export from MR or FRx today for analysis today. On the budget side, again, Excel is the input layer but the budget actually resides inside of a database and is subject to workflow and approval before updating. A big difference is the transparency behind it. If a user makes a mistake, it's possible to find the mistake in a spreadsheet. For many tools today, I see users using Excel to build the model and then keying the data into another budget package. With that approach you add keying errors and lose the transparency of where a number originated from. Last thing, I looked at every mid-market Corporate Performance offering I could find for the Dynamics space for an upcoming presentation I'm working on. On the financial reporting side, every single product uses Excel as the reporting interface. Every one. The fact is that the market has spoken and Excel is the client. Mark

JoeK's picture

Mark, While I agree with the concerns around Excel as a potential data silo and uncontrolled area for key business calculations, I completely agree with the points that you make. Host the data in the database or Cubes and also any complex calcs that need to be controlled for consistency. It is also my experience that users are most at ease with doing analysis in Excel. I look forward to further integration of AX with Excel as its reporting tool and while MR is a definite improvement on FRx, it still adds to much of a tech requirement to truely empower the business users. JK