BI Trends

Kicking the Spreadsheet Habit: Why Users Still Export to Excel

By Charles Caldwell
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First, a quick history lesson for you. Did you know that spreadsheets were the killer apps that made desktop PCs a thing? According to eWeek, along with email, spreadsheet software was the application that most helped justify corporate deployment of PCs in huge numbers during the 1980s.

That’s 30+ years of crunching numbers within that familiar spreadsheet environment. What started out as a tool for accountants, financial analysts, stock traders and marketing managers, is now used in a million different ways across business and homes today.

And we’re hesitant to let Excel go.

Despite all the messages about Excel reporting pains by data discovery and cloud BI vendors, both IT and business users still value the ability to export data to Excel. Only 1 percent of IT and 6 percent of end user respondents said it’s not important to them in our recent State of Analytics Adoption survey.

So what is it about Excel that keeps users coming back? One reason could be users know they can blend and enrich data on the fly within Excel. Users can dump their data into a spreadsheet, combine it with other data sources, and cleanse the data – something they have been doing for years.

So when an application doesn’t offer the data preparation capabilities users need (or they only offer a heavy duty ETL tool), users will likely leave the curated garden and go out into the Excel wilderness.

Excel offers users a blank canvas to work with their data. Moreover, they know they can complete these tasks in a set amount of time in Excel. So even if an application offers easy to use, self-service data preparation, users still might resort to Excel because it’s a known quantity and they are comfortable using it.

What does this tell me? That we need to embed these capabilities deeper into the applications that people use every day.

If I’m a marketing manager trying to track the success of my campaigns, I can only do so much in my individual applications (e.g. Salesforce, Marketo, Unbounce). So I take all those data sets, drop them into Excel and play with the data to find the info I need. As soon as I exit those applications, they are losing my brand loyalty and I am losing precious time exporting data.

On the other hand, if one of my key applications allowed me to manipulate the data in various ways directly in my workflow, I can more quickly answer my questions and make decisions. The quicker I can turn off a campaign that is not working, the less money wasted – or the reverse, I can up my advertising spend on a campaign that is doing better than expected.

Spreadsheets and computers are always going to go together like peanut butter and jelly. But our reliance on Excel, and the time wasted exporting all our data out of our core applications, can be minimized when the right analytic and data prep capabilities are embedded within the applications we use every day.


Originally published November 22, 2016; updated on August 9th, 2017

About the Author

Charles Caldwell is the Vice President of Product Management at Logi Analytics. Charles came to Logi Analytics with a decade of experience in data warehousing and business intelligence (BI). He has built data warehouses and reporting systems for Fortune 500 organizations, and has also developed high-quality technical teams in the BI space throughout his career. He completed his MBA at George Washington with a focus on the decision sciences and has spoken at industry conferences on topics including advanced analytics and agile BI.