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4/14/2010
01:35 PM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Taxes and Why Excel Remains the Number-One BI Tool (sort of)

It's tax day tomorrow. Are you done? I do tend to procrastinate, but one thing I can count on to help in my tax preparation is my annual American Express statement in Excel format. Or so I thought...

It's tax day tomorrow. Are you done?

I do tend to procrastinate, but one thing I can count on to help in my tax preparation is my annual American Express statement in Excel format. Or so I thought. Until this year when some clueless person in IT decided a new reporting-like interface would be better than the former Excel export. Like many in BI who have been burned by spreadmarts, they clearly failed to consider how people use the information before doing away with the Excel export.

The Excel export actually made me use my American Express card more. Throughout the year, I worried less about recording every business expense, medical bill, and charitable contribution knowing I would have my annual credit card statement as a back up. At tax preparation time, I could save all the year's transactions to Excel. American Express does a good job of classifying expenses. All I had to do was scan them to flag the ones that are tax deductible. Excel's auto filter would let me then view just the tax deductible line items that I could then print and send to my tax preparer. It was wonderful.This year, to my surprise and frustration, was a different story. The year-end summary has more BI-like capabilities. I can drill down on expense groupings and time. I can even create a pretty chart to compare how much I spend on travel versus advertising.

But that wasn't what I was trying to do. Ultimately, I had to print a PDF of the whole year and rekey in the tax-related expenses into a spreadsheet. I was not happy, and it quadrupled the amount of time I normally would have spent on this task.

The BI industry has long had a love-hate relationship with Excel. Disparate, disconnected spreadsheets can be a liability to information integrity. At the same time, Excel is often the preferred BI interface because it allows for interactivity and data manipulation, critical capabilities in business intelligence. A number of BI vendors now have Excel interfaces that provide a live connection to the BI environment. In this survey I just completed on BI ease of use, 58% of companies surveyed said they are using this capability. While this is more than other recent innovations, I have to wonder about the other 42%. I suspect they are stuck in export mode, or worse, rekeying the data.

As I wrote in this BI Scorecard report four years ago but still valid today, "when leveraged correctly, spreadsheet integration can help extend the reach of BI." I think the challenge for BI teams continues to be recognizing Excel's role, understanding the appropriate uses, and managing its use within the BI environment. American Express clearly missed the user requirements in its redesigned interface.

Sincerely, Cindi Howson, BI ScorecardIt's tax day tomorrow. Are you done? I do tend to procrastinate, but one thing I can count on to help in my tax preparation is my annual American Express statement in Excel format. Or so I thought...

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