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Creating Dashboards for Excel: The Limitations

insightsoftware -
May 21, 2019

insightsoftware is a global provider of reporting, analytics, and performance management solutions, empowering organizations to unlock business data and transform the way finance and data teams operate.

Blog Dashboards For Excel

The purpose of a business dashboard is to help you make quick, calculated decisions based on raw data. Instead of combing through data from different applications and spreadsheets, a manager should be able to open up a dashboard and quickly get a visual status update on a specific project.

When you have a dashboard that transforms your data and provides timely operational visibility, you are able to easily assess, track, and respond to changes that impact performance without any worries of inaccuracies or errors. This can apply from budgeting to project management to sales reporting.

Unfortunately, in the real world, many of us don’t have the right tools or technology in place to make this happen. So, when we can’t do something within our current business systems, where do we turn?

To the familiar tool we all know and love: Excel.

The 5 Problems with Creating Dashboards in Excel

To create a dashboard, you just need to be able to create different charts, tables, and other visual elements that give you a high-level overview of your data. As a flexible, cost-effective analysis tool, Microsoft Excel seems like a sensible solution when you’re starting out. Essentially, it helps you take your data and transform it into useful information, very similar to the way a dashboard needs to work.

The other plus is that there isn’t a huge learning curve, unlike external software designed for data visualization and performance measurement. It all seems like a great plan, up until the point you experience some of the time-consuming headaches and inefficiencies of creating, customizing, and maintaining those dashboards in Excel.

Dashboard design is a complex process in Excel. You definitely need to have a certain skill level and a clear idea of what you’re building in order to come out of it with a functional dashboard. You need to lay the appropriate groundwork, and it’s very easy to make mistakes. But apart from the skill and time required to create a personalized dashboard, there are five areas of concern with relying on Excel alone for your dashboards:

  1. Data Consolidation

    To build a dashboard, your data needs to exist in Excel. That means if you have multiple data sources, you need to import it all into an Excel workbook and clean it on your own. This is one of the biggest advantages you will get if you invest in a business intelligence solution.

  2. Version Control

    Most managers will want to share an important dashboard with their team, so everyone is working toward a common goal. Distributing an Excel spreadsheet can have a few side effects though, including certain charts breaking and lack of version control.

  3. Customization Options

    When it comes to customizing a dashboard in Excel, you have to rely on the chart wizard. Unless you’re an Excel wizard yourself, this can be time-consuming and have formatting limitations. It’s definitely not a simple drag-and-drop experience that a business intelligence solution can provide.

  4. Real-Time Updates

    One of the major downfalls of static Excel-based reporting is that it doesn’t show data in real-time. Unless you have a developer who can connect Excel to a database and automatically refresh the data, you’re going to be relying on dashboards with old data.

  5. Collaboration

    When developing goals and identifying KPIs for a dashboard, it’s important to include other employees and managers in these bigger discussions. Like the real-time data problem, it can be difficult to collaborate with other members of your organization when creating dashboards in Excel.

Go Beyond Excel with insightsoftware

As a Microsoft Dynamics customer, the best way to start working toward performance improvement and reaching your goals faster is to consider a more robust solution to handle your dashboards. To become a performance-driven culture fueled by data and insight, you need to have better data management practices in place and a business intelligence solution that can connect all of your data in one central location and transform it into an easy-to-digest format that helps drive instant decision-making and process adjustments.

To put the right information into the right hands, you can easily design and create a KPI dashboard by selecting queries and applying calculations within the BI tool itself. Most BI solutions come with a variety of pre-built dashboard and chart options. In Microsoft Dynamics solutions, KPIs can be set up through Power BI or another third-party BI tool that uses a live connection to the data source, like Jet Analytics.

Download our latest white paper for everything you need to know about how to identify performance measures, design KPI dashboards, and take advantage of business intelligence (built for Microsoft Dynamics). We’ve also included 10 best practices for building effective KPI dashboards.

How to Build Useful KPI Dashboards

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