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VisiCalc jubilee and history of Excel

Wed, October 19, 2011

Spreadsheets (VisiCalc was released by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston in October 1979 – 32 years ago – originally for Apple II computer and then were releases of Lotus 1-2-3, Excel etc.) were one of the very first Business Intelligence (BI) software. Its application in the BI field began with the integration of OLAP (On-Line Analytical Processing) and Pivot tables.


In 1991, Lotus released Improve with Pivoting functionality, followed by Microsoft’s release (in Excel 5) of PivotTable in 1993 (trademarked by Microsoft). Below you can find the discussion of PivotTable in Excel 2007 (before PowerPivot was released):


Essbase was the first scalable OLAP software to handle large data sets that the early spreadsheet software was incapable of. This is where its name comes from: Extended Spread Sheet Database (Essbase owned by Oracle now).  Currently one of the best OLAP and BI software is SSAS (Analysis Services from Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2) and Excel 2010 with its PowerPivot, PivotTables and Pivot Charts is one of the most popular front-end for SSAS.

There is no doubt that Microsoft Excel is the most commonly used software for BI purposes. While Excel is general business software, its flexibility and ease of use makes it popular for data analysis with millions of users worldwide. Excel has an install base of hundreds of millions of desktops: far more than any other BI platform. It has become a household name. From educational utilization to domestic applications and enterprise implementation, Excel has been proven incredibly indispensable. Most people with commercial or corporate backgrounds have developed a proficient Excel skillset. This makes Excel the ultimate self-service BI platform.

Excel as a BI Platform

Traditionally, small businesses are not considered as an important market segment by most BI vendors. Their data analysis and reporting needs are limited primarily due to their smaller commercial volumes. However, this is changing quickly as smaller organizations begin to collect large amounts of data, thanks to the Internet and social media, and require tools to manage that data. However, what is not changing is the limited financial resources available to them. Small businesses cannot spare to spend large amounts of money on BI software or consultants to aid them in the creation of the applications. That’s why Excel is the ideal platform for them and will most probably remain that way for a foreseeable future. The reasons are clear: (1) most of them already have Excel licenses, (2) most of their users know how to use Excel and (3) their needs are simpler and can be met with Excel.

Mid-range businesses are a quickly growing market segment for BI vendors. Traditionally, Excel as a BI platform has been more popular among these businesses. Cost and availability are the primary factors in this. Two reasons existed recently to search and alternatives to Excel 2003-07:  Excel 2003 can no longer handle their growing data volumes and other BI vendors started offering cost-effective alternatives like Google Apps or Data Visualization tools. As a result, Excel’s market share in was in decline (for Mid-range businesses market) until the release of Office 2010 and its extended capabilities for handling very large data sets. Now Excel 2010 with its free PowerPivot Add-in stands a good chance at reversing this decline.

Even in large Enterprises, usage of Excel for BI purposes is common. Business users often go to their data warehouses or BI tools and get a data extract to bring into Excel. They can then prepare their analysis and build their reports in Excel. Enterprises will continue using their existing BI platforms because they have made huge investments building those systems. However, Excel use by business users as their secondary BI and reporting tool will continue to rise unless the alternative vendors significantly improve their self-servicing capabilities.

PCA is your BI and Excel expert.

PCA has a huge and extensive experience with the usage of Excel as BI, prototyping and Analytical tool, as a front-end for BI applications, for SQL Server Analysis Services and for PowerPivot-based in-memory Columnar Databases and Multidimensional Cubes, as a starting point for complex BI and Analytical applications, migrating from Excel to Access, SQL Server, Smart Client and to internet toward Web-based BI Applications and even for embedding Excel-based applications into Smart Client and Web Applications! 

Contact Practical Computer Applications via email, phone: 617-527-4722 x127 
or Request For Information regarding our Database, Data Analytics or Data Visualization consulting services.

Andrei Pandre, Ph.D., VP of Data Visualization, Practical Computer Applications

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