From education to employment

Leveraging the data from within: Microsoft data reporting for business

Microsoft Excel: the data dominator

A quick search for online courses in Microsoft Excel and its lesser-known “business intelligence interactive data visualization software” Power BI turns up tens of thousands of courses on training websites across Udemy and Reed alone.

Microsoft’s revolutionary 1992 advert saw an anxious white-collar worker in a stress about an unprepared quarterly projections report, only to be wowed by his colleague’s ability to “perform a miracle” and auto-fill trends, totals and dates in a matter of minutes. On-lookers exclaim “my spreadsheet doesn’t do that!” and the rest is history – Microsoft Excel’s data dominance was cemented in businesses around the world.

Microsoft Excel is one of those tools used in most businesses. Other options include Apple’s Numbers and Google Sheets, but with the market dominance of Microsoft’s business packages, Excel is the be-all-end-all for data management and storage.

According to figures, Excel is accessed by a whopping 1.1 billion people – which translates to 1 in 8 people around the world. Figures also suggest that Microsoft Office users typically spend more than a third of their time (38%) using Excel.

Excel makes it easy to manage data and visualise information. Of the available options for data analytics, Excel offers arguably the best balance of power and accessibility; spreadsheets provide powerful functionality such as graphs, pivot tables, and formulas, but are more accessible than advanced tools such as SQL.

Excel is also compatible with many other popular data analytics tools, such as Google Sheets, and can interface with more advanced data analytics options such as Python, as both are compatible with the popular “csv” data storage format.

It’s used across departments in most businesses – finance, accounts, marketing, sales, senior management, admin, and more. Excel is the Swiss Army Knife for business data analytics. It is a powerful yet accessible jack-of-all-trades solution for business needs such as quick data storage and manipulation, collaboration with data, automating tasks, and more.

Although a business may want to use more advanced tools as they scale, most businesses can save time, get the answers they need, and ensure smooth operations on the day-to-day by using spreadsheet technologies. Ultimately, Excel is the most easy-to-learn and widely-used data analytics tool for businesses, and that’s not going to change.

Power BI: the next level

For those businesses looking to leverage those more advanced data analysis tools, comes Microsoft’s Power BI.

Launched in 2011, Microsoft’s marketing for Power BI is not nearly as slick and easy-to-grasp as its 1990s ancestor. Microsoft describes it as “an interactive data visualization software product with a primary focus on business intelligence”. Any wiser?

In a nutshell. Power BI is able to absorb vast amounts of data in various forms (sheets, tables, graphs), and, with the click of a button, turn it into easy-to-digest visuals for presentations or interpretation. It allows users to engage and interact with data in new, intuitive and natural ways.

Excel also carries some of this functionality, but Power BI makes it far more intuitive and accessible (once you know how it works).

Power BI’s second selling point is its collaboration abilities thanks to integration with Excel and its Cloud-based setup. In Power BI workspaces, teams share the ownership and management of their dashboards, reports, datasets, and workbooks.

Sometimes Power BI users organise their workspaces based on organisational structures, or they create them for specific projects. Other organisations use several workspaces to store different versions of reports or dashboards they use. Workspaces provide roles that determine what permissions your co-workers have, and those roles determine who can manage the workspace, edit and distribute, or just view content.

Power BI is the step up from Excel; after a bit of a learning curve, it’s one of those tools you wished you’d started using years ago.

Everyone can use Excel! Right…? And Power BI can’t be that hard!

You would think that, considering the vast popularity and market dominance of a tool like Excel, the majority of business workers around the world would be trained on its basic functions and more advanced purposes. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

A 2022 report by Acuity showed that over half (52%) of Microsoft Excel users have never had any formal training in the program.

Is this because everyone is a whiz-kid at data dabbling? Not really. The study also showed that on average, 12% of Excel sheets contained “serious errors”.

Despite its steady popularity for organising and manipulating data, employees are often left to learn Excel on their own. Because of this lack of training, many users only tap a fraction of Excel’s capabilities, having learned what they know through trial and error (sometimes a lot of error).

Ask yourself this – how many of Excel’s functions are you even aware of? And how many calculations or functions are you currently performing manually because no-one has shown you how to automate them in Excel? It’s a classic case of “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Most organisations have an “Excel Guru” – someone who people turn to fix a broken sheet in an emergency, or to work out how to create some complex calculation. This invaluable business superhero is probably the person who suffered through the most amount of the trial and error we mentioned earlier. According to figures, people need help with an Excel issue from colleagues twice per week, and 9% of these issues take longer than 30 minutes to fix.

Even more worrying, 12% of people have seen an Excel mistake cost their organisation in excess of £10,000. Not surprising when a simple formula mistake could seriously disrupt budgets and projections. The keen-eyed among you will have noticed that in our 1990s Excel advert from Microsoft, the task is to show a 10% increase in figures. However, using Excel’s autofill, the wizard actually only adds $100 to each figure (which ceases to be 10% after the first quarter). So if Microsoft’s own advertising suffers from Excel usage mistakes, what hope do the rest of us have?

Which begs the question – where’s the actual training in a tool used by millions of businesses and workers around the world? On top of that, how can organisations hope to grasp Excel’s more complicated sister program Power BI?

Microsoft offers easy-to-digest tutorials on most of the programme’s functions, and we’ve already talked about the thousands of free online training resources online. But this requires employees to go out of their way to upskill themselves. And who has the time in a busy work week?

Investment in training = a thriving business

While structured training opportunities within businesses are far more common now than they used to be, there are still plenty of organisations that take an “as and when” approach to training. Formal training requires time, money, planning, and a business need. It also requires ownership – should this be led by line managers, HR, a dedicated L&D team?

There are plenty of reasons that training takes a back seat to the everyday needs of a business, but the reality is that employees are crying out for opportunities to further their knowledge and growth. Gone are the days of “free tea and coffee” or “table tennis table” being benefits. A quick look on job boards will see that, on top of post-covid perks like remote working and casual dress, time off work for training, and a learning and development allowance are high on the list.

The employers that gain and retain the strongest, most proactive employees are the ones who invest time and resources into formal training. Demonstratable training is beneficial to all concerned – an organisation can demonstrate investment in their staff and a forward-thinking approach to business development; and employees get to add new competencies to their skillset and CV.

On top of this, learning and development encourages employees to continually thrive to be the best they can be, and to grow as a person – qualities that every organisation should want in their workforce.

Microsoft Excel and Power BI training has specific benefits for businesses and their employees. We’ve talked about how commonplace these tools are and the value they can add to any business. Data tool training makes employees more efficient, ensures that everyone is “singing from the same hymn sheet”, and is able to resolve any issues that come their way.

Rolling out this training across a whole business is a no-brainer for businesses that want to leverage a higher level of data organisation and management.

We know what you’re thinking – what about the cost? While it’s true that structured training requires an investment from organisations in terms of time and planning, the cost can be minimal, or even free.

Free Microsoft Excel & Power BI training from The B2W Group

The B2W Group are working their partners as part of Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s three-year fully-funded Skills for Growth programme. Funded through the European Social Fund, Skills for Growth plugs the skills gaps in priority sectors across Greater Manchester and brings essential in-demand business skills to employees who are keen to grow their knowledge, competencies and experience.

The Digital Careers Upskill Programme offers employees and businesses in Greater Manchester access to fully-funded short digital and business skills courses.

During these focused bootcamp courses, you can expect fully Government-funded training, remote enrolment and induction from the comfort of your own home, online, 1-2-1, and group support, and a delivery plan designed around you. These courses are designed to support personal progression routes and ambitions, and can be used as a pathway into further learning, including Level 3 and Level 4 up-skill apprenticeships and distance learning opportunities.

EXCEL – Learn the fundamentals of Microsoft Excel to leverage one of business’s most-used data and reporting tools. This formalised structured training is ideal for both beginner Excel user and those more comfortable with Excel’s advanced tools and functions.

POWER BI & DATA ANALYTICS: Learn how to easily connect to, model, and visualise your data, creating memorable reports personalised with your KPIs and brand. Get fast, AI-powered answers to your business questions, even when asking with conversational language.

Sign up for your business –

Related Articles