Excel V Power BI: Which is best for small business reporting?

Are you struggling to get useful, relevant metrics to support your day-to-day management decisions? Even when you know which KPIs to measure, it’s difficult to turn the data into meaningful information. In our recent webinar with EOS implementer Jason Green, we explored how to create a simple business scorecard. Scorecards help you manage your business better, particularly through the tough times ahead. Let’s look at the tools you can use to build one.

Businesses that can create and implement dashboard-type management scorecards…

  • Find the root cause of problems faster
  • Prevent problems recurring
  • Double down on growth initiatives or cost controlling measures

… because…

they use consistent data, from reliable sources, to inform their day-to-day management decisions.

How do I turn business data into useful management information?

When you visualise raw data to show performance against plan, this is the moment it becomes actionable information. From here, the data will inform your decisions. This level of business intelligence was previously enjoyed only by big businesses. It meant investment in expensive reporting tools and the analysts who use them. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case.

Small businesses leaders are now able to get a clear line of sight, including real-time analysis, using Microsoft tools such as Power BI. That said, it’s not always clear when you need Power BI or when a little bit of extra work with Excel might do the job.

Which tools are best for building management reports and scorecards for SMEs?

Many small businesses find that the tools available from Microsoft are already included as part of their existing Microsoft subscription. If not, they will be available at little extra cost. They are also pretty easy to use. Let’s take a closer look at the two most obvious tools for the job – Excel V Power BI.

Power BI for Small Businesses

Power BI is an affordable, self-service business intelligence (BI) platform from Microsoft that is pretty easy to use. It allows you to connect to and visualise data from a range of sources. Its dashboard-style interfaces are flexible and can be one hundred per cent tailored to meet your business needs. This type of interface is particularly easy to engage with. It allows you to view and easily digest KPIs using a full range of visualisations such as graphs, charts, gauges, traffic light scores and red flags.

Will Power BI replace Excel?

Spreadsheets like Excel serve many different purposes. Most employees use Excel at some point every day. Not only does it help you organise and manipulate information, you can use it for quite sophisticated management reporting. For example, most Financial Directors use Excel to present high level accounting information. You might also use it to review sales forecasts or marketing performance. The key user in each team might already be an advanced Excel user. They will be able to get the information into a format that you want, easily. With Power BI, the technical ability is all centred on the creation of the reporting pack with expertise needed to connect the data behind the scenes. Once this is done, you can build an engaging, visual report.

Excel has a much wider range of applications than Power BI, yet Power BI is a more advanced reporting tool. Business leaders should weigh up the advantages and drawbacks when evaluating Excel V Power Bi for their business need.

When should I consider Power BI over a spreadsheet?

Data Volume

One of the key differences you find when evaluating Excel V Power BI is the volume of data that each can handle. Power BI can handle millions of rows of data at tremendous speed. With Excel, you might reach an uncomfortable point if the quantity of data exceeds maximum volume for the tool.

Cloud-Based Advantages

Once you’ve built your dashboard in Power BI, you can publish the report to end users via Microsoft’s Cloud services. This means there is only one source of truth when it comes to the versions and readiness of data. Excel is not so well geared up for collaborative working; you will need to share the dataset via email or use an alternative online sharing tool. There can be problems with version control in Excel and updates don’t happen in real time.


Even though Power BI requires technical expertise to set up, it contains an extensive range of data visualisations. There are lots of ways to configure Excel to present data in meaningful ways however it may require advanced Excel user skills.

Custom Visualisations

You can import visualisations from external sources with Power BI. With Excel, users can only utilise the features within the software’s existing capability.

Single Source of Truth

With Power Bi, there is no risk of sharing out-of-date data via email. Everyone is always working on the live version in the Cloud.


Power BI is a new product so the skill base in the market is still relatively small. You will need a technical and business mindset to design and configure the ideal management reports. For your Power BI project, you might need to hire an expert to create a dashboard that works for your business. Excel, on the other hand, is everywhere and well known


There are tighter restrictions in Power BI when it comes to sharing your data with external sources. You can easily configure rules and user permissions. Sharing data in Excel with external parties has limited security.


Power BI’s dashboard functionality and its ability to visualise substantial amounts of data effectively is what makes it stand out from Excel. It is unlikely to replace Excel due to the sheer versatility of the spreadsheet that everybody loves to use. It’s more likely that Power BI becomes an extra, complementary item in your tech stack. Power BI has many uses when it comes to helping businesses utilise data and we expect to see more widespread use as business leaders begin to see the benefits of being able to make confident, connected, data-led decisions.

If you’re thinking of creating comprehensive management reporting, why not check out our webinar where we talk about how Excel and Power BI can help you Measure What Matters Most for your business.

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