Excel vs. Power Bi: Which is Right for Your Business?

It’s likely that you have some experience with Microsoft products. Whether you’re using Windows on a PC or writing documents in Microsoft Word, there are many business solutions available from Microsoft.

Power BI and Excel Logo

A lot of businesses use Microsoft Excel to create spreadsheets, organize and analyze customer data, then use said data to take action. 

While Microsoft Excel is a great business tool, the company has developed another system for collecting, sorting and analyzing data on a larger scale. 

That solution is Microsoft Power BI, a business intelligence (BI) program that allows you to connect various data points, create visualizations to illustrate that data, and share information easily among your employees and colleagues to provide actionable insights. 

But which is better for your company, Excel or Power BI? 

In this article, we’ll give you the information you need to understand the pros and cons of both Excel and Power BI. We’ll also recommend the best choice for you based on the size and type of your business.

Product Overviews 

Microsoft Excel

Chart Depicting Pros and Cons of Excel

What Does Excel Offer?

Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet tool that can be used to create electronic worksheets with tables and rows. 

Data points are stored in cells. Manually entered formulas can manipulate these cells to show information in various ways. Excel can be used to create graphs, charts and presentations by highlighting a particular insight. 

What is Excel’s Target Market?

As a part of Microsoft Office, Excel is designed for smaller businesses. Larger businesses would have a lot more data to sift through and would want an automated platform, not one where you have to manually enter everything.

How Much Does Excel Cost?

Microsoft Excel on its own costs $139.99 through the Microsoft store. A subscription is available as part of Microsoft 365 for $99.99 per year for up to six users.

Microsoft Power BI

Chart Depicting Pros and Cons of Power BI

What Does Power BI Offer?

Power BI is an enterprise-grade business intelligence tool. It connects various data sources (including Excel spreadsheets) into one centralized platform. 

Power BI is a cloud-based analytic solution that gives you a full overview of your most critical data. It makes sharing simple, so all your findings can easily be sent to colleagues and employees. 

The scalable, customizable dashboards of Power BI make it easy for users to create visualizations. Power BI has a drag and drop interface, so users of all skill levels can quickly learn how to use it. 

Power BI is mostly automated, whereas Excel is run manually.

What is Power BI’s Target Market?

Power BI is intended for mid-sized to enterprise-level businesses that have more money to spend.

How Much Does Power BI Cost?

Microsoft Power BI has three levels of service. 

  • Desktop: Desktop is a free tier for individual users. 
  • Pro: The Pro Plan for Power BI costs $9.99 per user, per month. 
  • Premium: Power BI’s Premium tier is $4,995 per month, per dedicated cloud compute and storage resource. 

Click here to check out our comprehensive review of everything Power BI has to offer.

Excel vs Power BI: 3 Essential Variables of Business Intelligence Solutions

How do Excel and Power BI tackle some of the most important tasks related to business intelligence solutions? 

Here’s a comparison of how each solution handles three key BI functions.

Data Discovery

Excel on Data Discovery

When working with Excel, you need to already know where the data needs to lead you if it’s going to be of any use. What you put into it is what you get back. 

Excel saves data in a tabular format, so you’re going to have to map the answers you’re looking for. 

One huge drawback for Excel when used by larger businesses is that you have to manually enter all your data and organize it yourself. You need to build formulas within your table, whereas with a BI tool, everything is automated. 

Power BI on Data Discovery

Power BI connects all of your data sets into one centralized platform. That means there’s less time associated with data capture and evaluation. 

It uses dashboards to correlate the data and then generate reports. You can also connect Power BI with Microsoft Azure and third-party databases alike.

Automation

Excel on Automation

To automatically refresh an Excel sheet, you’re going to have to manually program it to do so or create macros that’ll update the data automatically when you open a file. 

These macros can be created with Power Pivot and macro recorder tools. Advanced macros require knowledge of Visual Basic for Applications, a programming language. This is a very time-consuming process. 

Power BI on Automation

Power BI workspaces can be duplicated automatically. Data can be set to refresh on a set schedule. 

Microsoft Azure tasks and processes can also be automated through Power BI. 

Visualizations

Excel on Visualizations

Data on the cell level can be manipulated and used to manually create graphs, PowerPoint presentations and charts when using Excel. 

This process isn’t automated and has to be done manually. It also requires a strong understanding of Excel, and it might be confusing to those without technical training in Microsoft Office. 

Power BI on Visualizations

Power BI has data sets that are easy to upload. You’re able to choose from a number of visualizations and insert data from the sidebar. 

You can create visualizations by entering search style queries using conversational language. 

There is a 3,500 data-point limit when drilling into datasets for analysis. 

Excel vs Power BI: Which One is Right for Your Business? 

Now that you understand the major differences between Power BI and Excel, it’s time to determine which Microsoft product is better for your specific business. Below, we’ve outlined our recommendations for businesses based on the size and scale of the organization.

Graphic Depicting Excel Is Suitable for Small Businesses and Power BI Suitable for Large Businesses

Small Businesses and Startups:

If you’re a small business with a small budget, we recommend Microsoft Excel. 

Not only is it more affordable, but since you likely don’t have as much data to sift through as larger companies, Excel provides you with exactly what you need in order to scale. 

It’s also easier to find staffers who have knowledge and experience working with Excel. Most working professionals have some experience working with Microsoft Office programs like Excel, Word and PowerPoint. 

Startups, however, may want to consider Power BI. This is especially true for sole proprietorships. The free dashboard version is great when you only have one user, and it can provide you with actionable data that’ll help you scale up. 

Medium-Sized Businesses:

If you’re a medium-sized business, we recommend Power BI. The Pro version is priced very well and should fit into the budget of most mid-sized companies. 

This tool offers a lot more automation and more data sets than Excel, which will give you more actionable insights in much less time.

Enterprise-Level Businesses:

Enterprise businesses should consider Power BI’s Premium Plan. 

A company of this size has massive amounts of data, and users just don’t have the time to waste entering everything manually into Excel. 

The automation of Power BI is perfect for larger organizations. You can also use its visualizations to create actionable insights. 

If you’re looking for a complete rundown of business intelligence services or software to find the right one for your business, check out our BI buyer’s guide.

Final Thoughts 

Both Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Power BI are quality software solutions that have a place in the business world. 

However, the differences between them are vast. Depending on the size and structure of your business, coupled with how much data you’re working with, one will be better for you than the other. 

Smaller startups will have an easier time working with the simplicity and affordability of Excel. However, as your company scales upward, and you’re working with more and more data, you’re going to need something more powerful with automation and enhanced organization. That’s where a business intelligence solution like Power BI comes into play.

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