Excel Spreadmart Business Process Automation with Tableau

In the last 30 years, many successful organizations have evolved key internal business processes by heavily leveraging Microsoft Excel.   Microsoft Excel was created in the mid-1980’s and is an extremely valuable tool at the individual Desktop level. However, through the proliferation of Spreadmarts, a great many organizations have leaned on Excel to manage divisional and even Enterprise Operations including critical areas like financial consolidations. These cross-functional workflows involve several organizational units responsible for collecting business system transactions, modifying this raw data, consolidating, transforming, pivoting and preparing data into a published set of Reports & Graphs – all in MS Excel.  Such workflows are a burden to organizations – not repeatable, very costly, time-consuming, inflexible and hard to scale.  Business critical processes such as financial analysis, operational analysis and revenue analysis are often supported this way.  Attempting to replace such systems can be quite daunting and a barrier to replace.  However, there is an easy to understand approach and methodology to move from an operational workflows in Excel to true automated Business Intelligence using Tableau.


Major steps in any Excel automation process include data collection, technical feasibility and current state gap analysis which are the backbone of a sound data strategy.  Data Strategy refers to an organization’s solution for a data structure based on the organization’s requirements. The automation of this process might include back-end data preparation but with the emergence of the newer modern BI platforms like Tableau, the process has become much easier.  Tableau can connect directly to a data source or can be extracted to work in-memory.  A data strategy often includes a combination of both types of data access.  By default, Tableau provides a real-time experience by issuing a new query every time the user changes their analysis.  While this can be very beneficial, the query can also be an issue if datasets are large or data sources are underperforming or even offline.  When data is not constantly changing (volatile transactional data), real-time queries create unnecessary workload.


Although daunting, according to TDWI the average ROI in the excel business process automation is over $3.3  Million with an average payback period of just over 2 years.  More significant, the key folks that are spending time managing these manual processes are now freed up to work on strategic initiatives involving data, including advanced analytics and the introduction of big data to their organizations.  Excel is a wonderful tool, but was never designed to manage an organization.  In 2016, this no longer has to be the case, with some preparation, and expertise, take the leap!