Power BI vs Excel: When to Use Excel and When Power BI Is Better

Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.

Lots of businesses rely on business analytics to gain the upper hand and become more profitable

In our time today, there’s no need to perform the analytics manually.

There are many programs out there that can do that for you like Power BI and Excel.

But which one should you use?

In this article, we’ll discuss Power BI vs Excel and see which one is better.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Microsoft Excel

home page of microsoft excel

Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet program that’s part of the Office 365 Suite.

It’s one of the most commonly used programs in the business world. Also, it’s been dubbed as the “standard spreadsheet” making it the dominant program in its market.

In Excel, data are formatted in tabular forms with rows and columns. There, you can organize, format, do calculations on your data using formulas, and even make visual representations of them.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

What we like about Excel

Excel and Power BI are two great programs in their own spheres. Once you get to know both, you’ll realize that some of their features overlap or are similar. 

So for this section and the following ones, we’ll be mentioning things we like and don’t like about each program in comparison to the other.

Ad-hoc computations: Excel is good for quick computations and analyses.

With over 400 available functions categorized into 11 themes, you have more than enough functions to make your computations a breeze.

microsoft excel spreadsheet

Available for other needs: Unlike Power BI, Excel is like an all-around tool you can use.

Whenever you need to do other tasks, like data entry or scraping a website’s data, there’s no need to switch into a different app.

Advanced plotting and charting features: If you need a more sophisticated graph or chart, Excel has a better list.

In addition, Excel’s charts have more customization options. That gives you enough room to personalize your charts.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

What we don’t like about Excel

Inconvenient collaboration: Collaboration is a bit of a hassle in Excel. 

If your file isn’t on the cloud, then you’ll have to either share it across your LAN port or email it to each other.

Not free: To acquire Excel, you’ll have to either buy it as part of Office 365 or buy the standalone app.

For businesses who don’t have Office 365 or who’s not fond of Excel, they might find jumping into Power BI for business analytics-purposes more convenient.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Power BI

Power BI (Business Intelligence) is also a Microsoft product.

Simply speaking, Power BI is a robust business analytics tool that can provide extensive modeling, custom development, and real-time high-level analytics.

As a Microsoft product, Power BI can connect to various Microsoft apps and solutions like Excel, Access, Azure, and others.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

What we like about Power BI

Great Cloud-based features: Power BI (Pro) is made for collaboration.

Unlike in Excel where you’ll have to email the file around or in a portal, Power BI makes it easier. There’s a cloud service called “Power BI Service” where you can publish your data.

Furthermore, this service automatically refreshes your data. So once you publish, you never have to go through the pain of re-uploading again and again to update the version.

Store large amounts of data: In Excel, you’ll have trouble opening a file with more than 500 MB in size.

But it won’t happen in Power BI. This program uses powerful compression algorithms to import and cache data.

So when you need to make analysis on large files, there’s no need to cut it down in size.

Ideal for dashboards, KPI, and alerts: This is another edge of Power BI.

In Excel, you’ll have to use dashboard templates so you’ll have a quick view of the KPI in one place. But it’s different in Power BI.

It’s like you’re given a canvas and a list of various visuals you can pin on the canvas. That means you don’t have to rely on ready-made templates. You make your own dashboard and select your own visuals.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Also, being able to set up alerts is a big plus for Power BI. Email alerts are helpful especially in tracking the rise and fall of metrics.

Slightly improved visualizations: Although Excel has more advanced graphs and charts, Power BI has more beautiful visualizations.

And it’s not that there just for the show, they can connect to the data model. That means Power BI can actually analyze your data visually.

What we don’t like about Power BI

Not for tabular style reports: Well… You can, but it’s not as intuitive as in Excel.

In Excel, the spreadsheet is your canvas. You can do whatever you want in it. 

But in Power BI, you’re greeted with an empty space. Creating a table is not that friendly.

Can’t mix imported data with data from real-time connections: One of the disadvantages of Power BI is that you can only source data from a single data set.

If you need to do it, you’ll have to create multiple data sets. If not, then you’ll have to choose which one to prioritize.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Power BI vs Excel

The selection between Power BI and Excel is a close call. They feel a bit similar.

If you’re confused, try to answer these questions for yourself:

  • Do you need high-level analytics?
  • Is collaboration an issue?
  • How big is the data you’re handling?
  • Is price an issue?
  • Do you need advanced visualizations or stunning ones?

Power BI is like an upgraded, focused Excel.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

It can provide you with high-level analytics that could help you spot trends. In addition, the dashboards, KPI, visualizations, and alerts are a great addition to help you in analytics.

Excel is great especially if you’re already used to making lots of advanced Excel reports. The functions and Excel add-ins available will help you construct your ideal model.

Also, if you’re big on collaboration, Power BI is better. Excel fails in collaboration unless you and your team are on the cloud.

Excel isn’t free. You can buy the Office 365 Suite that starts from $8.25 per month per user for businesses. Or you can buy Excel alone at $129.99.

cost of office365 with excel

On the other hand, you can start with Power BI for free.

But if you need more advanced functionalities, Power BI offers 2 paid plans:

  • Power BI Pro at $9.99 per month per user
  • Power BI Premium at $4,995 per month

Conclusion

For business analytics, choosing between Power BI and Excel is tough.

But what’s important is how efficient you are at using the tool. Each program is good for business analytics. But it’s up to its user how he’ll maximize it. 😊

If you still can’t decide, how about getting the best of both worlds? As they’re both Microsoft products, they have good integration with each other. Feel free to author your data on Power BI and export them to Excel when you need to do more.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto
2019-09-04T14:40:48+00:00