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A better tool than excel for reporting/charting?

Posted on 2011-02-25
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I'm a reporting analyst that supports a call center. We collect and report on a wide range of data, like phone calls (volume, hold time, etc), cases (like trouble tickets, so, volume, aging, etc) and many more. Most of the data is imported to sql server and we typically create reports in excel via a connection to the sql server.
Tables, pivots and charts are frequently used and do a pretty good job, however, it seems to be more difficult that it should to create a meaninful graph in excel (2003). We've been looking at Tableau, but, I think will only get the desktop version first, so, not sure if that will really help our users (I think the reports would be in the form of a pdf, so, not dynamically updated).
I'm sure many of you have been in the same position and would like to hear your feedback; like you use excel and love it or just grin and bear it, you've done something to enhance excel, you've thrown out excel for something better, or ???
thanks
alan
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Question by:avoorheis
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jppinto earned 84 total points
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To start, all of my reporting is done in Excel. To me this is the perfect tool for reporting, charting. We don't need any development, we can change a report enever we want and the way we want, almost anybody can change it. We are not stuck to a design that was developed, all of the reporting are "live".

What I would suggest is upgrading to Excel 2010 because in terms of design is more "eye appealing", the charts look nicer, I just love working with this new version of Excel.

jppinto
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by:rspahitz
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I don't do a lot of charting, so when I do, Excel does a pretty good job.  However, for more features and options, you'd need to go to a dedicated charting tool then deal with the dilemma of getting the data into it.

For data management, Excel is great for small things; for slightly bigger, I'll use Access but then you have that steep learning curve and the charting is inadequate.  For better forms management, I'll got to VB.Net or C#.net, where you gain a little in charting but lose some in data management, but the tools are much or robust and customizable, including some good opportunities for plug-in components.

So from what you're saying, it seems that Excel is just barely good enough for you; it really depends what the other charting tools offer and what you lose by not having Excel manage the data being fed into those charts.
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by:avoorheis
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thanks guys.
I wouldn't say excel isn't good enough, but, some of the charting can be lacking/cumbersome, like for example a clustered stacked barchart. It can be done, but, takes more work (as with other, more complex charts). So, since we do a lot of charts, a tool with an easier interface and more automation behind the charting could save us a lot of time.
Hope to get more comments too.
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by:dlmille
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Perhaps native Excel is not "the greatest" but there are many "add-ons" that make it useable and perhaps preferrable (as the data management and manipulation can remain native).

Here's one example of such, and there are many others :  http://peltiertech.com/Excel/Charts/ComboCharts.html

Dave
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by:patrickab
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avoorheis,

Excel is the most flexible reporting or charting software that is commonly available. It is easy for almost anyone to understand and can be used by almost anyone.

Of course it is possible to automate charting, but perhaps the most useful change is to use dynamic ranges with charts. That allows the user to add or remove data and for the chart to update automatically.

My advice is stick with Excel - it's good and is the value for money that you can find for reporting and charting.

Patrick
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by:Rory Archibald
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For charts, I think Tableau knocks Excel into a cocked hat - but then it should do for the price. I use Excel for all my charting and generally find that although some things take a bit of setting up initially, I can usually get pretty much what I want with a bit of time and effort.
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by:teylyn
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Hello,

maybe the Excel Zone is the wrong area to ask that question, because experts will be biased towards Excel :)

I agree with all the above. You can do a lot of things with Excel, using clever data layout and a few tricks from the charting gurus Jon Peltier, http://www.peltiertech.com/  and  Andy Pope, http://www.andypope.info/  

Reading through the books of Stephen Few, http://www.perceptualedge.com/ , I see that he is using Tableau in many of his examples. I do not know anything about Tableau, how easy/hard it is to use or how much it costs, but the results Stephen Few presents in his books are awesome.

They could probably be done in Excel, too, but I have a feeling that Mr Few uses Tableau for a reason.

cheers, teylyn
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by:patrickab
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avoorheis,

If you believe Tableau is the software to use (@ £354) you need to be very clear whether Excel can do what you want - and so save yourself the cost of Tableau.

Patrick
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