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Excel Report View

Let’s talk about Excel reporting. Microsoft Excel is (and has been) the top choice for businesses looking for a user-friendly solution to their basic data handling needs. Originally created in the mid-1980s, it—like other ubiquitous Microsoft Office programs—has stood the test of time as a go-to spreadsheet option. This is largely due to its simple, intuitive interface and advanced features available, including integrations with other technologies (like business intelligence software, which we’ll get to in a bit).

It’s tough to overstate the wide range of uses we’ve found to work around that lack of reliable Excel database software over the years, connected to a wide range of objectives:

  • Performing accounting tasks like budgeting, planning, and forecasting
  • Maintaining accurate, updated product information
  • Tracking and reporting on sales data over time and/or by product line
  • Monitoring up-to-date inventory and stock levels for better supply chain management
  • Building custom-view dashboards to display selected information and with dynamic, real-time updates
  • Automating simple, high-frequency business tasks to increase productivity and efficiency
  • Creating and tracking invoices to help ensure orders are processed in a correct and timely manner

In this post, we’re going to take a look at Excel reports, including the basic report-building features of Excel and how Excel reporting tools and software that extends the value and capabilities of Excel like XLCubed. Using the XLCubed plug-in increases your building options and Excel report view options and provides advanced analytics to derive actionable insights from your data.

Types of Basic Excel Reports

When it comes to the different types of reports in Excel, there are 3 types of reports of particular interest to businesses and/or anyone serving in a business analyst role: general, aggregate, and dashboard reports.

General Reports

General reports are what most picture when they think of an “Excel report”—data organized and structured in regular rows, columns, and cells. Specific types of general reports include column reports, crosstab reports, detailed reports, group reports, query reports, and more.

General reports can be further categorized by how users expect to engage with the data. For example, you might want to run basic reports or query reports, for example—or both.

  • Basic reports organize data in rows and columns, ideal as a reference/repository for information.
  • Query reports enable users to enter custom parameters to access specific data as needed.

Aggregate Reports

Aggregate reports go beyond a general report’s functionality by combining multiple “single” reports into one multi-module report. While an aggregate report does pull each of these modules together within the viewing interface, the individual components can be individually edited and formatted. Although aggregate reports won’t necessarily auto-update or offer some of the visual niceties of a data dashboard, the layout concept is similar. For robust aggregate reporting, you’ll probably need to bring some additional tools into the mix, beyond Excel’s baked-in basics. That’s where the XLCubed plug-in can fill in the gaps, delivering high-quality, dynamic aggregate reports.

Dashboard Reports

Dashboard reports fully-realize the dashboard concept. They offer drag-and-drop functionality on what begins essentially as a blank canvas or template. Whatever data or metrics a supervisor wants to view, they can build their own insights “cockpit” to enable a multi-dimensional analysis made up of different types of analytical reports and charts.

Excel Report View, Print, and Share Options

To make Excel data come to life in a way that words and numbers organized in rows and columns doesn’t quite achieve, you can create data visualizations to include when you generate reports from Excel data for collaborative or analytical purposes or use Excel as your lens into centralized data. Excel contains a range of chart types—including all your favorites: pie, line, bar, area, scatter plot, and more—to get you started. (OK, maybe not all your favorite chart types. Interested in an impressive waterfall chart, for example? Excel is not very good at these, but with the XLCubed plug-in, you can create great ones.)

If your data is fairly straightforward, and you’re just looking to tidy up and make your spreadsheet(s) as presentable as possible, then it’s easy enough to generate PDF reports from Excel data. Just set your print area (how much of the data grid you want to print) and page setup options (including margins and orientation), and then export. Alternatively, you can search for free Excel reporting templates online, and proceed with those.

When it comes time to print, share, or distribute a finished report or set of reports, there are three types of report format in Excel:

  • PDF, best for printing
  • HTML, a versatile format (that doesn’t require a PDF viewer)
  • CSV/Excel, which makes data accessible in plain text format and easy to import/export

What Are the Drawbacks and Limitations of Basic Excel Reporting?

So far, everything we’ve covered falls under the umbrella of what most people in a business setting will think of when someone refers to Excel reporting. The term has really become a catch-all. General reports are considered the “bread and butter” of Excel’s core reporting features, while aggregate and dashboard reports tend to require advanced Excel skills or add-on Excel reporting tools.

In other words, as a standalone product or comprehensive reporting solution, Excel has some clear limitations—but they are limitations with solutions (in the form of Excel reporting tools or other business intelligence software). This is especially true when it comes to creating, viewing, and sharing Excel spreadsheets and reports. You see, the sad truth is that a large portion of Excel users don’t realize they’re encountering limitations—they’ve just become conditioned to accept that Excel “is what it is” and do their best to make it suit their needs.

Limits of Excel Reporting Dashboard Options

The most commonly-encountered drawbacks of leaning on Excel as a primary type of dashboard include the following:

  • It requires manual effort: It takes a lot of time and energy to compile the data for a potential dashboard. Not only is this tedious and exhausting, but it’s also prone to human error—and one small error data or formula can undermine the integrity of the whole dataset. When you’re working with a high volume of different types of data, it can simply become unwieldy without leveraging additional tools.
  • The data’s not as timely: Business moves fast; not all spreadsheets and reporting can keep pace. While creating automated reports in Excel isn’t impossible, it will likely require the skill of a developer. To make this work, at a minimum they would need to connect Excel directly to a database, and then build a series of scripts and macros to keep Excel’s data up-to-date in real-time.
  • Collaboration’s hard: When multiple stakeholders need to access a shared dataset for collaboration, basic Excel spreadsheets can prove difficult. When an Excel table is shared with others, the recipients will have to either be given editing privileges or read-only access. It’s one thing to share a spreadsheet with a handful of direct reports with exact instructions (e.g., giving editing privileges but within a very narrow scope), but when more people and teams get involved, version control becomes cumbersome. And when one person has built a spreadsheet, using a certain set of macros and formulas, it’s not always easy for a colleague to work with or interpret how the sheet was built. And once it’s shared, it’s vulnerable to breaking. Even well-intentioned tinkering with a spreadsheet can make the whole thing come undone.
  • Security is lacking: Providing access to an Excel dashboard isn’t 100% secure. On one hand, if your spreadsheet tables contain sensitive, personal, or proprietary information, they’re at risk. And data breaches, even minor, aren’t good for anyone, creating both internal and external headaches. Yes, you can enable a password for access, but we certainly wouldn’t recommend that as the entirety of your data security measures.
  • The processing ability/speed: If your Excel spreadsheet is doing a lot of heavy lifting—high volumes of data, complex formulas or lookups, etc.—you’ll need a certain allotment of patience. To put it bluntly, if there’s the potential for large amounts of data to be involved, you can expect things to slow down. Think of Excel’s processing power in relation to manual, human data operations: the more data you throw at it (and the more you want done with the data by way of formulas and lookups), the more it bogs down the works.
  • Lack of automation: This might sound like a “pro” and not a “con” from a job security standpoint, but in the real world of data processing and analytics automation is a friend. It would be unfair to say Excel lacks automation—through macros and formulas, certain tasks can be automated—but it lacks the robust automation enabled by add-on BI tools that can automate data collection from one or multiple databases. When manual processes can be automated, not only is time saved, but the risk of human error is greatly reduced as well.
  • Not versatile enough: As mentioned above, the inability to link an Excel spreadsheet with multiple different data types and sources can become a limiting factor for Excel reporting and dashboards. There may also be specific scripts or workflows from other tools you’re currently using that won’t play well (won’t work) with Excel.

Venturing Beyond Basic Excel

When companies run into one or more of the drawbacks listed above, they may look to solutions that can extend the value and capabilities of Excel or to BI software.

Excel reporting tools are advanced, add-on type programs that extend Excel’s basic functions. These tools are embedded within Excel and so give users a familiar interface, making the learning curve for Excel users minimal, and providing greater customization and deeper analysis. Many of these make use of APIs (or “application programming interface”) that will connect with existing databases. Until late 2021, Microsoft Power View was a popular option—but it has been discontinued in favor of Power BI.

These are tools that work to collect and interpret raw data to identify actionable insights for better decision making, and are sometimes referred to as business intelligence. They offer users the ability to view and compare historical and current/real-time data and process huge sets of data from multiple sources and in multiple formats, and to create dynamic data presentations.

In general terms, Microsoft defines a four-step process to characterize BI:

  1. Collecting data from multiple sources and bringing it together.
  2. Identifying any trends, correlations, or inconsistencies.
  3. Presenting findings via data visualization and dashboards.
  4. Uncovering opportunities to take action in real-time (based on insights from Steps 1-3).

Incorporating a platform like XLCubed lets your data actually excel. It’s ideal for interactive, flexible reporting. Not only that—it also plays nicely and integrates directly with Power BI (which in itself works pretty well for dashboarding).

What Does XLCubed Do for Businesses?

XLCubed provides Excel-based reporting features for businesses looking to ramp up their business intelligence, financial reporting and analytics capabilities. We understand the tireless work that goes into creating and maintaining Excel spreadsheets for reporting, and we’re not looking to undo or replace any of that. We just want to make it better. Here’s how:

First, you can work with your existing Excel data. Not only that, but you can easily pull data from multiple different data sources—meaning no need for individual reports and manual cross-referencing, without needing to add a developer to the team. With XLCubed, we focus on data governance and auditability—no more “different versions of the truth,” and fewer errors.

The Excel interface you’re familiar with? You can keep that, too. As an Excel add-on, XLCubed offers advanced features that are simply added to Excel’s existing interface and menus.

It’s ready for anything. Whether your reporting needs are simple and your dataset is relatively small, or you’re working with a substantial or growing dataset of at least moderate complexity or nuance, XLCubed keeps up—meaning it’s ready to solve today’s reporting problems, and will be just as equipped to handle your needs as your business grows or needs change. For example, you can connect with a variety of OLAP data sources and SQL data sets.

It lets you think big. If all you’ve ever known is Excel, then you’ve probably gotten pretty used to researching workarounds as you encounter the functional limits of Excel reporting. With XLCubed, you can work in the familiar Excel interface but with a wealth of innovative features at your fingertips, like interactive chart-building and data visualization, a wide range of data connectors and integration options, web and mobile sharing, version control, and more.

You’ll make better decisions. XLCubed infuses Excel with business intelligence functions. You can slice and dice your data for more thorough analysis, and use filtering options and advanced sorting to identify actionable insights within a mountain of data.

XLCubed's data-connected model means reports are built once, and then simply refreshed or filter selections changed. The time saved in report preparation can be invested in analysis, and help you reach better data-driven decisions more quickly. In addition, XLCubed connects directly to a wide range of data sources including Microsoft Analysis Services,, IBM TM1, SAP HANA, Oracle Essbase and many others

Fluence Has the Tech

We’d love the chance to help you get more out of Excel reporting with what XLCubed provides. Read some customer stories to see what we’ve done, or get in touch to start talking about what we can do together.