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For businesses still navigating the transition to modern big data and analytics tools, it can be difficult to familiarize non-technical staff with the concepts they’ll need to make sense of it all. This is due to the sheer scope of the knowledge one needs to gain in what is an admittedly vast subject. The fact is though, that the modern data-driven economy is moving swiftly towards agility and data democratization.

In order to begin the process of acclimating staff to the idea that data analysis and visualization is becoming a tool of the individual employee, rather than one held captive by gatekeepers at the organizational level, they need to be empowered with at least a rudimentary grasp of how to handle data sets. The good news is that most organizations already have the key to doing so sitting on almost every user desktop: Microsoft Excel.

Excel as a Big Data Gateway

While it is true that Microsoft Excel isn’t the first software platform most would associate with big data, its use in the field is more common than you might think. After all, Excel is designed to organize and manipulate data sets. As a core part of the Microsoft Office platform, it is also one of the most widely used and accessible spreadsheet programs in the world. From its initial version in 1985 to today, it has grown to the point of being available to 1.2 billion users worldwide.

The age and ubiquity of Excel are exactly what makes it a perfect entry point for teaching non-technical employees key big data concepts. Many of them may already have some experience with the program, and thus a level of comfort using it. It is also capable of data connections to multiple platforms, making integration with existing data sources easy.

The Data-Driven Workforce

Investing in basic training for employees in the use of Microsoft Excel is a worthwhile way to make sure that employees across an organization are familiar with the use and utility of data. They won’t need to become expert, but beginning with a familiarity with the major functions included in the program will go a long way towards creating a big data culture within any company.

One of the most important features that should be focused upon is the pivot table. It’s an excellent exercise for those getting started with data analysis. This will familiarize them with the concepts of sorting and selecting relevant data in order to draw conclusions (which are the essence of analytics). It will also empower everyone within the organization to immediately begin to use data to inform their business decisions before any further investment is made into a higher-level data operation.

Building for the Future

Going forward, businesses that glean the most meaningful and actionable insights from available data will have a clear advantage over the competition. While building a workforce that is literate in the basics of data analysis is only a small step in the path to modern big data solutions, it’s a vital one. It’s also a skill set that will continue to pay dividends in the future. Microsoft is actively working to enhance the data analysis functionality of Excel, so those with pre-existing skills in the use of the software will immediately be able to take advantage as new features are added. With planned features including automated analysis tools and the ability to import machine learning models to apply to data sets, employers that invest in Excel as a building block of their big data initiatives will reap the rewards of that decision for years to come.

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