One of the side perks of running this site is that I occasionally get invited to review products and services. Since I suppose I write so much about using Excel, the creator of BonaVista MicroCharts contacted me in December about his Excel add-in, and from Germany, no less! In the interest of full disclosure, I am not being paid to write this review; however, he did provide me with a professional license key to test out the product.
You might have noticed that I’ve been using it in a couple of my posts (like here and here) that include MicroCharts built using Excel 2003. What can I say? I love the application, and even if I’d stumbled upon this product on my own, I’d be inclined to get it to use at work, anyway. MicroCharts offer a slew of different types of charts (pie, line, column, bar, bullet). For such a simple application, I find them pretty powerful. Here are some example column charts (click to enlarge):
MicroCharts is based on work by the famous Edward Tufte, an expert on the visual display of quantitive information, and more specifically, on something Tufte calls sparklines, “intense, simple, word-sized graphs”.
Review – Why MicroCharts are Good for Corporate Work
I found the software intuitive and easy-to-use, and short, clean, offline flash tutorials are even included to get you started. (Actually, one thing I learned from watching them is that I could really make my Excel data vastly more readable just by emulating their fonts….I have a lot to learn!)
I don’t know how prevalent this is, but in the corporations I’ve worked in, communication (especially between finance and other groups) is dominated by Excel sheets copy-and-pasted into Powerpoint. And not just for presentation purposes. So, to me, the more visual you can get the data, the more intuitive it is to understand what’s going on. For example, compare this set of data (click to enlarge):
with the same set of data with some MicroCharts added (click to enlarge):
At a glance, you can tell if revenues and costs have increased or decreased over time, trends in profitability, market share, and how the ending November 2005 financials (the red dot) compare to previous ones. You can even set up grey bands to indicate a “normal” range (mean +/- 3 standard deviations).
So much easier to see how you’re performing, isn’t it? (If the images look a bit fuzzy, that’s because I’m using MS Paint as a quick-and-dirty method to add images to this site…some resolution gets lost.)
So, there you go. A rare, rave review from me about a great product. (And Excel-related, no less!) By the way, I don’t benefit at all if you decide to purchase MicroCharts, but I have to say that for $99 a pop for the color, professional version (and $49 for the basic), there are umpteen million worse performing applications out there that cost 100x more!