CEO, Jedox GmbH

A Freiburg, Germany-based vendor is converting the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel spreadsheet from a singular two-dimensional application into an interface that presents global data fed from a multi-dimensional back-end.

Typically, when a user makes modifications to an Excel spreadsheet, those changes are applied only to that standalone version. However, Enterprise Spreadsheets by Jedox GmbH, a vendor of enterprise technologies for Excel applications, allows this data to be shared by all Excel users across the organization.

“Instead of having a local spreadsheet model, you have an enterprise-wide spreadsheet model,“ said the company’s CEO Kristian Raue.

With Excel, data is stored in the spreadsheet in a two-dimensional row-and-column format, which, according to Raue, is “way too small; that magnitude doesn’t work if you want to do that on an enterpise scale.”

Instead of storing the data in the spreadsheet, Jedox’s technology stores it in a multi-dimensional server that can capture the complexity of a global organization’s data, parsing it according to dimensions like region, customer, and product. The spreadsheet essentially becomes the front end for this back-end database.

The repository, the Palo server, is an online open source product that is freely available on the company site. With it, businesses can build their own enterprise-wide data models to connect different spreadsheets across the company.

Raue said that using a familiar user interface to access this complex global data means companies can take advantage of existing investments made to train users in Excel. The sole novel component, he noted, is learning the Palo data model.

Calgary, Alta.-based Grid Dynamics Inc., is a consulting company that provides software and professional services to implement Jedox technologies including Enterprise Spreadsheets. Consultant Robin McKinney said adopters of the technology range from enterprise to small and medium-sized businesses seeking to rid the heavy dependency on manual data manipulation, a task often required of a two-dimensional spreadsheet.Instead of having a local spreadsheet model, you have an enterprise-wide spreadsheet modelKristian Raue>Text

When deploying the technology, the first step, said McKinney, is to ascertain a business’ data source and its quality before converting it. Then, training is needed to help users better query the data. “There is an education process to help them understand,” he said, “in the past they were dealing with a two-dimensional world of an Excel spreadsheet.”

Businesses also have the option of buying an add-on, the Worksheet server, so users can access and modify Excel spreadsheets via the Web. Raue likens it to Google spreadsheets except it’s linked to the Palo server. As with desktop modifications, those made online are also immediately reflected across all spreadsheets.

“You can jointly use all platforms at the same time,“ said Raue, “because data is not stored in Excel, in OpenOffice, in the Web browser, but in the server. So you have one common data store.”

While the spreadsheet becomes a portal of sorts into an organization’s data store, IT administrators can still ensure security and confidentiality by defining single user and group access, by way of username and password, to certain types of data, said Raue.

Adopters of Enterprise Spreadsheets tend to be departments like finance and sales that are engaged in planning, collecting, analysis and consolidation of data.

According to Fen Yik, research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., Enterprise Spreadsheets is designed for real-time data integration across an enterprise. “What we want to have is one version that is monitored where the data quality is verified and maintained so that you can maintain compliance across the enterprise,” he said.

Having the technology in place is but part of a comprehensive solution. Solid governance practices must also accompany the technology rollout, said Yik.

The key differentiator of Jedox’s technology compared to similar vendor offerings that let users share data across productivity applications like Excel, he said, is the synchronous collaboration. Whereas Enterprise Spreadsheets allows modifications to be reflected in real-time, offerings like Microsoft SharePoint do not, said Yik.

Enterprises would likely adopt Jedox’s offering, he said, “because Microsoft right now has not been able to provide that synchronous collaborative capability so far.”

Furthermore, the back-end stored data that’s independent of the spreadsheet interface, said Yik, “goes a long way toward really enforcing a single version of the truth, if you will.”

Despite its real-time advantages, Yik suggested that businesses looking to adopt the technology consider its maturity relative to established offerings “simply because these real-time solutions are not at the same level as enterprise solutions as, say, SharePoint.”

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