Excel-based collaboration tool is free; ensures single version of truth

Using a spreadsheet for personal use is a lot different than managing one in a process involving a whole group. There are plenty of applications available to enable spreadsheet collaboration, but most require purchasing and learning new software. Most users prefer to use tools they already have, and Microsoft Excel remains the clear-cut spreadsheet of choice among desktop users.

12/01/2007


Using a spreadsheet for personal use is a lot different than managing one in a process involving a whole group. There are plenty of applications available to enable spreadsheet collaboration, but most require purchasing and learning new software.

Most users prefer to use tools they already have, and Microsoft Excel remains the clear-cut spreadsheet of choice among desktop users. The eXpresso system banks on the universality of Excel and the need for better control over accessing, viewing, and editing document versions in a collaborative environment.

“Emailing spreadsheets back and forth to a team is an imperfect process,” says John Howard, an eXpresso VP. “It's easy to lose versions of spreadsheets, and be unaware that data has changed. eXpresso eliminates guesswork because there is only one version of a spreadsheet and you have control over who sees it, and who can make changes.”

The on-demand system works by allowing the owner of a spreadsheet to assign access privileges to members of an Excel community. The owner then sends an email to each participant, inviting them to view the document, and make changes or recommendations.

“The system highlights cells that change, and keeps an audit trail of conversations you've had with team members,” explains Howard. “The owner also can lock the document so others cannot make changes, and users can view two spreadsheets side-by-side to compare columns, cells, or fields.”

eXpresso is powered by Microsoft Web Components, which are Web controls included in Microsoft Office, or downloaded for free. The Web controls allow eXpresso to mimic 90 percent of Excel's commonly used features and functionality. An eXpresso add-on for Excel compensates for any limitations.



Information abstraction is what enables eXpresso to treat spreadsheets as corporate assets, enforce enterprise-class security on spreadsheets, and extend Excel functionality with features such as "share & compare."

eXpresso has been free on a trial basis since its launch in March, however, monthly subscription rates of $15 will soon apply. Group subscription rates also are available, although the service will continue to offer a free level for up to 10 spreadsheets and three members in a community.

Considering how pricey similar spreadsheet services are for the financial industry makes eXpresso a very attractive option, says Rob Kugel of San Mateo, Calif.-based Ventana Research . “Companies don't always have resources to implement a new spreadsheet management program. eXpresso addresses the shortcomings of spreadsheets, and increases efficiency in the supply chain when applied to forecasting and demand planning.”

The security and efficiency of eXpresso attracted quality management vendor Cohesia to try out the system during its recent acquisition by Powerway .

“We have to provide a tremendous amount of confidential data, such as budgets, customer lists, contracts, salaries, and even employee's social security numbers,” says Jim Kanir, CEO and president of the Cincinnati-based company.

Since Cohesia outsourced its accounting to three cities, it was looking for a safe way to move and view sensitive information among numerous departments and personnel.

“We didn't feel comfortable emailing the type of information we had,” says Kanir. “There is too much risk of possible misrepresentation of facts with the various versions of spreadsheets we have on budgets and forecasts. We have to be very accurate when reporting information during the acquisition.”

By using eXpresso, Cohesia finished the acquisition process in only two months instead of the six to 12 months it normally would take.

“Excel is a great tool if it's yours, but once it is sent out to 10 people who make changes and send it to 10 more people, there are 20 versions of it floating around,” says Kanir. “eXpresso ensured everyone was on the same page all the time.”





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