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Carl Vorster,CTO, ePostal

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The end of the spreadsheet?

According to international specialist consultant and business architect Bora Perzic, today’s business management is run on traditional spreadsheets because they are relatively easy to use. However, he points out that while it is easy to start inputting data and sharing the spreadsheets, management becomes problematic as a result of the very nature of the spreadsheets.
“It’s easy to attach a spreadsheet to a mail, and just as easy for the recipient of the mail to start entering or changing data on the spreadsheet. It’s at this moment that companies start to lose control of the data, because this creates multiple instances of the data. Traditionally, a small group of people manipulate the data and a larger group of people use that data in the course of business. The spreadsheet makes each individual the owner of the data, leading to this loss of control,” he explains.
On the other side, Perzic says, are the enterprise applications that purport to provide better management and control than traditional spreadsheets, many of which offer a multitude of extra features. However, the deployment cost of these is huge compared to the value they offer. In addition, while there is a class of free and freemium applications in the software as a service (SaaS) world overcoming the cost challenges, these are aimed at such a broad audience that their policy of providing essentials is backfiring and they are just not flexible enough to support creativity.
“Traditional spreadsheets are still king for one reason: their flexibility. They allow for imperfect data structures. Custom solutions are prohibitively expensive, and the continuous failure of the spreadsheet solution to ignite real agility at a management level has resulted in the situation where collaboration has remained primitive.”
What’s needed, according to Perzic, is a tool that can combine the simplicity of traditional spreadsheets with the sharing enabled by Web applications. “Current tools are not tapping into the real creativity of mid-level managers who are overwhelmed with mountains of semi-accurate data and offer no real opportunity to create a single point of truth at their level. Joining the data collection and data structure manipulation of traditional spreadsheets with functionalities of Web applications opens up a new paradigm that will create the freedom to enable creativity.”
Perzic has therefore developed just such an application as a proof of concept (POC) for specialist database consulting house RDB Consulting. Filling the gap between traditional spreadsheets and SaaS apps, this application offers the company the opportunity to restrict the sharing of data between a relatively small number of people through the guarantee of a single instance of data, while allowing for creativity by enabling the full functionality offered by traditional spreadsheets.
An extremely lightweight application, it is easily deployed for a single user or a group. The application is accessed via Web browser, but can be deployed on a laptop, a local area network or a virtual server. Offering extreme speed and flexibility, the app enables integration of data from existing spreadsheets, and includes functionality such as linking different spreadsheets to collate data.
“It’s about sharing ideas, not just data,” says Perzic. Often, the data from two or three spreadsheets needs to be combined to be useful, and when people are in this process, it’s imperfect and rough. Perfection is achieved through a series of imperfections, and the app has been designed to support this and make it extremely easy to input, share and publish data.”
He adds that this need for a “disposable app” – one that is quick and easy to create, with a limited lifespan, but which enables creativity – was the motivation for the creation of the POC. Designed to be created and deployed in the space of a few hours, there is no need for any programming in the application. In addition, it has been designed to operate on tablets and mobile phones with a liquid user interface that allows for full navigation.
“In today’s fast-paced world, nobody has the time to learn how to navigate a new application. It has to come naturally or it won’t be adopted. This application is intuitive, and offers small businesses the benefit of a corporate intranet at a fraction of the price,” Perzic says.