Spreadsheets are probably the most approachable tool ever for data capture, analysis and reporting, and a virtual industry has formed around taming the phenomenon "Excel Hell" which results from uncotrolled use.
I met this week with JB Kuppe (VP of Marketing) and Andrew Duncan (CEO) of Boardwalktech. The last time we had spoken they had still been super-cagey about what they were doing, but they have been shipping their product since April and the wraps are off. JB and Andy were in Redmond meeting with our product teams, and they took time out to show me the Boardwalk Enterprise Spreadsheet. JB supplied me a text description also (preumably so I didn't get it wrong) so I'll quote him:
Boardwalktech is tackling the “collaborative” spreadsheet problem where multiple people need to work on the same set of Excel data at the same time while continuing to work in isolation on their desktops. Using a combination of a plug-in for Excel and a patent-pending “tabular” database built on top of SQL Server called the Boardwalk Enterprise Spreadsheet (BES), users can easily specify a range (or multiple ranges) of data that gets dynamically linked between Excel and the database. You then indicate what data you want the collaborative users to see-- only their data or all of it based on setting access control for the shared data. You can also control whether they can add or delete data and even lock down formulas and other shared data as read-only.
Once shared through the server database, multiple users can interact with the shared data at the same time all from within Excel—even working off-line and BES will automatically manage the merge and sharing once re-connected. All changes to all cells are automatically versioned so you have a complete audit trail. Also, since it’s built on top of SQL Server, you have a complete change management capability which makes it easy to see how the shared data has changed over time and to compare changes. And, BES is used not only for two-way collaboration, but also for active reporting where a master spreadsheet report can be set up such that different users can see different parts of the report based on their access rights and, as changes are pushed to the report, only the changes are shown in individual cells without having to open up a new spreadsheet.
Boardwalktech started selling its application in April and is focused initially on forecasting & demand management and corporate finance applications like budgeting and treasury management.
It's a simple concept (coordinate user access to a spreasdheet via a single database) but a complicated problem to solve and I'm anxious to hear from their first customers. I see a few opportunities here: