Turn single-user spreadsheets into multi-user business applications

Practically every organization has workgroups that depend on spreadsheets to manage a business process. Sharing the spreadsheets via email or SharePoint can be a hassle, especially when multiple people need to enter data or make changes to the data. Now there is a Web-based tool that turns a single-user spreadsheet into a secure, multi-user database that's as easy to use as Microsoft Excel.

In practically every organization, there is a need for small groups of workers to track and share information or data as part of a business process. Unless the process is absolutely mission-critical, the IT department never gets around to creating an official application, so the group sets up a spreadsheet instead.

This is an admirable workaround -- until the data needs to be shared or updated by multiple people. Next thing you know, there are multiple versions of the spreadsheet that are out of sync, and email inboxes are full of messages with the spreadsheet attached. Even worse, sensitive data in the spreadsheet could be exposed as it sits on PC hard drives, perhaps even in violation of company policy or government regulations.

ANALYSIS: Controlling the subversive spreadsheet

Some companies solve the problem of emailing the spreadsheet around by placing it on a shared drive or collaboration application like SharePoint. Again, this is admirable though inconvenient as the file needs to be checked in and out and (hopefully) only one person can update it at a time.

I can almost see your head nodding in recognition of this scenario. You know it happens, maybe even within your own workgroup. Despite their limitations, spreadsheets are a pervasive tool that people use to run their part of the business because they are easily accessible.

There's a SaaS application called SecureSheet from SecureSheet Technologies that's specifically designed to meet the needs of the workgroup that depends on spreadsheets. SecureSheet can turn existing single-user spreadsheets into secure, multi-user Web-based business applications without depending on IT resources to do so.

SecureSheet isn't a spreadsheet application per se, although it mimics Microsoft Excel quite nicely. The casual user might not even realize he isn't using a Web-based version of Excel. SecureSheet is actually a database that uses views to present the applicable data in rows and columns like Excel would. Data can be imported into and extracted from SecureSheet quite easily. There are only two spreadsheet functions that aren't supported by this application: pivot tables and macros.

Using SecureSheet in a workgroup environment, an administrator designated from within the group sets access privileges so that users only see and/or update the rows, columns or cells that they have permission to access. For example, a human resources department might have a spreadsheet with personnel information that is accessed by the whole department. Privileges can be set so that only the department managers can see employee salary information; what's more, managers can see the salary information only for the people who report to them. Such privileges are based on rules within the spreadsheet views.

In a typical configuration, the spreadsheet data resides in the cloud. It is not encrypted at the data level, so this application isn't a good candidate for extremely sensitive information. However, customers can license the SecureSheet software and put it in their own data center if higher levels of security are needed. For cloud instances, the base service is multi-tenant, but customers can request their own database or application server if needed.

SecureSheet is available as a subscription service with customers paying per user per month plus a nominal storage fee. The typical customer is a business manager whose workgroup has a need for a business process system that never gets addressed by IT. SecureSheet is powerful enough to handle some pretty sophisticated applications without extensive programming. Here are a few real customer use cases:

• An international shipping company with hundreds of vessels and thousands of crew members uses SecureSheet to schedule and coordinate the ships and crews that traverse the globe.

• A large multinational company uses SecureSheet to support its Sarbanes-Oxley audit process by allowing specific users to self-report compliance information. Internal auditors commonly use individual spreadsheets for this process, and SecureSheet allows all the information to be consolidated into one database.

• A large real estate developer and property management group uses SecureSheet to manage the budgets of various properties across the U.S., including projected revenues and costs.

For groups that run a business process on a spreadsheet today, SecureSheet is a handy tool to turn that spreadsheet into a Web-based multi-user application with field-level access security.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation. You can write to her at LMusthaler@essential-iws.com.


About Essential Solutions Corp:

Essential Solutions researches the practical value of information technology, and how it can make individual workers and entire organizations more productive. Essential Solutions offers consulting services to computer industry and corporate clients to help define and fulfill the potential of IT.

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