Technology -> Data Management
By: Philip Howard, Research Director - Data Management, Bloor Research
Published: 24th August 2012
Copyright Bloor Research © 2012
As a general rule I do not outright recommend any particular product from any particular vendor but I am going to make an exception in the case of Excel 2013 and the accompanying release of SharePoint.
Other analysts have described the enhanced business intelligence capabilities of Excel 2013 and these may be terrific but they represent an evolution of the existing capabilities rather than something dramatically new. What is brand new is the governance and compliance capabilities that will be in Excel 2013.
In Excel 2013 all of these features will be built in, either to Excel itself or SharePoint. To my mind this makes Excel 2013 a more or less mandatory acquisition. It means that, for the first time, you can get proper governance and error checking and correction facilities built directly into Excel.
This release is going to have some serious consequences in the market. There are, broadly speaking, two categories of product in the spreadsheet management space: error detection and correction tools such as Spreadsheet Detective that you can download for a few hundred dollars, and full-blown spreadsheet management tools (like Prodiance) from companies such as Cimcon, Cluster Seven and Finsbury Solutions as well as Boardwalktech (which is more about collaboration) and Lyquidity (more focused on the mid-market). Where do any of these vendors go? Why bother with the likes of Spreadsheet Detective and its ilk when you can get comparable facilities for free? And why spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on a solution from Cimcon or Cluster Seven for the same reason? That's not to say that you might not prefer one of these solutions to Microsoft's but that will have to be an awfully big preference to justify the cost involved. Of course, for a while there will remain a market for these companies in pre-2013 versions of Excel but that will gradually disappear. In short, I cannot see these companies surviving long-term unless they can diversify.
However, this does not necessarily mean the end for all of these companies. With Excel 2013 having built-in governance I would not recommend anyone using Google Spreadsheets or Open Office in preference to Excel 2013 for anything except trivial applications. So, if Google (say) wants to compete with Microsoft at the enterprise level then it will have to develop or acquire comparable governance capabilities to Microsoft: which means that there is the possibility of an acquisition for any of Prodiance's erstwhile competitors. But other than that I don't hold out much hope.
The position with BI companies that target what used to be known as spreadmarts is slightly different. Actuate, for example, markets BIRT Spreadsheet (what used to be Actuate e.Spreadsheet). Theoretically this directly competes with Excel 2013 in that it offers both spreadsheet and governance capabilities but what the new features of Excel 2013 mean is that Actuate has now to persuade users to give up Excel for its environment, for no immediately obvious gain in functionality. That looks like a hard task. Of course, Actuate has other strings to its bow so it's not going to be in the same position as the pure-play vendors discussed above but, again, I don't really see this product surviving either.
So the bottom line is that Excel 2013 represents a killer blow by Microsoft. It will destroy other vendors in the spreadsheet governance space and removes any technical reasons for moving away from Excel to other environments.
Posted: 25th August 2012 | By Patrick O'Beirne :
Philip, when you say "In Excel 2013 all of these features will be built in" do you know when? I have not seen them in the preview. Is there any doc as to what will actually be provided?
If it's comprehensive, it's the end of a cottage industry!
Posted: 25th August 2012 | By John :
I've had a quick play with Excel 2013, and perhaps I missed something, but I found the "error detection" capabilities to be very, very limited. Certainly nothing to remotely rival any of the commercial error detection tools. Unless Microsoft expand the functionality of their "Inquire" tool prior to the final release of Excel 2013, I'd say that commercial error detection addins have absolutely nothing to fear.
I can't really comment on Spreadsheet Management packages as I'm not familiar with the space but from what I've read, they have more to fear.
Posted: 25th August 2012 | By Ray Panko :
I have been doing spreadsheet research since the 1980s, and my opinion is that this is the biggest step forward in spreadsheet governance that Microsoft has ever made.
Unfortunately, it does nothing for the biggest problem spreadsheets have today--errors. At my website, panko.shidler.hawaii.edu, there is a great deal of research by myself and others showing that errors--including serious errors--are widespread in the large spreadsheets that users actually build. The problem is not that spreadsheets are more error-prone than programming languages for development. It is that they are not tested adequately. To my knowledge, Excel 2013 does not seem to have added the functionality necessary for developers to test their spreadsheets.
Posted: 27th August 2012 | By Jeff Morris :
We fundamentally agree that the new features of Excel 2013 help advance the ability to manage the proliferation and improve the quality of spreadsheets across an organization.
What I'd like to make clear is the role BIRT Spreadsheet plays in this process. Specifically, that there is no "giving up Excel" in order to use BIRT Spreadsheet. BIRT Spreadsheet generates live XLS documents, delivered to every recipient, ready to be opened, enjoyed and analyzed. BIRT Spreadsheet is akin to being a spreadsheet blueprinting tool that eases and automates the governance process so that all users in the organization NEVER have to give up Excel.
BIRT Spreadsheet helps organizations operationalize their consumption of spreadsheets so that the construction of ad-hoc documents can focus on new problems, not repeating old ones, badly. The need for the features in Excel 2013 are to help improve the quality of the documents that an individual builds before it enters Sharepoint. It is essentially a trash filter.
BIRT Spreadsheet, by contrast, helps regulate the delivery of spreadsheet files to thousands of users through the use of a design blueprint that acts as a template containing rules for user permissions, data security, formatting, calculation, charting, pivot tables and even VB scripting so that every future instance of the spreadsheet will be consistently flawless, regardless of the sizes of the original sets of data that drive it. And they can be used with or without Sharepoint. In all cases, users still get Excel, and all these products help improve the quality of Excel-based insight communication.
VP Product Marketing
Posted: 29th August 2012 | By Philip Howard :
I have contacted Microsoft about the various queries raised by this article. They have responded as follows:
"From what we can tell, it seems one user wasn't able to find the feature as it needs to be enabled from the COM Add-in in the options menu. The other commenter is likely talking about the gaps regarding features that are lighted up with the server component, Audit and Control Management server that requires SharePoint ECAL."
On a separate note I agree completely with Ray about the testing requirement for spreadsheets. Of course, the need for adequate testing isn't limited to spreadsheets as witness the recent events at Knight Capital and RBS/National Westminster.
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