The new Google Spreadsheets feature is a very simple spreadsheet with very strong collaboration underpinnings. This is a big change from how Microsoft started out with Excel.
Excel began as a powerful, programmable spreadsheet, which over time gained more and more collaborative capabilities. Excel has its own programming language that gave rise to a generation of spreadsheet programmers who could build an entire companys financial underpinnings on spreadsheets.
Those macro command-driven spreadsheets would then be e-mailed around a company for comments. At some point someone would try to collect all those spreadsheets and come up with a common data set.
Eventually those spreadsheets were moved to a server, which made it easier to keep a spreadsheet version of a companys financials, but developing a rights and permissions scheme around who could or could not access or change a spreadsheet drove many an IT manager to distraction.
And when the programmer who wrote the macros that drove the company left, companies were often stuck with spreadsheet stacks that were unfathomable.
Spreadsheets are still widely used to measure a companys financial performance, despite the continued rise of financial application packages that are both affordable and powerful. I suppose inertia is the main reason for keeping track of your company financials on something as shaky as a spreadsheet.
Here is what the Google spreadsheet would require to make it in the corporate world:
1. Ownership. While Salesforce.com and NetSuite have shown that you can have your corporate apps running on a hosted server, they have also surrounded those apps with administrative and security safeguards. Customers want their corporate apps to be treated as distinct entities, not only for security, but also for compliance. The Google spreadsheet doesnt offer the robust administrative tools that a business would want.
2. Help desk. Online tech support is probably the biggest gap in the corporate offerings from companies such as Yahoo and Google. Randy Dugger, an eWEEK Corporate Partner (and formerly Director of IS for Sequus Pharmaceuticals, now part of Alza, in Menlo Park, Calif., where he was responsible for establishing and setting the direction of tactical and strategic computing resources) sent me the following comment about the tech support issue.
In a recent example … my custom “My Yahoo” page stopped automatically updating. After 5 days of e-mail correspondence, it finally started working again. With phone/live tech support, it probably would have been fixed in an hour or two. With Google, its even worse … Google Earth nearly took down a fire agency on the SF peninsula. The designer who wrote the program decided to store the map cache in the users profile. While its great for home users, corporate users who have roaming profiles suddenly had a profile that was 20GB to download. The bandwidth consumed by users logging on choked the network. Again, only tech support via e-mail, even after calling Google directly and pleading for live assistance for a public safety organization. Instead, I was given an e-mail address and the code word of the day. Two days later I got a correspondence from them.
3. Horsepower. Why would anyone want to replace one pile of spreadsheets with another? Company financials should reside on financial accounting applications. Contacts should reside on CRM (customer relationship management) systems. Trying to make spreadsheets do applications for which they were never intended just wont work.
eWEEK magazine editor in chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.