She also advises IT and business leaders to educate their users that tools such as business intelligence, CRM and project management systems are not the expensive, complex behemoths they were 10 years ago. Instead, many are SaaS-based, rapidly deployable and easy to use and administer.
Using a SaaS-based spreadsheet
At BrightRoll, a 100-person online video advertising firm, Vice President of Marketing Daryl McNutt was well aware of his users' fondness for Excel. But rather than getting "trapped" with a product that would limit them, he decided to try SaaS-based Smartsheet, which, he says, looks and feels like Excel but is more suited to his needs.
With Smartsheet, users can track projects from conception to completion, attaching relevant documents, media and notes throughout. Role-based access ensures that only authorized users can make changes, while others can view the status of the project or pertinent information in real time from a browser. McNutt also has an instant audit trail for various parts of projects, including budget and delivery, and an alert system that notifies users when deadlines are nearing or have passed.
To collaborate on Smartsheet projects internally and externally with non-Smartsheet users, he exports documents into Google Docs so they are easily accessible. He also can export data from Smartsheet into an Excel format to share with BrightRoll executives who rely on Excel. Their changes are automatically integrated back into the Smartsheet when the file is re-imported.
These interactive and collaborative features are appealing to McNutt, whose company has five offices scattered across the U.S. "Because we're all so remote, shipping a spreadsheet around wouldn't work. This way everyone is kept on the same page," he says.
He has already used Smartsheet to do the company's 2010 marketing plan, budget and creative design schedules with great success. The Smartsheet tool is "less costly" than Excel, McNutt says; enterprise licensing starts at $149 per month for 25 sheet creators and unlimited editors and viewers, the vendor says. But it "works the same for us as Excel would," McNutt says. "There is no real training time to get users up to speed. Many begin using the tool within minutes of introduction."
User frustration with Excel has not gone unnoticed at Microsoft, according to Albert Chew, the company's senior product manager for Excel. Chew says some of the issues described in this article have been addressed in Microsoft Office 2010.
"We've focused in on three key areas with this new version of Excel: business intelligence, high-performance computing and collaboration," he says. He believes customers will be happy with the faster calculations for complex models, the features that help analyze data for business intelligence and, perhaps most important, the ability to co-author spreadsheets and share them in real time.
Microsoft offers several alternatives for users to gain the centralization, collaboration, real-time viewing and version control they crave. One of their options is to use SharePoint. With SharePoint, multiple users can take a file offline from a central repository, and when they load it back to SharePoint, authorized users are notified of changes and have the opportunity to resolve and approve conflicts.