SecureSheet: Turning Boring Spreadsheets into Hot Business Apps

Are you drowning in spreadsheets? CIO blogger Mark Gibbs has a service that will tame the sprawl and new value to that pile of digital documents.

What is the most common data exchange format, after PowerPoint presentations? The correct answer is the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. These files are mostly circulated with what can only be described as wild abandon and they often multiply at an astounding rate.

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Look around most enterprises and you'll find not just thousands of spreadsheets but also tens of thousands of alternate versions, many of which will never be used again and will probably wind up simply being lost somewhere in corporate storage.

While the majority of these spreadsheets are unlikely to contain sensitive data it only takes one spreadsheet with, say, a list of customers or an analysis of the build cost of a product, to fall into the wrong hands and, at the very least, create a potentialy embarrassing situation. At the worst, it could cause the loss of revenue, erosion of competitive edge, or lawsuits.

But controlling the distribution of spreadsheets is difficult as they are not only a fundamental format for circulating data but, most importantly, pretty much everyone understands how they work and how to view and use them.

Sure, if you want security you can lock down spreadsheets – Excel has a whole security subsystem for this purpose that can be used to limit access at various levels – but it's hardly what you'd call a simple, manageable system. And it does nothing to control spreadsheet sprawl; you're still left with the problem of which copy is the most recent and where is it.

If this sounds familiar, I have a solution for you: SecureSheet, a software as a service (SaaS) provider that offers an online spreadsheet platform.

SecureSheet allows you to share a spreadsheet with other people and control not just who gets access, but also what kind of access (read only or read-write) and to what parts of the spreadsheet.

You can import your existing spreadsheets into SecureSheet and, if necessary, export your SecureSheet spreadsheets back into Excel format.

If you need help setting up and configuring the SecureSheet the company will charge you $299 for five hours of support, which is ridiculously cheap for any consulting service!

SecureSheet supports all of Excel's main functions (some of the more exotic trending functions are missing) as well as basic charting, but it doesn't support Excel macros for security reasons. There's also an API that allows integration of applications with the underlying services.

You designate SecureSheet user names and passwords and then define "views". Views control which rows and columns are to be shown and, if necessary, you can add filters to more finely control the rows that are to be shown according to string- or value-templates.

In practice, you could set up a view called "sales-east" for a national sales analysis spreadsheet with just the columns containing customer names, sales date, and sales value (leaving out all other columns such as profit margin, salesman, and so on) and only include the rows where the region column (which would not be included in the view) contained exactly the string "East".

A SecureSheet spreadsheet can contain up to 65,000 rows with up to 253 columns (Excel supports 256 columns but SecureSheet reserves the last three for tracking information – all changes are logged by user, date, and time).

So, why might one choose SecureSheet over, say, Google Docs? The problem with Google docs is that you can't restrict which parts of a spreadsheet users can see and interact with. Google Docs also doesn't scale well when really large spreadsheets are required.

SecureSheet is priced at $10 per user per month for 500 rows per user (the price falls to $9.50 with six months pre-payment and $9 for a one year pre-payment). Thus, 10 users could share a spreadsheet with a total of 5,000 rows for $100 per month on a month-by-month payment plan. SecureSheet is also available for in-house deployment; contact the company for pricing.

SecureSheet elevates the humble spreadsheet into a sharable business application, at a price that any workgroup can pay for out of a discretionary budget. Outstanding!

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