Automating spreadsheet processes

Philip Howard

Written By:
Published: 11th July, 2016
Content Copyright © 2016 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Back in 2011 I wrote an article ( that was, in part, about automating spreadsheet processes. By that I mean those processes that you go through on a regular basis that involve manipulating one or more spreadsheets. For example, consolidating data from multiple sources for monthly reporting or where you have pricing models that are re-published on a monthly basis, or budgeting or planning applications built using spreadsheets. In short, anytime you are repeatedly manipulating the same spreadsheets in the same way. If you can capture the steps involved in these processes and automate them, then you can eliminate a lot of manual effort while simultaneously reducing the risk of error.

In that article, I highlighted two companies that could capture processes in this way: Ormetis and Apparity. The former appear to have gone out of business and the latter, which has not, makes no obvious mention of this sort of capability on its website. This may mean that I was misled five years ago but it may also mean that the company has not seen much demand for this sort of capability and has simply focused on its broader spreadsheet management capabilities. The latter is suggested by another company that has this functionality but has not been marketing it for this purpose. Indeed, FreeSight (see, the company in question, has been focusing on a completely different market.

FreeSight has been focusing on the self-service data preparation market and the following is extracted from our recent report into that market: "FreeSight is two things: an end-user tool for data preparation and analytics, and, for more advanced users, a development tool for automating reporting and other business processes. The company's users claim significant time savings compared to Excel and that is visually more appealing than Excel. Users work in FreeSight via a visual canvas where all data manipulations are performed, resulting in a process workflow that is live as opposed to just a picture. This supports both data governance and auditing, as well as the ability to restore to a former state. The company has a number of patents to its name with respect to automated joining and cleansing, as well as strong inferencing and profiling capabilities, all based on the product's semantic strengths."

There is actually a mistake in that extract. FreeSight is actually three things. And the third is the ability to automate Excel processes as discussed in my earlier article. Of course this is outside the data preparation market and represents a pure replacement for Excel for those particular environments where repetition is an issue. FreeSight is in no way claiming that it is a general-purpose replacement for Excel. Actually, as I said earlier, it has not been formally targeting this market at all. Not least because it is a difficult market to define in a way that clearly identifies a target market. On the other hand, I understand a number of the company's customers do use the tool for precisely this purpose. In any case, FreeSight is well worth considering, not just for data preparation, but also if you need to manage repeatable Excel processes.

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