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British readers will recall the allusion in the title of this article, but for those not so blessed I should say that it refers to an advertisement for a brand of lager that could do wonderful things (according to the ad) for the bits of you that no other beer could reach.
This is pertinent because Actuate has just launched the Actuate Spreadsheet Application Platform and it does things for Excel spreadsheets that no other product on the market (at least that I am aware of) can do.
Now, readers may recall that I have written on a number of occasions about the dangers inherent in spreadsheets if they are not properly managed and controlled. Indeed, we published a white paper on managing spreadsheets earlier this year (which is available as a free download) which highlighted the problems and what you could do about them.
When I wrote that white paper there were no complete solutions for any of the problems facing users of spreadsheets. However, it looks as if Actuate has now developed something that is broad enough to work in that capacity.
In fact, the Spreadsheet Application Platform does not represent Actuate’s first foray into this arena: it has been offering what it called e.Spreadsheet Option for some time. However, while this supported the extraction of data from multiple sources into a spreadsheet and implemented cell level security (quite cleverly: it uses colour coding to distinguish between locked cells and cells that you can update) and an audit trail, it also lacked a number of features that you would really want to see.
In particular, previous iterations of the product did not support macros. Nor, if you changed a macro, would that change be logged in the audit trail. The new product does precisely these things.
It also does two other things that you really require in an enterprise spreadsheet platform. First, it now supports write-back (to a source database) and, secondly, Actuate has incorporated workflow into the product. This means that, if you are using spreadsheets for budgeting or planning, for example, then you can set up reminders, nag people about filling in their forms or approving them, and so on.
I think the big point about the Actuate Spreadsheet Application Platform is that it addresses the whole spectrum of uses for spreadsheets and not just a part thereof. There are existing point solutions, for example OutlookSoft does some pretty neat things with its WebExcel product, but it is limited to corporate performance management whereas Actuate potentially covers all uses of spreadsheets within the organisation.
I am seriously impressed with this release. Since I can say with certainty that you have a significant problem with spreadsheets (even if you don’t know it) then you should definitely be looking at this new Actuate product. Indeed, you can use the product’s own acronym, ASAP—that’s how soon you should be talking to Actuate.