Making sense of spreadsheet mayhem

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Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

I have written in the last year or so about a number of vendors offering spreadsheet management and compliance capabilities. However, one that I had not previously come across is QTier, whose QTier-Rapor product combines spreadsheet management with spreadsheet automation. Indeed, the latter was the original focus of the product, which is perhaps why I had not previously heard of it, or perhaps because it is a relatively small British company that focuses on technology rather than marketing. Indeed, I only got to hear about it because one of its partners, Insight Management and System Consultants, which is a specialist in the public sector, contacted me about it.

The most impressive thing about QTier-Rapor is that it has been designed to support the process of developing (and automating) spreadsheets. Moreover, I mean process in the sense of business process improvement with workflow-like diagrams that you create using drag-and-drop techniques, so that the creation process is formalised, including the various steps that owners, editors and auditors should undertake both during development and testing and prior to formal release to production.

As far as users are concerned, they simply use Excel (any version that supports .NET) but the spreadsheet can be automatically populated from, say, ERP applications and, indeed, a single spreadsheet can be dependent on a number of heterogeneous front-end sources. Spreadsheets are instantiated at run-time and are dynamically populated. You can also write-back to the source systems (if you have permission) or, if the spreadsheet generates information for which there is no relevant data field in the source, then you can use Rapor‘s own database (Oracle or SQL Server) to store this information.

Other automated facilities include data validation (checking for reasonableness), dependency checking (you can’t run a forecast review, for example, before forecast entry), disconnected processing support, a task scheduler and the ability to track the completion of spreadsheets using, say, traffic light indicators. One feature I would like to see is impact analysis and where-used capabilities: QTier says that you could design a spreadsheet for this purpose but it would be for a specific requirement rather than a generic facility. Also, you can’t include a release date as a part of a process though you could use the task scheduler for this purpose.

On the management and compliance side, there are audit trails for security (monitoring role changes), process version history (Rapor includes full change and version management capabilities) and end user and event-based (including subversion events) auditing. There is also an anti-tampering facility as well as locking down to cell level, the ability to assign compliance rules to some spreadsheets but not others, an authentication/registration number that is system generated for all printed versions of a spreadsheet, and the automatic generation of relevant documentation (QTier estimates around 60% of the total).

All of this (and I have only scratched the surface) should make QTier of serious interest for anyone interested in getting a handle on their spreadsheet issues. Despite being only a small company, QTier has been around since 1999 and it has worked closely with PwC on the development of Rapor. It has now established distributorships in the United States, Australia and Ireland as well as the UK. Some of its partners have built applications such as expense or timesheet management on top of Rapor but mostly it is marketed as a generic proposition.