Actuate Tackles Excel's Two Biggest Shortcomings

Actuate’s revamped e.Spreadsheet addresses two of Excel’s biggest shortcomings: Complexity and security

The venerable spreadsheet is widely used as a front-end tool by BI consumers, from finance officers to systems analysts and sales representatives. This can cause no end of headaches for IT, however, because when used by themselves, spreadsheets are a management nightmare.

For starters, spreadsheets provide no central means of data management, data consistency, data collaboration, or data security. Many vendors have tackled these problems by developing what one analyst has called “better-than-spreadsheet spreadsheet” solutions, but there’s still work to be done. With the release of new Cell Locking and Matrix Script capabilities for its e.Spreadsheet product, Actuate Corp. says it’s addressing two of the Excel spreadsheet’s biggest shortcomings: complexity and lack of security.

The revamped Actuate 8 e.Spreadsheet now features cell locking—designed to help shore up its compliance credentials—and matrix script capabilities, which Actuate officials say helps to automate many complex Excel tasks and makes the Excel environment more usable for a wider variety of consumers.

Cell Locking, for example, lets companies distribute live spreadsheets to thousands of report consumers and helps to ensure that specified cells—or the spreadsheet in its entirety—can’t be altered. The feature even lets users conduct analysis on protected cells within the spreadsheet, ensuring that once the data is manipulated to a user’s satisfaction, the original data is retained.

Not surprisingly, Actuate officials position the new cell-locking feature as a boon to companies trying to retrofit their spreadsheet-based reporting systems for compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and other regulatory requirements. “IT guys are terrified about Excel-based applications because they’re manual. If they’re manual, you can’t tell that the guy who’s doing it is getting the right data, you can’t tell if he’s entering the formulas correctly, you can’t audit, and you can’t tell if he’s done it week after week after week,” says Jeff Morris, director of product marketing for Actuate. “That’s the manual thing that makes it a not auditable and repeatable process, which puts you at risk of being out of compliance. This [cell locking] helps address that.”

Elsewhere, the new matrix script functionality lets companies generate live Excel spreadsheet reports that display hierarchical performance data based on any dimension including geography, organizational structure, time or any other arbitrary dimensions specific to a business process. Users can also configure the matrix script feature to create spreadsheets that dynamically adjust based on the value of key metrics.

Actuate’s Morris says the feature can help automate complex tasks. “In many organizations, there are these ‘smart guys’—these one or two guys inside of finance who do the tricky reports that have to be sent out to the CFO and other managers, and there’s always the worry that these guys are going to leave,” he says. “So the idea is to free up the smart guys by automating the performance analysis reports, and that’s what Matrix Script lets them do.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.