We all know horror stories regarding the proliferation of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and rampant maverick use of Access databases that lead to shadow IT and, eventually, information meltdowns in businesses. For years, the leading performance management vendors have been telling us to dump spreadsheets in favor of their own budgeting and planning applications. Well, an analyst at Forrester Research is now telling us that the war on spreadsheets has already been fought, and guess what: Microsoft won. "There have been countless projects that promised to replace spreadsheets and it just won't work," says Boris Evelson, principal analyst, business intelligence at Forrester. "Spreadsheets are here to stay so what we need to do now is embrace that fact and find ways to work with it - and there are ways." Hmmm. Okay, we have seen attempts to control Excel in the past and they haven't turned out so great. It turns out that Evelson (who took over the primary BI role at Forrester from Keith Gile several months ago) is well acquainted with these projects. A former practice manager at Price Waterhouse, the analyst has used his first paper at Forrester to document some of these efforts and form the basis for some vendor guidance he plans for the future. In his mind, though incremental steps to better spreadsheet use have been taken, there's a lot of work yet to be done by vendors - and enterprises will have to cover their own backside in the meantime.
Among past failures: the enterprise content management (ECM) system as repository, where vendors (Interwoven, FileNet (IBM), several others) offer check in/check out of spreadsheets, among other forms of content. While these systems help control access and versioning, there's not much other value add in this "manage, monitor and control" approach. "What I want is my Excel on my desktop doing pivots, slicing and dicing, and I want to work in real time with somebody else," says Evelson. "That's what a lot of users are asking for and it's not really available today."
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