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Excel to Web App Delphic Sage

Excel to Web App Delphic Sage

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Published by Mark Patten
Porting Mission-Critical Excel Workbooks to Web Applications

Since the release of the first revolutionary programs such as Lotus 1-2-3 and VisiCalc in the early 80's, business users have had the ability to create and manipulate formulas and assess business scenarios quickly and easily. These features, paired with the increased processing power and storage space in today's computer hardware have taken the possibilities of what can be done with a spreadsheet into the stratosphere. So much so, that today is not uncommon to see what started out as a small, organically grown spreadsheet for a business department or even a whole company turn into an unwieldy yet mission-critical application. One that has far outgrown its original intent.

Topics Covered In This White Paper

-How did we get here - from simple spreadhseet to mission-critical application

-Potential Problems and Limitations - dealing with scalibility, security, collaboration, accessibility and integration

-Taking Things to the Next Level - moving toward a web based application

- Other Alternatives to Consider- cloud computing to heavy duty reporting services
Porting Mission-Critical Excel Workbooks to Web Applications

Since the release of the first revolutionary programs such as Lotus 1-2-3 and VisiCalc in the early 80's, business users have had the ability to create and manipulate formulas and assess business scenarios quickly and easily. These features, paired with the increased processing power and storage space in today's computer hardware have taken the possibilities of what can be done with a spreadsheet into the stratosphere. So much so, that today is not uncommon to see what started out as a small, organically grown spreadsheet for a business department or even a whole company turn into an unwieldy yet mission-critical application. One that has far outgrown its original intent.

Topics Covered In This White Paper

-How did we get here - from simple spreadhseet to mission-critical application

-Potential Problems and Limitations - dealing with scalibility, security, collaboration, accessibility and integration

-Taking Things to the Next Level - moving toward a web based application

- Other Alternatives to Consider- cloud computing to heavy duty reporting services

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Published by: Mark Patten on Sep 17, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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PORTING MISSION-CRITICALEXCEL WORKBOOKS TO WEBAPPLICATIONS
When is the right time to upgrade
 April 2009Scott MercerDirector, Web DevelopmentDelphic Sage
 
 
© Copyright 2009, Delphic Sage, LLC
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INTRODUCTION
Since the release of early spreadsheet powerhouses Lotus 1-2-3 and VisiCalc in the early 80's, businessusers have had the ability to quickly create and manipulate formulae and assess business scenarios.The change of one value in a spreadsheet can trigger hundreds of calculations to fire, and users can build highly insightful models without programming. Microsoft Excel has added various datamanipulation tools, a built in programming language (VBA) and charting capabilities, among many other advanced features making spreadsheets a very valuable business tool.These new features, paired with the increased processing power and storage space in today’s computerhardware have taken the possibilities of what can be done with a spreadsheet into the stratosphere. Somuch so, that today it is not uncommon to see what started out as a small, organically grownspreadsheet for a business department or entire enterprise turn into an unwieldy yet mission-criticalapplication. One that has far outgrown its original intent.The purpose of this white paper is to discuss some of the issues that can arise from an over extended,mission-critical Excel workbook in terms of collaboration, security, stability and scalability; as well as what can be done to mitigate or eliminate many of the problems that may arise. I will also consider theoption of Rich Internet Applications as a viable alternative.
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS AND LIMITATIONS
Scalability and Stability
 As businesses develop tools and models in Excel (or any application, for that matter), they have atendency to become quite vested in getting the most out of them. Because of this natural process, business users often make the spreadsheets more complicated as they refine and streamline theirtools. Also, as time goes on, their spreadsheets tend to accumulate more historic data. Each of thesescenarios represents a healthy use of technology as a tool to analyze business decisions. However,there is a downside of this phenomenon that can be summed up in one word: "bloat". As the size,complexity, and historical content of a spreadsheet continues to grow, performance degrades.Spreadsheets will take longer and longer to open and to refresh calculations. Recently, I witnessed anexecutive dashboard application that took 15 minutes to open on a relatively new ThinkPad notebook.Once the application was open, I witnessed how invaluable a tool it was for its author, a small businessowner. This spreadsheet contained not only their most important decision making tools, but alsohistorical data used by those tools. This data related to pricing, operations, profitability and just aboutevery other key metric for this business.
 
 
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Simply put, Excel is not the appropriate solution for reliable, efficient storage and processing of large amounts of data and it lacks the stability to do this in a safe way. If a user's machine were to lock up during a 20 minute long file opening procedure or aggregate calculation, this could mean thepermanent destruction of said spreadsheet due to file corruption. Also, because these files often sit onusers personal hard drives and not on managed servers, they often fall outside the net of the ITdepartment's automated backup routines.
Security
Not only does the portability of Excel Files subject users to unnecessary risk in terms of scalability, italso opens up a host of security issues. The portability of excel files makes it much more likely that the your business intelligence will "walk away". If a bloated Excel file were to end up in the wrong hands,not only would this entity possess precious data, but also the logical calculations that are used to turnthat data into decision making power. There are various ways that an IT staff can lock down thepermissions file system and domain rules, but when it comes down to it Excel was never intended to be a secure place to store important information.
Productivity and Collaboration
 As a business and the usefulness of its decision making tools grow, comes the inevitable need for thetool to support multiple users at the same time. Currently, this is not something that Excel handlesgracefully. In most situations, each user will keep his or her own copy of the file, and merge data andcalculations regularly with a master file. Many copies of the same file are created and emailed(another security risk), often with changes getting lost in the shuffle. The time spent managing thisprocess becomes a costly liability that grows with the company and the file.
Accessibility
 Another great killer of collaboration (and therefore productivity) is a lack of accessibility. A bloatedExcel file limits accessibility in a number of ways.
 
Hardware Limitations -
To work with large files, the user must have a well appointed system. Thiscan limit which users are able to use the application. It is becoming more important than ever tosupport devices such as cash registers, dumb terminals and mobile devices to ensure top notchcollaboration.
 
Connectivity -
The use of an Excel spreadsheet is often limited to those who have ready access tothe file. This often presents such expensive hurdles as VPN connections and File Synchronizationroutines that act as further impediments to collaboration with users who may be working from homeor at a client site.
 
Software Limitations
- Microsoft Office must be installed on all clients.

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