Taking spreadsheets to the next level
What is Egeria Spreadsheets?
Egeria Spreadsheets is a collaborative multidimensional web-based spreadsheet service.
It is designed to simplify creation and maintenance of large worksheets with complex calculations.
Egeria can be used to quickly implement a wide range of planning, budgeting or reporting solutions, create financial models and perform what-if simulations.
Why another spreadsheet application?
I am working as an IT contractor (software development) for almost 10 years now.
It mostly involves creating custom applications for non-techies (people from controlling, marketing, finance and so on) who work for large companies.
Here are some observations I did so far:
- Spreadsheet is the most used (sometimes overused) tool among the non technical people
- Some of the projects I did were literally: We have a bunch of very complex spreadsheets here and we cannot maintain them any more.
Could you please make a web application with the same functionality.
- Spreadsheets are preferred over custom applications when the requirements are changing very quickly:
sometimes people from controlling or marketing departments cannot wait the 4-8 weeks till their IT department implements a change request.
Copy-pasting spreadsheet formulas is often faster than overcoming bureaucracy in an enterprise environment.
Here are the goals behind the Egeria system:
- allow large and complex spreadsheets to remain maintainable
- the majority of people familiar with a traditional spreadsheet application should ideally be able to use it without special training
Key differences to traditional spreadsheets
- Multidimensional data model: worksheets are organized by business entities (SKUs, departments, years, months, scenarios and so on).
The data is stored in a more structured way which has many benefits like simple and robust computations across multiple worksheets.
- Robust formulas: while Egeria's formulas are very similar to the formulas from common spreadsheet applications, there are two major differences:
- The cell reference syntax is a bit more complex to make computations along multiple dimensions possible
- Formulas cannot be copied. Instead one defines an 'area of effect' for each formula.
With a properly defined area of effect a formula will still function correctly when new dimension elements (or new dimensions) are added.
- Web application: a single document can be viewed and edited by hundreds of users simultaneously
Key differences to OLAP-based business planning software
There are several products for enterprise planning and budgeting with a multidimensional data model. Egeria is different in the following ways:
- Egeria is not specialized for a certain task (like budgeting). It is more of a spreadsheet with a multidimensional data model.
- Egeria should be easier to use for people familiar with traditional spreadsheet applications.
I am working on the following features (which I think are critical for an MVP) at the moment:
- User authentication and authorization: It will be possible to restrict a part of a cube a user can view or edit.
Filters/rows/columns would show different items depending on privleges granted to the logged on user
(e.g., a user from a certain region would only see points of sale from his region).
- Improving data import and export capabilities
- Documentation: Egeria's cell formatting and formula concepts are very versatile.
Apart from computations it can also be used for input validation and definition of a workflow process
(e.g., by using a hypersheet with checkboxes to submit/reject input data for a certain period).
These functions should be documented and explained with examples.
I have started this website before the commercial release to better understand the demand for such a system and to learn the needs of the potentional users.
I also hope to find some pilot users. Here are the main concerns I have right now:
- Multidimensional data model: I was fascinated by the modeling power of a multidimensional spreadsheet, when I first started working on Egeria.
A wide range of problems which are now solved by custom software systems (and months of work for skilled programmers and database engineers)
can be solved in a matter of hours or days with a multidimensional spreadsheet.
On the other hand things can get really complicated when a spreadsheet stops being flat.
While showing the project to my friends I noticed that it is really hard to imagine cells in a multidimensional space for most of the people.
I have read the story of Lotus Improv, but I still hope that things are different 30 years later (mainly because the acronym BI is slowly becoming mainstream).
What do you think about the chances of adaptation of a multidimensional spreadsheet?
- Formula language: I was asked why I do not use MDX or DAX or another already existing language. Why invent something new?
I think that MDX queries are not much simpler than SQL. It is still a kind of programming language which is only used by specialists.
On the other hand everybody understands spreadsheet formulas: I click on a cell here, press '+', than I click on the other cell and it does what I want.
Egeria formulas work in a similar fashion. The most of the operations are simple.
Complex logic can be implemented with simple steps by storing interim result in their own cells (you can have a lot of them in an n-dimensional spreadsheet).
This also makes the computation logic much more transparent. So what do you think about the formula language?
- Use cases: I have collected several example models inside the demo application. There are also screencasts which explain them.
So far I have financial planning, real estate valuation and project management. Do you have a use case for Egeria? Can you explain it?
- Features: Do you think some important features are missing? What should be included in the commercial version of Egeria so you could use it in your company?
- Deployment: Should it be a cloud application? Would you prefer an on-premise installation? Does a single user desktop version make sense for you?
- Marketing strategy: I am trying to develop a marketing strategy at the moment.
Do you have a piece of advice for me?
What is the best approach for selling business software for a startup with limited financial resources?
I would also be happy to find partners who would help me on the sales side.
- Other thoughts?
Please use the anonymous feedback button inside the application or drop me a mail.
You can also post you thoughts in the google group.
Please also mail me if you'd like to schedule a demo or if you'd like to intall Egeria on your own machine.