Why Excel in the Browser Matters to DBAs

3 Comments

Today at the Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, Microsoft announced a free web-based version of Microsoft Office 2010.  Much like Google Docs, Office users will be able to collaborate on the same document at the same time from anywhere, even without Office installed.  Users will be able to edit documents from IE, Firefox, Safari, even iPhones.

I’m completely sold on cloud-based collaboration technologies, and I’ve been an avid user of Google Docs for years.  It helps me break down walls between internal and external collaborators.  Right now, as we speak, several of us are editing a Google Docs spreadsheet to vote on the winners of the Best Thing I Learned At PASS contest.  I was able to set up a new document, share it with several people, and get collaboration working without any VPN problems, permissions, file sharing difficulties, you name it.  Presto, any one of several people can edit my spreadsheet.

Now replace “contest results” with “P&L statement”, and start asking questions.

Picture your CFO sharing the P&L results with several high-ranking executives.  Are all the cells locked?  Are you sure?  What happens when someone changes numbers?  How good is your change tracking?  Where did those sales figures come from?  Can you show the family tree for any given cell of data?

When I was a data warehouse administrator, end users constantly came up to me and said, “The data’s wrong in the data warehouse.  This here number on my report can’t possibly be right.”  To troubleshoot it, I had to ask:

  • What’s the calculation used to build this number?  Are we sure we’re summing when we’re not supposed to average?
  • What’s the SQL query used to get the data?  Are the joins right?  Are the group-bys right?
  • Where did the underlying data come from?  Did last night’s ETL bring in some bogus data, or is the data wrong in the source system?

Reports built by end users are troublesome enough, but when data can be shared and edited by anyone under open circumstances, change management gets more challenging.  In the future, us database administrators will need to pay even more attention to how reports are built and where those numbers are coming from, lest we get thrown under the bus for spreadsheet edits by L337CPA.

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Brent,

    I can certainly see how Google Docs could be great for facilitating online collaboration. So much so in fact, that I may just go and try it.

    I’m interested to know, would you still continue to use the service if Google where to charge for it?

    Reply
  • I would because I’ve got one of those jobs that actually relies on collaboration, but I’m in the minority in IT.

    Reply
  • Rob Mackenzie
    July 16, 2009 12:15 pm

    We do pay for our Google Apps usage for our business. It’s not even that we needed the increase in features. I just didn’t want to hear the endless “you-get-what-you-pay-for” finger-waggling if Google’s systems went down. At least by paying we have an inherent ‘proof of contract’.

    With that said, the Google stuff is incredible. Our folks adopted it so fast, that accounting even created an expense form all by their lonesome (users submit expenses, it updates sheets which update other sheets or notifies users).

    Reply

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