How To Create A Formula In Excel For Multiple Cells Business Drivers Behind the Online Spreadsheet Boom

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Business Drivers Behind the Online Spreadsheet Boom

Last night, a factory manager in Singapore looked at his Dell Latitude while waiting for his Korean supplier to update his main stock. Meanwhile, in Seoul, inventory clerks at three factories frantically exchange emails to compile the final document.

Yesterday afternoon, the CFO provided financial data for the quarterly board report. This morning her administrator found out that the most recent HR data was in HRversion5.xls and not the HRversion4.xls she was using.

The national sales manager eventually received monthly forecast spreadsheets from six regional managers, all of whom collected spreadsheets from their sales teams. Although it took two hours to carefully combine all the data, cut and paste errors resulted in more than $1 million in projected revenue.

Business Transformation 101

How can such events happen again? Don’t companies spend billions of dollars on IT infrastructure every year to coordinate things like this? Don’t core business systems include applications for managing production, inventory, sales and finance?

Of course they do. And the open secret is this: they don’t work. They can’t.

Makers of ERP, Supply Chain Management, CRM systems and the like are focused on managing the internal functions of a company. In many cases, they are simply not applicable to the way business is done today. Tom Friedman helped describe the new borderless globe in The World Is Flat. There is now little dispute that the principal place of business is outside the four walls of the parent company and is divorced from the infrastructure to manage it.

Employees in home offices, overseas suppliers and field sales teams spread across five continents must work and communicate when not connected to their company’s IT assets. They improvise when necessary. They use tools they know and common tools.

What began as gap solutions have now become de facto standards for intra-company and cross-continental business. Outlook and Excel have become functional core applications for collaboration and productivity in the 21st century.

So what’s the problem?

Excel was created as a personal productivity tool, but now it’s relied upon as an enterprise-class application that acts as the key to a so-called flat world. Every week, millions of Excel spreadsheets issued from Starbucks, airline lounges and office cubicles circulate the globe. For internal applications and data, corporate IT implements security, version control, user rights, backup and permissions. But Excel is out. It’s on almost every computer around the world and can be created, edited—and, thanks to email—exchanged anywhere and anytime there’s a Wi-Fi connection.

Email can be a double-edged sword. Over the past 15 years, it has become an indispensable universal means of communication. It’s the number one method of transferring files – whether it’s a daily cartoon, pdf, YouTube movie or Excel file. It’s convenient, universal and instant. And while it’s a key component of Excel’s solution, it solves one problem but creates a host of others.

Control: When you click send, the file is no longer under your control. What could be (and probably is) sensitive company data is in the hands of people you can trust.

Time Email is sequential. When you need input from multiple people, you depend on them opening, contributing, and resubmitting the document in a timely manner. Whose chain has it now? How are they doing? When will I get my file back?

Responsibility: So who changed what, why and when? Are you working on the latest version or is someone else making further changes there? And with the looming presence of Sarbanes Oxley, tracking the evolution of work product is now essential for business.

Safety: There are good reasons why a company spends millions of dollars on the security of its servers and data. In the wrong hands, company secrets can be exposed or employee information can be compromised.

Email and Office applications have come a long way in the last 20 years. But despite business and reliance on these technologies, they are by themselves a band-aid in their current state, not a breakthrough.


The term “community” is not new. The idea of ​​two or more people being bound by a common interest dates back to earlier human endeavours. More recently, and thanks to the growth of the web, thousands of “communities” have sprung up that cater to people with specific hobbies, interests, or political leanings.

The advent of Web 2.0 technology has led to hosted communities where members can interact with people of mutual interest. Sites like My Space and Facebook were among the first to use the concept of Internet community. For the most part, these sites are aimed at consumers and individuals who interact on their personal time. But what about business? Is the concept of community relevant to them? Absolutely – in spades!

The supplier in Singapore who ships the product to the plant manager in Omaha, along with the COO in the New York headquarters, are members of the community. Their common bond is a mission to produce a product on time and on budget. Their communication link includes phone, fax and email. These types of ad hoc relationships may not have a formal label, but they are still communities. By necessity and custom, communities are a fact of business life. As they proliferate, gaining control and maximizing productivity becomes the primary pursuit.

Managing communities

The concept of community management is emerging as the Holy Grail of managing a new business paradigm. Billions of dollars invested in traditional IT infrastructure—complex application suites, bulletproof security, and armies of IT professionals—are incapable of extending benefits and control to dispersed workforces and communities.

The recipe for a breakthrough in managing an online business community must focus on several key issues.

Security: When you send a file/document by email, you can no longer control its distribution. It is permanently in the possession of the receiver, who can do with it what he likes; today, tomorrow or next year. Your company’s intellectual property is now one click away from the public domain.

Cooperation: Many people are often needed to contribute to a given project. This is especially true for spreadsheets. Waiting for a response from an email forwarded to 12 people in a row is not collaboration; it’s more of a chain letter.

Compliance: Collaboration, communication, and productivity are unlikely outcomes when a community works with different tools or applications. Microsoft Office products are found on more than 400 million computers worldwide. Excel is the gold standard for spreadsheets and is used by 9 out of 10 business people worldwide.

Innovation: Today’s communities have different needs than their cabin-based predecessors. Ideally, the community structure would not only be scalable, but also provide productivity features that are currently unavailable in either native Excel or enterprise applications.

Defensive proactivity: an oxymoron on the surface; but regulations and accountability are a reality that must be faced. Where is the documentation of who changed which cells and when? A strong and controllable paper trail is absolutely necessary.

SaaS Why do people need software as a service? Because they want instant, real-time applications. The concept of SaaS is the cornerstone of offering online communities. Security and always available information is managed by centralized management for community members.

Secure online storage: The only way to have one current version of the truth is for everyone to have one current document. And if the file doesn’t reside on any personal computer, the data is never compromised or lost.


eXpresso is a software infrastructure that adds a shareable dimension. It is a Web 2.0 hosted workspace for Microsoft Office applications. The first offering is for Excel spreadsheet management and collaboration in secure, structured business communities. eXpresso was developed based on the principles and criteria mentioned earlier in this document.

eXpresso users include small workgroups, cross-company project members, and distributed sales teams. Corporate finance departments and compliance experts use eXpresso to control the collection and reporting of accounting documents.

There is no attempt here to detail all of eXpresso’s features or to contrast it with alternatives. An interactive product tour is available at and those interested can try eXpresso for free. Featured examples:

Create or edit Excel spreadsheets online in real time

Store Excel spreadsheets in a secure, encrypted central repository

Collaborate and share spreadsheets with individuals and groups

You can set or revoke viewing, editing, downloading or copying permissions

Compare differences between cells and formulas in spreadsheets with one click

Why Excel?

One of the striking differences between eXpresso’s spreadsheet management and web-based alternatives is eXpresso’s support for Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Many of these other products tout an online alternative to Excel. Competing with Microsoft for a share of the office applications market is certainly ambitious. But there’s little evidence that people want the new spreadsheet; what they want is a divisible dimension to what they already use.

Today’s mobile, distributed workforce faces communication and productivity challenges (as described earlier) that have little to do with the benefits of specific spreadsheet applications. The real problem is the lack of structure to serve the millions of communities that already have a spreadsheet they like: Excel. Providing a generic spreadsheet with reduced functionality does not improve collaboration or support the business community.

Excel’s commitment to user support is based on three principles at the forefront of the eXpresso philosophy.

1. There is nothing wrong with Excel. In fact, it is arguably one of the most trusted apps in the world. And a spreadsheet app can’t be instant unless it’s Excel—if you have to learn something new, it’s not instant.

2. The second reason can be described with a number: 150 million. This is a general assessment of Excel business users who are the best candidates to become instant eXpresso users.

3. In addition to raw numbers, Excel has been entrenched as the business standard for spreadsheets for many years. People know it, like it, and use it.


The traditional business structure is rapidly becoming obsolete, driven by fundamental shifts in the way people work, the way organizations communicate, and the loss of traditional boundaries and time zone constraints.

One way to adapt to change is to formalize and apply structure to natural communities of like-minded business people. The Web 2.0 concept is a critical foundation and enabler for using the Internet to provide community management and special application services.

Offers in the arena of online services continue to grow. In the spreadsheet market in particular, potential users prefer a service that offers universally valuable features.

Outlook and Excel are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.

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