Last week I wrote about SocialText's new SocialCalc functionality. This week I have had a real life example hit me like a hammer to the side of the head that just proves the desperate need for a Social Spreadsheet. I got thrown in to the middle of an exercise to compile a budget estimate for some major development. The problem is that there are hundreds of moving parts and what ifs. As usual there is a spreadsheet template. Its just that it doesn't fit for the group I have been asked to help with.
As with most budget spreadsheets it is fairly simple. Lists are summed in to totals, which get transfered to a summary page. No complex math to deal with just contingency percentages and a few standard rates.
What has been fascinating is the process of compiling the spreadsheet. It required people sitting in a room to discuss approaches which led to a quick back of the napkin style estimate. Once the first iteration was completed it was necessary to circulate it to be sanity checked. Then the merry go round began in earnest.
"What was this number based on?", "Where did this number come from?", "That numbers included elsewhere - we don't need it" (Where elsewhere is another spreadsheet we are not privy to).
Getting the spreadsheet completed is not a math exercise. It is a social discussion exercise and in this instance many of the clarifying conversations happen as sidebars that may not get captured.
This is frustrating old style collaboration that is being driven to a new style collaboration timeline. The process is time consuming, error prone and combined knowledge is filtered away rather than amassed during the process. The whole exercise just confirms the compelling need for shared spreadsheets. One's that are editable in real-time by multiple people and comments can be easily captured and referenced.
This all just serves to convince me that a SocialCalc-style spreadsheet solution coupled with a JackBe-Presto-style enterprise mashup tool could prove to be the killer enterprise productivity platform of the imminent future.
Think about it.
As knowledge workers we typically pull information from multiple sources. We need to normalize that information in some way, filter it and then perform an analysis on it. More often than not this exercise is a collaborative one where we work in teams to create an end product.
So SocialText and JackBe - How can we enhance the integration between SocialCalc and Presto? These are two great companies with some brilliant development talent. I believe there is a powerful solution here that is greater than the sum of the two parts.