Collaboration Suggestion

Here’s the situation: Four people sharing an Excel spreadsheet (Excel 97, Shared Workbook) and updating constantly. Column A has times at 15 minute intervals. Row 1 has names. The users enter an address at an intersection indicating where a certain person is supposed to be at a certain time.

The users are experiencing some instability and there are some Excel features that are unavailable when workbooks are shared. That’s not a big surprise, because sharing workbooks stinks. I usually recommend against it before I even know what the issues are.

I recommended Google spreadsheets. I’m sure there’s a better tool, but I just can’t think of it. What would you suggest?

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11 thoughts on “Collaboration Suggestion

  1. Judging from the first few sentences you’d actually need a shared calendar. The second part ‘some Excel features’ is somewhat of a question mark but I these online spreadsheets seem to be okay:

    Expresso
    http://www.expressocorp.com/products.html
    They have alerts, access control and an plugin for offline access as well.

    EditGrid
    http://www.editgrid.com
    Their EditGrid Excel Plus does pretty much the same as Expresso above. Looks pretty slick.

    ZoHo Sheet
    http://sheet.zoho.com
    I spend some time looking over this one and I like the way it looks and works.

    ZoHo has my vote but I haven’t really done much with online spreadsheets so my vote isn’t much worth for that matter. Maybe someone else has a better solution.

    Remco

  2. We recently finished (Nov 15) a three year battle called a data conversion. ( For those of you considering such a venture – keep plenty of booze and drugs nearby, seal all upper story windows, hide all firearms and sharp instruments )

    That aside, we used GoogleDocs extensively along with GTalk voip and Google’s chat tool. The combonation of these (and GoTo Meeting) was very helpfull even critical at times.

  3. I too worked on major data conversion projects in the past and very quickly gave up on any attempt to use shared workbooks. How I wish GoogleDocs had existed then, it would have been ideal!

    Another option particularly for budgeting projects is the free, excel-centric and open-source Palo OLAP tool http://www.palo.net

    Tom

  4. A “data conversion” sure doesn’t sound like fun. I can’t comment on the use of GoogleDocs and the chat tools (though I was going to suggest IM as a tongue in cheek suggestion for a collaboration tool). But I can say that GoToMeeting is the best screen sharing collaboration tool I’ve ever used. It helps greatly with remote troubleshooting and training, and saves me many hours a month with such tasks.

  5. a shared OneNote notebook residing on a network drive, or better yet on a sharepoint site
    may not have the capabilitites of a spreadsheet, but the full on synching is great!

  6. Isn’t excel services not supposed to handle this workflow type problem?
    Otherwise surely this is a database application in hiding?
    Just my tuppence!

  7. I agree with the other respondent who mentioned this looks more like a database application. If the primary task is data entry, and if the after-entry analytical tasks could be performed using queries into a database, then it would seem foolish to try to use shared workbooks/spreadsheets to do this.

    With regard to alternatives, on-line spreadsheets may be nice, but does anyone here have any experience with multiple users trying to make changes to the same cell at the same time? What are the pick-and-choose features for selecting different users’ entries like?

    Back to databases. If the goal is having all users’ entries visible to all other users, databases would still be the way to go. Just use multiple windows. One for an entry form specific to each user. Another for a query or report, periodically refreshed, that shows all users’ entries.

    That leaves the typical Excel scenario – companies too cheap to give Access to most users, and too timid or bandwidth parsimonious to give data entry employees database accounts/connections. If the data entry employees truly only have Excel, there’s still an alternative – APPENDING records as plain text to centrally stored plain text, flat file databases, then reading those flat files. You’d need to include your own deadlock avoidance coding, but it may still be a more workable solution than shared workbooks.

  8. I would use access actually, with a form that would force a refresh from time time, though I think it already autoupdates upon changing records

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