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Google Docs & Microsoft Excel working in harmony
Oct 03

Simon and I have been having some similar thoughts regarding hooking Google Docs up to a client side app. While he has been looking at an OpenOffice/Google Docs combo, I’ve been thinking about a Microsoft Excel/Google Docs combo. 

I have always been a supporter of Excel Services. I think that Excel Services has lots of potential. That said, my biggest beef with Excel Services is that it isn’t widely available. No MOSS, no Excel Services. Recently I’ve been experimenting with Google Docs and it became very clear to me that some of Excel Services potential (in regards to scenarios that I’ve been envisioning) is already available by combining Excel with Google Docs. Furthermore, since Google Docs doesn’t require a substantial investment in server software, it is approachable by a much broader audience than Excel Services.

The scenario I’ve been thinking about is basically a sales forecasting application for a manufacturing company. The manufacturing company goes through an annual planning process that involves collecting sales forecasts from dozens of independent distributors. Then the forecasts need to be consolidated and analyzed. Like anything in IT, there are several different ways you can go about facilitating this process. One of the constraints in this case is that the manufacturer has no control over the software used by the distributors.

My goal was to see how easy this type of scenario could be addressed using Google Docs in conjunction with Excel. In a nutshell, I found that a basic solution could be implemented very easily that addresses the needs of this scenario without requiring much in terms of specialized help. Here is what I did:

  1. Setup a Google Docs account
  2. Download the Google Data API
  3. Create a Google Docs sales forecast template (one for each distributor)
  4. Create an Excel 2007 Add-in project using VSTO 2005 SE (once released, it’d probably make more sense to make this a doc-level solution using VSTO 3.0 with Visual Studio 2008).
  5. Use the Google Docs API to retrieve data into an Excel workbook used for consolidation.

First impression? Favorable. I’m going to keep digging. I’ll post more of the technical details in a follow-up post.