We often hear - "I didn't know that was possible with Excel." Well, sharing cell-level changes with other users and systems is now possible. Of course, you might have some questions...
Boardwalk is an enterprise-quality, positional data management system which supports collaborative desktop-based processes that are either initiated from the desktop in spreadsheets or initiated from an ERP system and a workflow is executed on the desktop in conjunction with the ERP system.
To enable this, a unique database technology, which we call a Positional Data Management System, has been developed to enable enterprise-quality desktop processes driven by spreadsheets or other tabular data environments. Boardwalk is used to store and retrieve data using a row & column address similar to Excel but with two additional dimensions added to each cell update—user and time. Boardwalk's unique, patented design means you can collaborate using a shared range (or ranges) of positional data. In addition, role-appropriate row & column-level access control to the data is automatically controlled by Boardwalk or leveraged through another enterprise application.
All the capabilities of Boardwalk are exposed through a rich set of Boardwalk APIs which have been developed to support creating and managing tabular data in Excel, any tabular desktop application, or a form. Currently, the server-side APIs are all Java based while the desktop interactions can be driven through the Boardwalk Command Language (BCL) which is a VBA macro control language.
Boardwalk is very different than other products that support "collaboration" because Boardwalk supports collaboration between any number of users and systems at the cell level without leaving the desktop. Boardwalk lets you select positional data in ranges, like a PrintArea, and links the cells to a Boardwalk Server running on top of a traditional relational database which captures the data and formulas stored in the positional range of data and then presents this shared range back to any number of user in the positional data environment (often a spreadsheet) on their desktop, on-demand.
That means that once the data is linked into Boardwalk – the “single version of the truth” for that data is on the server – and when users look at their spreadsheets, they are seeing a representation of that data that has been designated for them to see. In other words, with Boardwalk, instead of managing spreadsheet files, you are managing positional data at the cell level. Users still work with Excel on the desktop, but the data is transparently controlled and managed by the server to support collaboration between Excel desktops and backend systems.
This unique (patented) technology includes:
Boardwalktech's approach to spreadsheet collaboration is much different than copying a spreadsheet to a hosted server which is then used as a "centrally stored version" which can be used for collaboration. Boardwalk takes a range of "data" (data and formulas) from a spreadsheet and populates that into a patented "positional" database. Once in the database, the data can be used to support a collaboration between multiple users working in locally-stored spreadsheets or through
a tabular browser interface. Every time a user makes a change, it is versioned in the
Boardwalk database and then, regardless of whether the user is working locally or through the browser, the changes are synchronized between all the users automatically using the "single-version-of-the-truth."
All updates to the Boardwalk data can be accessed through a query and used to support analytics. For example, you can compare the current data with a change last week by a particular user. You can compare any slice of data against any other slice of data within the Excel or any other reporting environment enabling robust report presentations & analytics.
When an individual user then makes changes, they "submit" the changes (including structural changes like a new column, added/delete rows assuming they have permissions to do so) back to the Boardwalk server. Boardwalk tracks every change to every cell whenever a user submits changes to the Boardwalk Server. These changes are captured as versions which can be used for change reports and other analytics. When another user then "refreshes" the latest data from Boardwalk, all changes made by any other user will be brought locally into that user's local version. A typical version control system is one-to-many whereas Boardwalk is many-to-many.
You can produce reports that show all the changes to every shared cell, row, or the entire range of shared data, who made them, when, and why. You can see changes made by both other users and other systems.
Boardwalk leverages the capabilities of Excel for checks and validation such as being able to verify that all required input has been captured or that changes made do not exceed an allowable amount. There is another layer of validation that is possible at the server level such as validating part numbers and customer names with an ERP system before allowing updates from the spreadsheet process.
Web-based spreadsheet applications are just that—web-based. You cannot continue to work with your desktop Excel data in conjunction with a web-presentation of the same data. To be truly a “collaborative spreadsheet," means you must work across the enterprise and not be constrained to the local spreadsheet or just to a browser spreadsheet. With Boardwalk, you have an enterprise-quality database managing the tabular data & formula and the collaboration and consolidation requirements of all the users involved in the collaboration regardless of whether they are working on their desktops in isolation or through a browser-based spreadsheet. Boardwalk can be used to extend the Google spreadsheet to include row and column access control, change management, and integration with other applications. Contact us to find out how.
Boardwalk is driven by Excel, which means if you can model your data requirements using a tabular (row-column) environment including business logic, then it will work the same way with Boardwalk. For example, if you want to work with both the booking and ship date, the ship date can be an automatically calculated date based on either a fixed lead-time ratio or it can be specific to each part (unit). Any logic model in Excel driven by a formula is easily incorporated into Boardwalk and the unit booking and shipment information can be captured in additional columns (right next to the forecast information or anywhere else in the Excel file). Also, since data entry is governed using cell-level access control, you can set it up such that an individual ship date can be adjusted manually if required. All changes are also tracked at the cell level so you can always know who has made what change and why.
Boardwalk fully leverages Excel's capabilities for data manipulation and reporting. Since Boardwalk shares a "range" of data, users can have other data models within their Excel workbooks (like commission calculations for sales reps) which is not shared with others, but is driven by the shared data. This means there's no "export" and associated risk of version mix up — all data manipulation is done in and managed by Excel.
Boardwalk supports two-way collaboration and consolidation which means in addition to rolling up information from field users using Excel, information from the factory, such as backlog, can be integrated and viewed by any authorized users of the spreadsheets. Boardwalk can take information from ERP and order management systems and automatically merge this data into the forecasting process seamlessly. The same capability used for backlog data is used for actuals, current booked & shipped orders.
Boardwalk's two-way collaboration means management can make adjustments to any forecast item and the next time a rep updates his/her local forecast, they would see the change done by management. This can be done on the sales rep's forecast data (or an aggregation of forecast data) or in an "adjustment" column which is next to the sales rep forecast input. This adjustment column can even be hidden from the reps and only available to management. As with all other updates, all changes are automatically versioned so you can always "replay" all changes to understand forecast history.
Boardwalk does this through a "template" mechanism which provides a "starting"local Excel-spreadsheet based report for users in a collaboration. Once "materialized" on the desktop which means the latest data & formulas from the appropriate shared range of data is loaded into the local spreadsheet, users can make their own format changes to their local copy while not losing data persistence. With Boardwalk, data persistence means subsequent changes are refreshed and change manageable. This is quite different from other "Excel reporting" approaches where a new file is sent every time a change is made and the user loses the changes made to the previous file and, worse, needs to manually figure out what's changed. Graphs and pivots also automatically refresh as new data is brought into the local spreadsheet.
Document management and workflow solutions work at the file level. Boardwalk provides a cell-level version management solution which is a perfect compliment for content management applications.