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ClusterSeven Looks To Secure Google Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are a wonderful planning and financial analysis tool, but a simple mistake can throw off a budget or expense tally costing companies thousands or even millions of dollars. Also, without proper controls, spreadsheets can be manipulated for personal gain or other criminal behavior.

A number of solutions have emerged to help keep spreadsheets under control so companies can track data entry and adhere to their own business rules as well as government regulations, such as Sarbanes-Oxley.

One of those providers, ClusterSeven, has just introduced a version of its Enterprise Spreadsheet Manager solution, already available for Microsoft Excel, to Google's online spreadsheet application (Google Docs and Spreadsheets). The four-year old ClusterSeven is a Microsoft Gold Partner that has attracted a stable of blue chip clients, particularly in Europe, such as Dresdner and two pan-European utilities (RWE and EDF).

As with Microsoft, ClusterSeven's relationship with Google is independent. The search giant recommends third party program's like Enterprise Spreadsheet Manager to corporate clients who want more features than Google's own integrated set of applications provide.

"When we talk to corporate accounts about on-line spreadsheet collaboration, we often get asked about visibility and control over those collaborations," said Scott McMullan, Google Apps Partner Lead for Google Enterprise, in a statement. "ClusterSeven builds on our standard controls to provide a solution that has solved the additional demands of some of some of the world's premier financial institutions."

Enterprise Spreadsheet Manager checks entries against business rules set by the company without any slow down or impact on the user, the company said. Business rules could include adherence to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance regulations and basic security measures to insure no one can benefit personally from what they enter.

Depending on how Spreadsheet Manager is implemented, a designated manager(s) is alerted by e-mail or SMS text message when a rule is broken or conflict arises with a spreadsheet entry. For simple, less critical issues, the user is simply alerted when a mistake, conflict or something counter to company policy is entered.

"We primarily adopt a detective mode like a security camera," Ralph Baxter, senior vice president for product development at ClusterSeven told InternetNews.com. "We don't stop anyone, but we do send alerts when there's an issue and provide companies with a fully auditdable view of each spreadsheet."

Google has been beefing up security in the e-mail component of its Google Apps Premier Suite via Postini, a security company it purchased earlier this year. Postini actually lets companies set rules about what types of information can be transmitted, preventing, for example, social security or credit card numbers from being e-mailed. "We don't yet offer active resistance" to errors, said Baxter, hinting such capability may be in a future release.

While it is important to safeguard against fraud, Baxter said a more common issue is simple user errors or spreadsheet rules not being updated, resulting in "stale information," such as an outdated foreign currency exchange rate.

Google charges $50 per user annually for its integrated Google Apps Premier suite. ClusterSeven charges $1 per day per spreadsheet for its Service, regardless of how many users access the spreadsheet.

"Right now the organizations we speak to are predominantly Excel-based, but now we're seeing an extension into the online world where companies are at shared applications like Google Spreadsheet," said Baxter. "We're looking to help those companies that are looking for the same level of control they have with their desktop."

Currently, ClusterSeven pulls Google Spreadsheet data in behind the firewall and monitors it locally, but Baxter said a fully hosted solution is in the works.