Google adds free business intelligence to spreadsheets

In a move that turns the heat up on Microsoft Excel, Google is partnering business intelligence (BI) firm Panorama Software to develop a software-as-a-service (SaaS) analytics, reporting and data visualisation tool for its free online Google Docs applications suite. Panorama's Analytic for Google Docs aims to smarten up Google's desktop applications (in the same way it has done for Microsoft Office 2007) in order to push it into the hands of more corporate users.

The software, which has been released as a beta version this week, is offered as a free desktop gadget that works with Google Spreadsheets. It draws on analysis, reporting, dashboard, visualisation (charting) and data modelling tools that are part of Panorama's NovaView BI suite. These elements combine to create Panorama Pivot Tables that can be embedded and manipulated in applications like Google Spreadsheets.

Comment: Google will be hoping that this BI tie-up will do more than just drive greater use of its spreadsheet application in more consumer BI applications, for example, to analyse personal expenses. It also believes it will be a boon to small and medium sized businesses that use Google Apps and want more enterprise-friendly capabilities. Finally ISVs will also see this integration as a new opportunity to write custom report templates, analytics and dashboards to help with corporate decision making and planning.

This tie-up represents the second major attempt by Google to make its spreadsheet application smarter. Panorama has already provided a thin layer of integration between NovaView and Google Spreadsheet, but this latest collaboration goes a lot deeper. In line with Google's cloud applications computing model, Panorama has now made its lightweight, yet powerful NovaView Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) engine into an SaaS offering.

Panorama is also looking to develop SaaS NovaView integrations with Google's web analytics and Internet advertising SaaS offerings as well. It is encouraging independent software vendors to follow the lead of its Pivot Table integration within Google and tap into NovaView's APIs to develop customised SaaS BI applications as well.

This could perhaps signal the start of a much deeper level of integration that mirrors Panorama's relationship with Google's rival Microsoft. Apart from rebranding Panorama's OLAP platform as SQL Server Analysis Services, Microsoft has allowed NovaView's BI capabilities to leak into its Office 2007 suite. That said Google still has some way to go to before it can match Microsoft's BI capabilities in Excel. But this integration is a good start.

The Panorama-Google offering now expands the range of free BI options for customers beyond just open source tools from the likes of Pentaho, Jaspersoft and Actuate BIRT. It could prompt Excel users to re-evaluate the per-set licensing they have invested in Excel as they consider the shifting dynamics of delivering BI from desktop to online (cloud) environments.

Madan Sheina, Principal Analyst