What-Iffing Aids Quick Decisions

Software gives team members simultaneous access to the same application
For the past few months, the IT workgroup at Rohm and Haas Co., maker of Morton Salt, has been using technology from startup Advanced Reality Inc. to collaborate on product-commercialization plans in real time within Excel spreadsheets over the Internet. Giving multiple team members around the world simultaneous access to the same Excel spreadsheets has had tangible results, says David Bonner, global director of technology for the $6.5 billion Houston manufacturer of specialty materials. "Having the ability to do 'what-iffing' online from any region allows you to make decisions much faster," he says.

Bonner says he expects Advanced Reality's latest adapter for PowerPoint to have a similar impact; an adapter for Word is expected later this year. The technology is unique, Bonner says, and easy on both the IT department and the user. "The beauty of the whole approach is that it requires literally no training," he says. "It's an intuitive extension of the Microsoft desktop."

That's what 20-something entrepreneurs Jeff Hoye and Derek Ruths had in mind when they developed the technology while attending Rice University in Houston. All the adapters are based on Advanced Reality's Presence-AR technology, which makes it possible to embed collaborative capabilities within applications without rewriting the source code.

John Labuda, VP and general auditor at Westlake Group, a Houston maker of petrochemicals and plastics that's been testing the Excel and PowerPoint adapters, says he'd eventually like to add an adapter to Westlake's SAP financials deployment. That shouldn't be a problem, Ruths says, because Advanced Reality also can create custom adapters for existing applications.

The PowerPoint adapter view-only version starts at $1,295 for a starter kit with 15 licenses; full collaborative capabilities will be added in about a month and likely will start at about $5,000. The Excel adapter sells for $5,000 for a starter kit that includes 25 licenses. An enterprise license for either adapter is $50,000.

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