Here at Synapse, we love spreadsheets. We even have the mugs to prove it. Supercharging spreadsheet use is what our product is built around; whilst we’re developing the possibilities further and further, it’s interesting to look at how far spreadsheets have come.
It’s broadly accepted that Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston’s VisiCalc was the birth of the spreadsheet as we know it today. It will turn 37 this year – October 17th, if you’d like to celebrate – although there’s some controversy about alternative precursors, Sperry Univac’s MAPPER being a notable one.
VisiCalc stood out amongst these for various reasons that Bricklin notes on his website – primarily a UI and design so effective and user-friendly that its structure has stayed with us throughout the many permutations of spreadsheets over the years and the ability to run on affordable, personal machines, thus making it accessible to all.
For the real spreadsheet geeks amongst us – guilty! – a working copy of the original IBM VisiCalc spreadsheet program from 1981 is available to play with here. It’s similar to the early prototype Bricklin created during an assignment at Harvard Business School. The next year, it was picked up by Apple and in Steve Jobs’ words, “propelled the Apple II to the success it achieved”. VisiCalc may even be responsible for Apple becoming the tech behemoth it is today as it convinced a lot of people to purchase their first computer. It’s a little ironic that Apple were first to champion the spreadsheet for wider audiences as their competitor Microsoft completely dominates that market now with Excel.
VisiCalc’s co-founder Frankston described their creation as a “magic sheet of electronic paper that can perform calculations and recalculations, which allows the user to solve the problems using familiar tools and concepts” and this is precisely what it has remained. Competitors such as Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Multiplan sprung up, in part due to the rarity of patenting software at the time and in part simply due to the obvious huge potential. Excel developed from Multiplan, the first version was released in 1985 and had a big hand in making Microsoft a leading PC software developer.
Today, Excel is the lingua franca of the finance and accounting worlds. Its innate flexibility, power and intuitive interface have made it an invaluable tool.
Even as spreadsheet devotees, however, we admit that traditional spreadsheets have frustrating limitations. The possibility of error is extremely high with most studies estimating it around 88%. These errors can be extraordinarily dangerous – JP Morgan Chase’s infamous $6billion “London Whale” incident being the first to come to mind. This is amplified by collaboration issues meaning endless versions are emailed around the business, by no record of changes, a lack of auditability, security, scalability.
This is where we come in. Connecting your spreadsheets to our Cloud means we can iron out all the wrinkles to give you a vastly improved spreadsheet experience. We retain the familiar front-end and everything that has made Excel the finance department fundamental it is today but add invaluable features like an automated audit trail and designated security clearance levels amongst others, but perhaps most importantly: multi-user functionality that enables users to simultaneously work on the same up to date spreadsheet.
From VisiCalc’s very beginning, it was clear that spreadsheet programs would become an enormous part of how we do business and it’s apparent that they’re here to stay. Our solution has modernised the simple spreadsheet, transforming it into an exceptionally powerful tool – Synapse has the potential to transform today’s finance world in the same way that VisiCalc did so many years ago.