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The Net Takeaway: Competitor's Tools, or just Tools?


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Competitor's Tools, or just Tools? · 04/28/2008 01:02 PM, Analysis Marketing

I was working with a friend in Sunnyvale and we were trying to solve a problem. After the 4th spreadsheet mailed back and forth and 20 more minutes of “Ok, go to cell C137, and change that formula to, ready, =A27/$Q$5 and copy it into every 3rd column and you’ll have what I have”...

I suggested just going to Google Docs and setting up a quick shared spreadsheet.

Silence on the phone. “But.. but they are a competitor”.

“In what way? Do we sell a spreadsheet?” I wanted to hear her real concern, and this is the standard knee-jerk reaction.

“No, but this is confidential information and we can’t let it out of the enterprise. We have a policy about this, don’t we?” she returned.

“Ok. But I saw some people sending spreadsheets around via Yahoo! IM, which is inherently non-secure. People email conversion reports to client accounts hosted via Gmail; email is non-secure and Gmail is, well, Google. So, sometimes, we do let things out of the enterprise.”

I continued. “And for this sheet, you have Group A and Group B all over the place with no actual client or group names. In fact, other than the headers, this could be data from an chemistry experiment. And yes, we do have a policy, but I’m not giving the data to others or taking it home; I am using a tool hosted outside of our corpnet to process unidentified numbers.”

She jumped in: “But they can see this data! This would reveal confidential information about this advertiser spend if it ever got out, or Google could use it against us in their strategy. Or they just simply leak that we use their office suite. Imagine the press: Yahoo! uses Google to run their business.”

“Of course they can see this data if we use their system. They see millions of bytes of non-identified data per second. I don’t think they will be able to figure out what Group A really is, since I get confused and I do know… And given recent news, aren’t we testing using Google to run part of our business anyway? It’s not like we are getting rid of Excel or OpenOffice (which rocks, by the way), but for interactive spreadsheeting, they have a great solution. By the way, Yahoo! buys search ads on Google to drive traffic to our properties. And guess what: Google buys ads on Yahoo! to drive traffic to their offerings (like Gmail and Docs). So, I guess we are already using each other to run parts of our business.”

She was adamant. “No. We won’t put any of this on Google’s spreadsheets. You are insane to suggest it.”

I was a bit bleary at this point. “Ok, what if we didn’t use any column headers other than pure codes. Group A and B stay, but we change Impressions to S, Clicks to K, and CPM to Q. Its completely contextless, only you and I know what these are, and we can get this done in minutes. And think of how smart this is: They are paying programmers to improve this product so that we, their competition in search, can benefit by being more efficient. If we want to acquire or license SharePoint for Excel or EditGrid or ThinkFree or Zoho or any of the others then I’ll use them. But til then, why not leverage the efforts of our foe to conquer them? It’s like Judo!”

More silence.

“I’m emailing you the sheet again. Please let me know when you get it”. You could hear her gritted teeth.

So, we continued sending the 600k sheet back and forth, and solved the problem. We are both excel wizards, so we knew how to do all the tricks, so there were hassles, but it was comfortable. It also led to lots of copies of this sheet in my inbox and sent mail, and same for her; our mail server sent extra junk, and of course, it will all get backed up.

So, I ask you, my audience. You work at big and small companies, publicly traded and not. Think of this as a business school case study. Comment away, on the below or on anything else.

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