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I have to admit, our final session of Dreamforce Day 3, “Build Miracles with Microsoft Office and Salesforce,” was the Apttus session I was the most excited to see this week. Partly because I find the Salesforce/Microsoft problem extremely interesting (everyone needs a way to bring these two solutions together!) and partly because I’ve been working with the speaker, Jules Ehlrich, for over a month now, and was excited to see how X-Author would be received by the crowd.

Below, I’ll share what I got out of the 30 minute presentation, which covered:

  • The benefits of connecting the work you do in Excel to Salesforce
  • An overview of the X-Author technology
  • A demo of how to use X-Author to build Salesforce/Excel applications

Excel and Salesforce: A match made in heaven

Salesforce and Excel are two amazing products that accomplish two very different things. Excel is an individual productivity tool. It’s familiar, it’s easy-to-use, and it enables us to do a lot. And EVERYONE uses it. Just in today’s session, which probably had a few hundred people, we estimated there were about 600 different use cases for Excel. Product plans, launch plans, budgets, lists, compliance tracking . . . every department, and every person, has their own use for Excel.

While Excel’s great, and the things we do with Excel are great, Excel lacks the benefits of a back-end. When you click “Save” in Excel, the data goes into a completely unstructured file. The isolation of Excel data is great for some things (like when I use Excel to track my workouts or Christmas shopping list) but for a business user, enterprise visibility is a necessity.

With Salesforce, you have all the collaboration, access on mobile devices, Chatter, processes, and everything else we love, but you can’t do things quickly, or in an unstructured way. For many tasks, Salesforce provides such a controlled, structured environment, it’s not an ideal place to do your work.

Here we come to the crux of the issue: business users everywhere are completing their work in Excel, then manually moving it to Salesforce. It’s manual, error-prone, time-consuming work, that really brings no value to the business.

X-Author enables the best of Excel and Salesforce

The whole idea behind X-Author is that it enables organizations to get the very best of both Excel and Salesforce. X-Author transforms Excel from a stand-alone productivity tool into a real-time user interface for the Salesforce platform, and enables business users to create applications that push, pull, add, modify, analyze, share and save data to and from any Salesforce object—directly from Excel.

This means, for the first time, businesses can apply Salesforce business rules to spreadsheets, access Salesforce logic and relational data from Excel, and make real-time spreadsheet data accessible to any authorized Salesforce in the organization. This is accomplished with the help of X-Author Designer, which is a drag-and-drop tool that lets users create Excel applications for Salesforce from new or existing Excel workbooks.

X-Author: not just another import/export tool

At first it seemed like we might be looking at an import/export tool, but X-Author isn’t just about the ability to just bring lists into Salesforce– it’s about turning unstructured data into relational data. And accessing collaboration tools, Salesforce business rules, and controls, all from Excel. According to Jules, nothing is out of bounds – you can build applications that accomplish anything.

We dove right into an example of an application built with X-Author. Jules demos a quoting tool so we can see how quoting can be done right from Excel. We even see how the you can enforce your business rules right from Excel. (In the example below, the discount required an approval.)

The response from the audience was great – tons of questions, and the room was busy long after the session ended. Anyone who had additional questions was encouraged to visit the X-Author site and sign up for the Dream It To Win It contest – as we’re giving away 10 licenses to X-Author each day of Dreamforce.

We’ve got one more session tomorrow, and I’ll be covering it here on the blog, so don’t miss it!

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