What Is Alation Connected Sheets? Q&A with the Creators
By Talo Thomson
Published on November 28, 2022
The release of 2022.4 introduces Alation Connected Sheets, a new product under Alation Cloud Service that empowers spreadsheet users with access to trusted data. To learn more, I sat down with the product creators for an interview.
Talo Thomson, head of content marketing, Alation: Krishna, Sathish: Thanks for agreeing to speak with me today. Let’s dive in. What is Alation Connected Sheets?
Krishna Bhat, co-founder & CEO, Kloudio and senior director product management, Alation: Alation Connected Sheets enables business users to pull trusted, governed, and accurate data directly from Alation into Google Sheets for analysis. This means that business users can reduce their reliance on IT and data teams for access to data, all without having to learn a new tool. We’re excited because this new ability will increase productivity for all business users. It will also save them time and give them the confidence of knowing they’re working with approved, compliant, timely data.
What problems do spreadsheets create?
Talo: They say spreadsheets are “the dark matter” of the enterprise. What does that mean?
Krishna: Spreadsheets are truly the dark matter of the data universe. In part this is because they’re easy to create but tough to control. Microsoft has shared that more than 1.5 billion people use Excel globally. And millions of business users use spreadsheets each month to conduct last-mile analysis.
Yet spreadsheets typically exist in silos. They are not easily findable or accessible. It is also hard to know whether one can trust the data within a spreadsheet. They rarely interoperate with other applications. And they rarely, if ever, host the most current data available.
Sathish Raju, cofounder & CTO, Kloudio and senior director of engineering, Alation: This presents challenges for both business users and data teams. In an enterprise, there may be thousands of spreadsheets used for critical business decisions. It’s impossible for data teams to assure the data quality of such spreadsheets and govern them all effectively. If unaddressed, this chaos can lead to data quality, compliance, and security issues. This can ultimately result in fines or suboptimal decisions that cost the company significantly in losses.
Any spreadsheet platform poses risks. Most enterprise data users use Excel today to make business decisions. But they exist mostly in desktops instead of cloud storage. This makes the problem even bigger. Combining online spreadsheets with Alation Connected Sheets makes them centrally searchable, findable, and discoverable.
The journey from Kloudio to Alation Connected Sheets
Talo: I understand you’ve been focused on this challenge for years. You founded Kloudio to address the spreadsheet problem, and Alation acquired Kloudio in February of 2022. Tell me about that journey.
Krishna: Prior to founding Kloudio, I was a Product Manager at Amazon. I noticed that every product team depended on spreadsheets for last-mile analysis. But refreshing this analysis with the latest data was impossible… unless you were proficient in SQL or Python. We wanted to make it easy for anyone to pull data and self service without the technical know-how of the underlying database or data lake.
Sathish and I met in 2004 when we were working for Oracle. We had been dabbling with many other ideas before this, but none of the other problems seemed as prevalent or widespread in the enterprise world as this one. So in 2017, we created Kloudio to solve this ubiquitous problem and support this nontechnical user: product managers, financial analysts, marketing ops teams, sales ops teams, etc.
Netflix was one of our earliest customers. They had reached out to us as they were struggling to give their finance teams self service-access to data from Oracle. Using Kloudio, they enabled their finance teams with self-service access to data. This saved them more than 10,000 hours annually.
With Kloudio, Netflix employees could pull data from SaaS applications and databases into spreadsheets, where it’s auto-refreshed. The simplicity of this solution resonated with many of our customers, who struggled with the skill gap between analysts and a data ecosystem in flux. The explosion of applications and database types has only compounded the problem. We saw this as a critical, growing problem, so it was worth jumping in full time to solve it.
Sathish: Before Kloudio, I was doing data engineering and management consulting for big technology firms in the Bay Area. I worked with financial analysts, data analysts, and business users.
I noticed a pattern: People needed to get data from business applications into an Excel/CSV format – and fast! But most users had to wait for their IT or data team to provide the data in the desired format. This often took days or weeks depending on schedules.
I realized there was a big gap in data access within enterprises. So Krishna and I partnered to address this problem with a product that connects spreadsheets to the source application.
Talo: What convinced you to take the deal?
Krishna: Alation is the recognized leader in data intelligence. So when they approached us with the idea of acquiring us, we were excited about the opportunity. We think it really made sense for the product, as well as for our existing customers, investors and employees.
"With Alation, business users could also understand the context behind the data. We knew that by joining hands, we could unlock more ease of use, productivity, and value for both business users and data teams.” – Krishna Bhat, co-founder of Kloudio
Sathish: We were in the process of raising our next round of funding. In that process, we came across Alation and saw the synergy between our products; Kloudio’s offering complements Alation. So it was a strategic move for us to join Alation. We saw it as a chance to enhance the product while serving a larger customer base. As a part of Alation, Kloudio – rebranded Alation Connected Sheets – can really add value to both business users and data teams in top global enterprises.
Talo: And since then, it’s all been very hush-hush as the team has prepared for this launch. How does it feel to finally let the secret out?
Krishna: Great! I am glad that, within just a few months of acquisition, we could release a great integrated product experience for customers. We think it demonstrates the combined value proposition of both products to customers. We are just getting started and excited about the possibilities and opportunities in this space as we make self-service data accessible for millions of business users and knowledge workers!
Sathish: It feels really good. It has been a great experience joining Alation and integrating Kloudio with Alation Data Catalog. I can’t wait for the users to experience what we have been building in the past few months here at Alation.
How will this update benefit spreadsheet users?
Talo: What other functionality are you excited about? And how will it benefit spreadsheet users?
Krishna: I can’t overstate the value of a spreadsheet that auto-updates with timely data! Business users can now set up auto-refresh schedules, so they can operationalize their workflows and save time otherwise spent on pulling fresh data.
Talo: What’s on the roadmap for Alation Connected Sheets?
Krishna: We are launching with support for Google Sheets first, and Excel support is coming soon.
In the future, spreadsheet users will be able to curate and publish rich metadata about their spreadsheets back into the data catalog. We will also be rolling out features for data teams to catalog and govern spreadsheets besides applying lineage on it; this will enable data teams to eliminate spreadsheet silos and guide more users towards trusted and relevant spreadsheets.
In this way, data teams will be able to help the wider organization with greater visibility into trusted analyses that come from spreadsheets. In future releases, data teams will have the ability to ingest these spreadsheets into the data catalog, making them searchable, curated, and governed for wider use. Data teams can conduct impact analysis, tracing lineage from spreadsheets to upstream source applications. Eventually, they will be able to govern spreadsheets directly from the Data Governance App.
Sathish: I’m also excited about data governance for spreadsheets. The main complaint we hear from enterprises is that spreadsheets are everywhere. Each analyst has their own version of analysis in their spreadsheets due to differences in formulas and data used. And it’s very difficult to manage these silos of data analysis.
A centralized repository of metadata on the spreadsheets will eliminate this confusion. Users will be able to rely on one version of spreadsheet analysis across the company by referencing Alation. No other product in the market does this, including Microsoft.
Talo: Looking ahead, what is Alation’s larger vision for Connected Sheets?
Krishna: Our vision is to give every user the right answer to the right question in the tool they love to use. We want to unleash the power of the catalog to more users beyond just the data teams, and meet the users where they are.
We think of Alation Connected Sheets as “spreadsheets on steroids.” Enterprise spreadsheet users can access trusted data while remaining compliant, since users will only have access to data they are authorized to use. They can understand the context of data. They can create downloadable, auto-refreshable datasets and ensure all further analyses, computations, and dashboards are accurate. They can rest assured knowing their spreadsheets are only using live data from critical data sources. This will help business users be more productive and confident.
Additionally, CDOs can rest assured that all spreadsheet data – and the resulting analyses – are connected, governed, and secure.
Curious to learn more? We’ve got you covered:
Read the overview blog: Alation Connected Sheets Brings Trust to Spreadsheets
- What problems do spreadsheets create?
- The journey from Kloudio to Alation Connected Sheets
- How will this update benefit spreadsheet users?