SOA Architecture, Governance, and Industry Standards in the Enterprise

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StrikeIron OnDemand SOA Web Services for Microsoft Excel

StrikeIron's product, OnDemand Web Services, may be an introduction for many nontechnical people

There was a time when the term "spreadsheet" simply meant columns of data that were summed up. Although this is all the functionality some people require, Excel has evolved into a much more powerful tool. Users now have the ability to create complex formulas with built-in functions such as MAX, SIN, and SUMIF. They can link workbooks together and not only import data directly from a database, but mirror many database capabilities using VLOOKUP and Pivot Tables. Business administrators can use Excel to automate many of their daily tasks, where they used to require the IT department to develop a database and application. With this additional power, concepts such as primary and foreign keys are no longer foreign to the common worker.

Perhaps the reason Web services has not spread like wildfire (as was first expected) is because it has remained in the IT arena. Up until now a person had required a developer to create an application for him that leverages the power of Web services. Even the idea of what Web services are and what can be accomplished with them remains a mystery to the masses. For instance, a travel agent may wish there were an electronic way to reserve hotel rooms with any chain, but he probably doesn't realize that Web services exist and may, one day, be the answer to his prayers. How will non-programmers become familiar with the concept of a standard way of interoperating between different software applications running on multiple platforms?

StrikeIron's product, OnDemand Web Services, may be not only a useful tool, but an introduction to Web services for many nontechnical people as well. It grants the use of Web services to Excel users without any programming required. It doesn't take long to get up to speed. After installation, a "StrikeIron" menu will appear in the Excel menu bar. This will provide you with access to a Web service manager dialog. This dialog can be used to search for available Web services or to locate a specific one. Once you select a Web service you are provided with graphical trees representing the Web service input and output. Now it is just a matter of dragging the input parameters and output fields to your spreadsheet. Input parameters could represent a Web service license key or stock ticker symbol. Output fields could represent the current stock price. These Web service cells are automatically formatted with a comment describing the value that will reside there and what Web service it originates from. You can rename labels and reformat cells. Then simply refresh the Web service from the StrikeIron menu. That's it - no programming required!

The product is even smart enough to fill in multiple rows for one output field, if the Web service provides multiple values for it. So if your spreadsheet requests information on a particular recipe, you simply have to drop the Ingredients field onto your spreadsheet. When you refresh the Cookbook Web service, each ingredient will reside in a row under the Ingredients column. StrikeIron makes it so simple and intuitive that you wonder why this functionality isn't included in the Excel application.

Individual Web services used in the spreadsheet can be customized in multiple ways, such as when to refresh (manually, on start up, on calculation, or every X minutes). Using and refreshing Web services is something to consider, especially when you are paying for it. Any Web service can be used with the product, but StrikeIron also provides a long list of subscription Web services that are paid for on a per-hit basis. The list includes Stock Quotes, D&B Business Information, Do Not Call Verification, Address Verification, and Tax Rates. Pricing is set for individual services. For instance, Real-Time Stock Quotes Basic starts at 1000 hits per month for $9.95 and ends at 1,000,000 hits per month for $359.95. It should be noted that some services require multiple hits per call to retrieve information. This service uses five hits per successful result.

You can incorporate multiple Web services within one spreadsheet. I should mention that the sample workbooks provided by StrikeIron do a good job of showing how Web services can be used in a spreadsheet and complement each other. For instance, one workbook uses the RealTimeStockQuotes and HistoricalStockQuotes Web services to display current detailed stock information alongside graphs representing historical stock information for a company.

A 30-day trial of the software is available on the web ( An annual subscription to the software is $99.95. A perpetual license is $299.95. The software requires Excel 2002 and the .NET Framework with SP1.

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More Stories By Keith Frohnhoefer

Keith is lead application developer at Envision Consulting Group. Envision provides consulting services and software solutions to the pharmaceutical industry. Keith enjoys programming in Java.

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