Cambridge Semantics, Looking to Put Microsoft Excel “On Steroids,” Brings Intelligent Data Sorting to Non-Techies

7/8/10Follow @xconomy

Semantic technology—a broad term in the software industry for adding meaning to pieces of information so they can more efficiently interact with each other—is seen as a useful vehicle for helping businesses sort through data relevant to their everyday operations. The problem is, IT guys are typically those who have the most access to and understanding of the technology, not the people who need the information the fastest, for everything from putting together budgets to tracking clinical trial data.

That doesn’t have to be the case, though, according to Cambridge Semantics. The Boston-based startup (yes, a location misnomer) is making semantic middleware that puts all the semantic technology on the back end for business users, and helps them benefit from the functionality without the technical know-how. The company’s “Anzo” software suite tries to add meaning and power to the applications that the vast majority of business people use to find and organize information—Microsoft Excel and Web browsers. “The interface that the user is used to gets put on steroids,” says co-founder and chief technology officer Sean Martin.

The company was founded by several veterans of IBM’s Advanced Internet Technology Team, which spun out products like open-source enterprise semantic middleware, and servers that powered the online scoreboard systems for events like Wimbledon and the Olympics, Martin says. Most of them worked in Big Blue’s office in Cambridge, where the startup originally planned to be located, hence the name. But it turns out downtown Boston was more convenient for their commutes.

The main aim of Cambridge Semantics’ software is to convert the ad hoc process of gathering and organizing data into one that is highly automated. And it allows users outside of a company’s IT department to do this in a few minutes—rather than waiting for the months it would take IT to build an engine that does the same thing, says Martin.

Take the process of forecasting a total budget for 100 or so different departments. Typically, those with this daunting task create a template in Excel and e-mail it out for the relevant departments to fill out and send back, Martin says. The person in charge of gathering the data has to merge the dozens of different replies, either by copying and pasting or re-entering the numbers, with the risk of introducing errors in the process. With the Anzo software, the system instead … Next Page »

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