For most companies without a proper programmer, making web applications for their websites—even relatively simple ones that turn inputs into graphically cool outputs—can be costly and time-consuming. Raleigh’s NExS Software makes this process simpler, cheaper and code-free by bringing spreadsheets to life.
NExS is a SaaS product that uses spreadsheets to build deceptively complex and aesthetically pleasing web apps, without all the hassle of programming them.
NExS’s technology dates back to 1988 when Tom Miller, who is currently NC State’s Senior Vice Provost for Academic Outreach and Entrepreneurship, wrote a graphical spreadsheet program to run on Unix Workstations. At a time before Microsoft Excel was even invented, Miller’s product, called Xess, was groundbreaking—and it was in high demand by all sorts of companies and organizations.
“There was no such thing that existed prior to this and we had a pretty good run for a while with the spreadsheet,” Miller said. “It ended up on several places on Wall Street, it ended up on the space shuttle and International Space Station, it ended up in lots of universities and engineering laboratories because of the powerful engineering capabilities we built into it.”
With the advent of Windows 95 came Excel, which basically took over the whole market, Miller said, and Miller’s spreadsheet lost popularity. He closed his business, but he kept the original technology. For a long time, this code stayed on the proverbial shelf, until Miller had the idea for NExS about five years ago.
Then in 2017, Miller and co-founder Zach Williams created NExS. NExS is not a spreadsheet; it is software that performs spreadsheet computations as a service, and it uses Xess’s original technology to do so.
“We are a no-code, app-creation platform,” Williams said, “so people can create useful web applications without having to have the technical, traditional programming background. We accomplish that by creating the NExS platform, which reads a spreadsheet much like how the other software out there reads code.”
While NExS is not currently capable of building entire websites like Twitter or Facebook, it is a valuable tool for users who know how to use a spreadsheet but who don’t know how to program web applications. Meanwhile its WordPress plugin makes this process even simpler to display the results to a customer’s desired audience.
Because of NExS’s capabilities, it has been used by companies and organizations from varied fields and industries, ranging from universities to news outlets (like Raleigh’s News & Observer) to local utilities. Among the potential use cases are allowing potential customers to see how much a product or service might save them given their specific needs, providing customized quotes, or displaying data visually to make a more compelling point.
“What it was intended for,” Miller said, “is that market of people who know how to use spreadsheets but don’t know how to build web applications, who would otherwise have to hire a programmer or outsource to a contract programming shop to build web applications.”
How exactly does NExS work? First, users input the data they want to use in their web app into an Excel spreadsheet.
NExS then makes a Dashboard and uses Excel formulas to help users make calculations. This stage varies, depending on what exactly users are trying to do.
Once the Dashboard is completed, NExS converts this data into a usable web app that users can embed on their websites, like the below web app using data from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Instead of having to scroll through a spreadsheet to compare utility patents by state, users can simply choose a “State 1” and a “State 2” and see that data comparison come to life. Go on, play with it!
Want to try NExS for yourself? Well, you’re in luck — NExS has given our readers the chance to understand just what this software is capable of.
Get the spreadsheet used to make this web application here. Each tab on the Excel file shows a step in the process and shows how NExS was able to build a web application just using a spreadsheet.