Friday, November 21, 2008

The Spreadsheet Problem

Every day, employees across the globe spend a large amount of time pulling essential business data into spreadsheet programs like Excel, then they analyze the data, and then email their results to colleagues. This wastes a lot of time, is insecure, inefficient, and can lead to inaccuracies and multiple document versions that only add to the confusion.

This can create huge problems for a company, but many remain unaware of the potential dangers. This presentation explains the risks associated with this problem, as well as a great way to fix it.

4 comments:

Anonymous 9:17 PM  

I tried to view your presentation link but got a 404 (not connected to valid Internet url error message).

I am well aware of:

Corporate saving money budget by not having tools that could automate transcription of data from one place to another, into whatever final form is needed;
Not having a data warehouse, so many people expend duplicate effort extracting similar data from similar sources;
e-mailing multiple copies of same Excel to multiple co-workers, instead of having ONE shareable place to access to see the latest copy.
Creating spreadsheets that have so many rows columns sheets that the sheer size is such that any communication system chokes when we try to share it.
Different PCs in the hands of different co-workers & trading partners, such that it is not unusual to receive a PC world object that cannot be read because it was created by a more advanced version of spread sheet, word processing, etc. software than the one being used to try to open it.


Al Macintyre
400/nerd

Anonymous 9:54 PM  

After I posted earlier comment, exited my Internet connection, tried the process again, I got in A-Ok.

Another comment ... often the persons who go thru the hassle of getting data into an Excel are different from the persons who will analyse it, because the company tools are not friendly enough for this process to be done by most people who want the final Excel.

Thus we can have a communication problem between the worker bee and the analyst person, much like in traditional programming, where the person doing the transcribing, or copying, has a misunderstanding what the analyst really wants, and it is not easy for the analyst to check what got copied wrong, not realizing that anything got misunderstood.

Sometimes there were formula used, rounding, which might not go to as many decimal places as someone else would prefer.

Some types of data might have been excluded, not thought to be relevant to the latest request, but then it not be obvious to anyone else using the Excel, what those exclusions were.

As the Excel gets passed around to more & more people, each can make some assumptions about the veracity & completeness & relevance of the data, that may be unwarranted.

The original report may have been for the date range of a fiscal calendar, labeled "October data", then someone else think it is for the date range of calendar October.

Even though we might delete from our PC folders the older copies or versions of a passed around Excel spread sheet, if we do not clean up our e-mail regularly, we could have 3-4 months of e-mails which include the daily Excel we receive, add to, then send out again ... 75 copies in our incoming e-mail, 75 copies in our outgoing e-mail, also same in the e-mail of each of our co-workers with whom we sharing this.

Al Macintyre

Joe 8:47 AM  

Al:

Let me first say that I'm glad you were able to get into the presentation.

Second, from one 400 nerd to another, I like your title.

Third, I'd like to ask the community, "Do the decision makers in the businesses that use desktop applications, email, and multiple copies of data-bases understand the mistakes inherent in their process and what the true cost of each bad decision made as a result of old, erroneous, or compromised data?"

Joe

Anonymous 2:57 PM  

I used to be "that guy" who would gather, sort, and distribute information via spreadsheets, and I experienced just about every problem that Al mentioned.

An additional problem that I ran into was the fact that these large spreadsheets would clog up our inbox. We had relatively small inbox size limits, so I would have to regularly sort through these emails containing spreadsheets and figure out which ones were most current and which I could throw away.

Another problem is dealing with people who don't know a thing about spreadsheets. They would find ways to mess up my spreadsheets that I didn't think were possible.

To answer Joe's question, I don't think the decision makers in my office knew the mistakes they were making and the problems created by these methods. To go one step further, I don't even think they knew there was a better way.

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