Has Eusprig increased spreadsheet risk?

Tuesday, 10th December, 2013

The European Spreadsheet Risk Interest Group is a collection of academic and business people with an interest in the risks in spreadsheet based systems.

They raise awareness of the risks associated with spreadsheets. The annual conference gives a platform to people and organisations to propose their solutions to the issue, as well to researchers working in the area.

I’ve been to the conference a few times, I’ve spoken there a few times, its a great bunch of people.

But I am starting to feel their influence may be having unanticipated negative consequences.

Raising awareness of the dangers of spreadsheets seems like a noble pursuit, but what I see now is fear of spreadsheets in organisations. Which might be ok, except that what really happens is all that budget for well built professional tactical spreadsheet based solutions is diverted to strategic systems. That pressing short term need? The user throws something together in their own time, under the IT radar. So less process, less control, more risk.

Thanks to Eusprig, SOX, Frank Dodd, etc spreadsheets have a bad name. A technology is being blamed for poor usage practices. Like blaming the car when a driver driving too fast crashes..

Eusprig has done a lot of warning, highlighting failures etc, but has always as a matter of principle avoided proposing good practice. They have (deliberately) left that field open for others to address, by presenting at their conference for example.

Avoiding spreadsheets because of the risk is ok if you replace them with something with less risk. But you know what? that thing doesn’t exist.

No technology can deliver many working tools as fast as spreadsheets. So just changing technologies creates a delivery delay during which the organisation is exposed. Not the IT department, but the business department, If they don’t mitigate that exposure (with whatever tools they have to hand) they could be breaching professional codes of conduct even (eg. fiduciary duties for beancounters). not good.

Yes spreadsheets aren’t as stable as forms/browser based CRUD apps, but they are easier to adapt to changing business needs so more likely to be up to date. Try adding a field to a productions database in a large company, and comment on how long that takes. Days or weeks. Add column in a live spreaddie? seconds. Accidentally delete a critical column? seconds also :-)

So I think a big chunk of spreadsheet work has disappeared for now into IT department work queues, and is being worked around (‘temporarily’) by the business, in part due to misplaced and misunderstood fearmongering about spreadsheet danger.

So for me, yes, I think spreadsheet risk is increasing, and I am even more certain that overall organisation risk is increasing as requirements go into IT work backlog queues and/or quick and very dirty end user created temporary workarounds.

Are you seeing this fear of spreadsheets? What do you think is happening to organisational risk?

cheers

simon

Responsibility

Monday, 9th December, 2013

“The post holder is responsible for explaining to the business how the software solution meets the business needs.”

Erm… Call me old fashioned but shouldn’t it be patently obvious to the customer how the software solves their pain?

This just stinks of requirement Rc.03 is completely met by feature F027…

Which is just another way of IT hitting the users over the head about changed or ambiguous requirements.

‘Here is the email (from 9 months ago) where you asked IT to include a date field, and here is the label that contains todays date. Done, requirement complete, tested correct, finished, this label here meets your need.’

‘What do you mean you want to edit the date? why? Your business process is wrong, You should have told us’… etc etc

Rapidly followed by

‘You asked for a date field, we provided one, if you want that to be editable that is an enhancement and is chargeable, and we can’t look at it for at least 3 months.’

That’s not the kind of role I am currently looking for. Thanks

Although maybe I shouldn’t be so picky, its pretty quiet out at the moment. Maybe I should stop emailing my CV and use the Elfmail instead. I’ll put a copy up the chimney tonight and see what happens. Seems to have worked for the kids.

cheers

simon

 

Some of that Excel development

Friday, 6th December, 2013

At one place I worked, the IT department were, you might say, not massively responsive to user needs.

User needs being rapid response (hours or days, rather than months or years) systems development.

The RAD team I was in was a battleground, Users wanting us to rush stuff into production as soon as it compiled, IT wanting us to stop development and start documenting from scratch on new improved word templates. (The improvement being a more consistent theme and styling rather than anything of business value.)

Then  a funny thing happened – the users stopped calling us.

They had been recruiting assistants with strong Excel VBA dev skills and were bypassing the whole IT rigmarole.

This is where I think a fair chunk of Excel dev work has gone – under the radar, out of IT control, and off the IT job boards.

And when I say strong skills I mean on a business scale rather than a developer scale. ie crap naming, global variables, no design, no testing, lots of macro recorder pap, etc etc.

Overall, I doubt this move will have a positive impact on long term delivery ability, or quality (compared to decent RAD input – you can’t compare to mainstream IT as they wouldn’t have delivered anything, so sure, they would have less production defects).

Anyone else seen this rise of the super user?

cheers

simon

 

 

Where are all the RBS jobs?

Thursday, 5th December, 2013

It looks like RBS could do with a slightly stronger (or greyer) team.

When this happened last year the view was it was caused by sacking off all the experienced staff and offshoring the jobs to cheap fresh graduates.

Presumably thats still going on…

Anyone seen any UK based COBOL or VB3.0 jobs advertised at RBS  recently?

cheers

simon

Where has all the Excel development gone?

Monday, 2nd December, 2013

The amount of Excel (developer) jobs advertised at the moment is tiny. And this decline is not a temporary thing it seems like a terminal nose dive in Excel development roles.

If no one is recruiting Excel specialists for dev roles then

  1. Have they stopped developing spreadsheet based systems?
  2. Have they stopped supporting the existing ones?
  3. Are none specialists now doing that work under the radar?
  4. Has everyone just got the right amount of people already?

 

My answers:

  1. IT departments largely have, the business not.
  2. IT departments largely are trying to, the business not.
  3. Yes, very much, under the radar with the invisible budget
  4. Nope

I have some more posts lined up in this area so I don’t want to add too much, just that I would be very interested to hear your views.

Future posts will look at some of the reasons for this shift and skill set factors (Excel, or Excel & VBA alone have not been enough for a long time).

What are you seeing?

cheers

simon

 

ACDC for xmas number one?

Monday, 2nd December, 2013

Come on you know you want to…

Good Spreadsheet practice

Wednesday, 27th November, 2013

Something a bit more realistic and less dramatic than ‘don’t use them’, from the ICAEW.

Please have a read and make some (constructive) comments on that site.

I can think of a counter example to all of their suggestions but I guess in general they are mostly fair enough, if perhaps a little woolly.

Some of them read a little like workarounds for poor fundamental design (eg protection – I’m never a fan!).

cheers

simon

 

 

Run and hide

Tuesday, 26th November, 2013

Just saw this in a job ad:

“You will be building a shared workbook with … for multiple users”

I guess on the plus side it will be a job for life fixing it and keeping it limping along (badly).

But its not for me.

I’m fairly pragmatic, I don’t remember ever building one myself but I don’t mind helping other people keep theirs working, unlike some devs I know, who just blank them with a “not fit for purpose”.

I have also seen a few death march projects failing to replace them quite badly.

What are they like in 2013? they are rubbish in 2010.

cheers

simon

In from the cold

Monday, 25th November, 2013

Hiiii!

So after a few months out I am back.

The cycle is fairly well established now – I do a contract, get frustrated, take a break, start looking for the next contract.

What is the frustration?

  • If I work in an IT department its their complete determination to do anything except deliver working software to the people who need it (and pay for it)
  • If I work in a business role its a. much less frustrating, b. more rewarding, c. bit of a niggle about not getting access to the best tools for the job.

Most recent contracts have been in IT departments.

I have had a great break over the summer, have been doing some teaching at a local college, but now its time to start the long painful search for a new contract.

The process was never fun, but gets even less funner every time. Clients with unrealistic skill set expectations (30 years .net 4.5, 100 years excel 2013 and 50 years Linux kernel debugging etc), and crashing pay rates (seem to be 60% of last year, which was 80% of the year before). Agents with even less knowledge of the business, the market or even IT. Too many alarm words: “prince2″, “visio”, even seen “waterfall” a few times last week!

The death of Excel as a client side target and the rise of its pale and pathetic arch-nemesis the browser, and all the the bullshit time wasting that represents. But having devs write thousands of lines of javascript to replicate 1 click actions in Excel sure cuts down the spreadsheet error rate.

So anyway I am brushing up my JQuery and Ajax skillz ready to bluff my way into that Useful Spreaddie to Pointless Web App migration project coming to a company near you soon. :-)

cheers

simon

Gods own county wins

Tuesday, 3rd September, 2013

nothing more than it deserves of course

 

In other news, did you see how my 2012 prediction of MS buying Nokia came true today??

More worrying is the suggestion that Elop might replace Ballmer. I don’t have anything good to say about monkey, but Elop gave us the ribbon,  which might even be worse.

 

Anyhoo get thee-sen up to Yorkshire to see why those awarders were correct.

situation update coming soon…

cheers

simon


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