Has Eusprig increased spreadsheet risk?

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?



12 Responses to “Has Eusprig increased spreadsheet risk?”

  1. Biggus Dickus Says:

    Welcome back full-tilt my friend !!

    I am very pleased that you are back and as pissed as ever …. It’d be nice if someone at MS cared enough to listen though. I will give you more of my thoughts later.

    Great stuff !!


  2. Simon Says:

    Hi Dick
    I was over at yours the other day, enjoying reading your powerpivot series.
    Re MS – Horse. stable. well bolted. and long gone

    History will show their mishandling of Excel, Access and VBA lead to the total collapse of the whole house of cards.

  3. Biggus Dickus Says:

    “History will show their mishandling of Excel, Access and VBA lead to the total collapse of the whole house of cards.”

    Hard to believe but true .. I remember saying once that without Office there is no need for Windows and without Windows there’s no need for Microsoft. How a company could abandon Office, the core of its business, the proverbial cash-cow and the one thing they have that keeps Windows on nearly every desktop in the world is so outrageous it just makes my head spin.

    It’s an exact repeat of the demise of Lotus Development – reminds of something about people not knowing history …….



  4. Biggus Dickus Says:

    I was just out for lunch with a buddy who is a Tech Manager for a large local Auto Parts manufacturers.

    I discussed this thread and the others you have here and he said “Why not just move on ? Microsoft has, so why not just do something else and give it up? You can’t fight city hall…” This is the second friend to tell me this recently.

    Very discouraging to hear, but I told him “But there is nothing else that fills this need in business and I have no interest in working on any other part of the industry.” Kind of a problem.

    I worry about what businesses will do without the skills in Excel anymore. I worry about all the people around the world who work daily in Excel but who have no idea that what they rely on to get their jobs done (and that they’re relying on to advance their careers going forward) is going down the tubes thanks to Microsoft.

    It won’t be pretty when one day they find that VBA is either gone or isn’t being integrated with the new features of Excel anymore, or when they find that Client Access and Client Excel can no longer talk to the latest version of SQL Server or that the client version of Access simply isn’t for sale anymore. This IS going to happen and maybe sooner than we think.

    But by the time they see this happen it’ll be too late and there will be no turning back. Remember the old Joni Mitchell song that says “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone..”

    What a shame.


  5. Simon Says:

    I do actually keep trying to move on. must try harder

  6. Jon Nyman Says:

    This conversation reminds of the short and nice book “Who Moved My Cheese.” Yeah, it sucks when people move our cheese but usually we can only change our own habits/desires and go and find new cheese when the old is moved or gets rancid.


  7. Biggus Dickus Says:

    It seems sometimes that you and I are the only two anywhere who are willing to speak up about this publicly, which has lead to the end of any contact we used to have with the Microsoft deep thinkers. I used to find that they were interested in constructive criticism but in the last few years it’s been “your with us or you’re against us” out there and the results have been distinctively awful.

    I’m not saying that you and I are the smartest kids in the room or that we’re the only ones who get this (which opens the possibility that we’re both off our rockers – which is also possible but not related to this issue imho ;-)).

    But everybody else seems to have taken that wonderful human decision to just put up and shut up and either get on with their lives somewhere else or they have decided to be good disciples and sycophants on the strange belief that somehow being nice to Microsoft will somehow help them make money. This until they realize that Microsoft really only cares about Microsoft and not them or their customers :-). But by then again it’ll be too late.

    I refuse to give this up not because it is in my interests (quite the contrary) but because I care about my clients (and business people worldwide who are potential clients I guess) and also because I have a strange belief that the computer industry is supposed to provide incrementally (and sometime revolutionary) better “stuff” as time goes on. I do not believe Microsoft is doing that with their decisions on Excel, VBA, Access and overall Office automation and Windows client software. I do not see anything they are doing as better than what we had 5 years ago. How is this possible? How is this allowed? I just don’t get it.

    But I’m going to continue promoting “a better way” .. and I hope you do too Simon..

    Thanx my friend.

    Dick Moffat (just in case people don’t know my real name ;-) )

  8. Simon Says:

    Please tell us what is this cheese that better for our clients’ urgent needs than Office RAD?

    • Biggus Dickus Says:

      Perfect Jon !!

      It doesn’t matter if the supposed alternatives are any better or not …. If they’re new they gotta be better – right? Just move on ok ?

      • Simon Says:

        ALL change is ALWAYS improvement, everybody knows that. Anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is just scared of change and needs to read a patronising book to cure them.
        (/sarcasm in case anyone thinks I’m serious)

    • Jon Nyman Says:

      Guys, I’m not saying the change is better or worse. I’m not saying what you should do about it. I’m just saying the conversation reminded me of the book.

      If your predictions are as dire as you say then what good does it do the complain about it (unless MS has a change of heart by reading your blog or contacting you). The best thing we can do for ourselves is create positive change. If the positive change is sticking with Excel and Excel continues to be strong then great move. If Excel does go down hill and we have to look for greener pastures then it would have been good to learn new things so we are not left behind. There are probably other chooses.

      Not that there is anything wrong with with blowing a little steam from time to time.

      Best of luck to all of us that enjoys using and programming in Excel. Simon, I do enjoy your blog.

  9. Simon Says:

    There is no problem with Excel, its as strong as ever, the issue is the recent disconnect with perception. Now the perception is that Excel is dangerous, and that is being used to push solutions that are much worse for the customer, but better for vendors and IT departments.

    And the Excel team do keep track of blogland and are in touch with many of us from time to time. Not that they spin the office supertanker around on the whims of the interwebs, but they certainly used to appreciate our input.

    You’re suggesting we should just move on, and on a self serving basis that makes sense. For anyone who give a shit about their customers and users though, walking away leaving them with no RAD capability is less palatable.

    For us as business people the question is really is the suppression of Excel/Access/VBA as a development chain component a fashion that will reverse or a trend that will not.

    And that is what these discussions are about – getting fellow professionals views about what is happening in the market and where it might lead, so we can decide where to invest in skills etc.

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