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Data Chaos Caused by Unmanaged Spreadsheets

By Henry Umney, Director, ClusterSeven

Organisations today understand the value of accurate data. While most organisations have clearly mapped out and documented the data flows into and out of the numerous corporate business systems, many rather surprisingly still have no visibility of the data flows from corporate systems into and out of spreadsheets.  This is causing data chaos and indeed threatening the integrity of many business-critical processes.

Spreadsheets are out of control

Due to the flexibility and agility of spreadsheets, businesses often depend on them for reporting purposes such as final mile reporting, but also for complex financial modelling, as well as aggregation and manipulation of data. Due to unstructured and uncontrolled usage, spreadsheets are spiralling out of control. In an ideal world, a CFO would know the data sources that feed into the financial reports; and their providence.  The reality unfortunately is far less defined. The data links between the different spreadsheets across departments, regions and models are typically undocumented and as such impossible to view and indeed decipher.

Hence, as the spreadsheet landscape grows, the business as a whole is faced with a spider-like web of mission-critical spreadsheets that feed important information into the various financial models and reports. With a large number of files and information sources, it becomes impossible to track the lineages between the various feeds across spreadsheets and corporate systems, greatly compromising the accuracy and integrity of the data residing in the spreadsheets; and in turn the outputs of the models and reports. So even a single error in a spreadsheet has the potential of producing a domino effect, creating data chaos and possibly invalidating the accuracy of model outputs. This puts the business at extreme operational risk.

Technology is the panacea

It’s crucial that businesses gain full visibility and an in-depth understanding of the information landscape. This includes the business systems and corresponding data flows; the spreadsheets and EUCs and their distinctive data flows; and ultimately the numerous and potentially intertwined across the combined landscape.

Manually trying to understand these vast and complicated data landscapes that go beyond functions, departments and jurisdictions is an impossible task. On the other hand, by adopting a technology-led approach, organisations can automate the analysis of the data flows, identify the data lineages across the landscape; and continuously track and monitor the data usage via well-defined change management methods. This disciplined approach delivers greater quality, accuracy and integrity to the data being used by an organisation and delivers the auditable transparency required by the C-suite.

An automated, best practice methodology to data and spreadsheet management is key to overcoming the business challenges posed by data chaos, and thereby mitigating operational, regulatory and reputational risk.  When CFOs review their finance dashboards, they must have complete confidence in the figures and outputs they see and potentially present to their Boards.