Ralph Baxter's Big Data Blog

If you want to follow up on any comment, please feel free to post a comment or contact Ralph Baxter at rbaxter@clusterseven.com, or tel: +44 20 7148 6270.


Clicks and Mortar

If you envisaged each of your business applications as a brick, what would your wall of technology look like? Would it have neat, thin, regular layers of mortar between the bricks or would it be made of irregular bricks and a lot of mortar filling the large gaps between the bricks?

So, if your applications are the bricks in your architecture, what is the mortar? They are the workarounds (such as end user computing spreadsheets) that employees use to ‘get stuff done’ – stuff which can’t be done inside your core applications or which requires data from multiple applications for completion.

If you organization is complex or large, dynamic or fast-growing then it is very likely that you have a lot of mortar in your architecture and this is where much of your cost and data quality problems exist. In order to tackle the problem you need a picture of what is going on. From here you can define your remedial plans – better training, new applications, systems’ upgrades etc.

How do you get that picture? This is where ClusterSeven steps in.

Of course, very few walls have no mortar at all because mortar makes them stronger. So too, businesses will always require end user computing because you need this layer to take the strain of business change. If you want to know how to get the best out of your bricks and your mortar contact ClusterSeven or one of our business partners for a full health check.


Solvency II - Back to the Future?

With Solvency II now back on the agenda, firms are dusting off all their old Solvency II projects. Many are picking up from where they left off in March 2013 when project teams were downsized or disbanded. With hindsight some of these projects will never be rejuvenated since their value to the business or to regulatory objectives was marginal at best. However, one area is set to stay centre stage for both communities – data.

For anyone returning to the data agenda after all these months there is one document that should be a "must read". This is the thematic review on data published by the FSA (now the Prudential Regulation Authority or PRA) in 2012, entitled "Solvency II: Internal model approval process data review findings" In particular, Section IX on "IT environment, technology and tools" makes some key comments on end user computing (EUC) that will need to be addressed by firms:

4.41 Where EUC tools, such as spreadsheets, are material to the internal model data flow, we will be looking for appropriate controls for data quality such as reasonableness checks, input validations, peer reviews, logical access management, change and release management, disaster recovery, and documentation.

4.42 Automation of spreadsheets reduces the risk of manual error, but can also introduce different problems such as reduced oversight, inadequate transparency about the extent of linking and proliferation of nested linked spreadsheets. Linked spreadsheets typically pass only single numerical values, without an indication of the date of last update, creating the risk of passing stale data around the system.

And if one is in any doubt about the extent of nested linked spreadsheets prevalent in many firms then look at this page providing a visual example


Historic Excel cell data now available in QlikView

One of the hidden benefits of using ClusterSeven to monitor spreadsheet activity is that the database stores a full history of every cell value as they evolve from one version to the next (such as JanP&L.xlsx going to FebP&L.xlsx to MarP&L.xlsx etc). This means that, on demand, users can visualize and compare historic trends of any important business parameter that would otherwise be hidden across multiple old spreadsheets. Without this many financiers will continue to have to laboriously copy and paste each piece of data to yet another spreadsheet – a process with which most will be frustratingly familiar.

At ClusterSeven we have to admit, however, that we are not the leading dashboard company in the world. So it makes great sense for us to make all this historic business data available to BI consumers. We are therefore extremely excited to see the work done by a leading QlikView partner to present this information in QlikView dashboards. To explore the capabilities of this ClusterSeven Reporter for QlikView visit the QlikMarket.

The benefits do not stop there. Even more exciting is that QlikView users can now combine their traditional analysis of structured data with this new source of unstructured historical financial data being fed from their spreadsheets. So, if your business process combines robust structured data sources and spreadsheets (e.g. multi-office reporting) you only have to go to one location to see everything. No need for yet more spreadsheets and no more cut-and-paste!


BYOA (Build Your Own Application)

There has been a large amount of comment over the last year or so about the business and IT issues attached to the growing enthusiasm for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) i.e. if/how to allow users to use personal technology gadgets such as iPads to meet their business needs. These issues include security, reliability, maintenance, visibility, replacement etc.

It recently occurred to me that many of the corporate issues exposed by BYOD are already manifested in the work that users commonly perform to meet their individual needs in moving the business forward. A good example is the creation of a new spreadsheet solution to solve a recurrent financial need in the business which cannot be solved by existing applications. If this solution works effectively it is typically absorbed and adopted within the business infrastructure with little business concern, no IT awareness and rarely any plans for security, maintenance etc. So for all the concern over BYOD perhaps it is time to look more closely at the older practice of BYOA (Build Your Own Application) as another source of corporate risk and exposure.


Financial Times puts the spotlight on ClusterSeven and spreadsheet management

Here at ClusterSeven I have been promoting the need for companies to think more seriously about the huge value and risk of operational spreadsheets and follow the trend of many financial institutions to implement reliable, automated controls. So it's great to see that recent spreadsheet errors and spreadsheet mis-management have prompted the Financial Times and FT Alphaville to step into the sector with survey conclusions reported at...

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and continuing banking disclosures at...

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