A big danger with spreadsheet management is that organizations see it as a one-off silo activity i.e. just grab hold of all the critical spreadsheets and stuff them into a conceptual trash can with the word ‘Toxic’ on the outside – and from there keep the lid on for as long as possible. While this approach may meet the basic elements of compliance it does almost nothing to improve business operations. This is because (as all consultants know) it is critical for any operational change to be done in the context of the business process that is being delivered. If one divorces management of the spreadsheet from the business process that depends on it, then opportunities for benefit will be lost. Even worse, it is likely that changes implemented only for compliance purposes will fall into disrepair and the risks that the organisation thought it had mitigated will reappear.
A much better approach is to understand the way that an operational spreadsheet supports the relevant end-to-end business process, including the way in which it feeds or consumes data to or from other systems. It is likely that each of these steps will involve manual checks such as reconciliations and data validation. These checks can be embedded into the spreadsheet management technology to not only establish major operational efficiency benefits but also embed the activity into business-as-usual to ensure sustainable spreadsheet governance and risk management.
A good way to envisage this approach is to consider the underlying data supply chain just as one would look at a physical supply chain. Systems are like an efficient depot – well organized in terms of storage, processing and labor. Spreadsheets are the trucks and vans that deliver and collect – more erratic, with much lower investment and large amounts of manual activity and checks. You cannot achieve good supply chain management unless you get out of the depot.
Similarly, for IT to establish improvements in the business they must leave the comfort of their applications and look at the congested, pot-holed routes by which their lifeblood – data – arrives at their expensive applications and then leaves to be delivered to customers. If they monitor the quality and punctuality of data ‘on the road’ (i.e. in spreadsheets) they will achieve much greater gains than simply building more/bigger depots.