Top 3 Spreadsheet Risk Issues in Business and Technology Transformation
Business and technology transformation is a constant in any business, as they upgrade their technology infrastructure, or pursue a new strategic direction.
Business change can come from mergers, disposals, or corporate restructuring and consolidation. These typically drive changes to the underlying business processes and the technology infrastructure that enable them.
Technology change can arise from insourcing, outsourcing or off-shoring projects, or implementing Cloud-based computing projects. Change can also arise from consolidating systems, de-commissioning end-of-life systems, or even upgrading existing applications like Microsoft Office
Implementing these changes would seem straightforward, if complex, as corporate systems and processes are typically clearly defined and documented. Business or technology change should be a question of defining, designing implementing and project managing the change.
A key risk for many change projects is the discovery of unknown issues during the course of the project. These issues often center on the use of spreadsheets in key business processes, where they have been used to bridge the gap between what the business needs and what the IT function can deliver. These spreadsheets are often untested, undocumented and unaudited, but their power and flexibility provides the business significant agility. They are often essential to the success of the business and need to be as comprehensively understood as the other corporate systems and processes to successfully deliver the change project on time and on budget.
There are 3 key spreadsheet risks that business need to consider when planning and implementing a corporate and technology change programme.
Given the often undocumented use of spreadsheets, and their widespread use across the business, identifying the most business critical spreadsheets is far from easy. They can number thousands, and defining what is business-critical is not straightforward. Simple spreadsheets may contain vital information for the balance sheet, or important inventory management metrics for example. Highly complex spreadsheets with an array of formulas and macros may be important for an individual, but less so for the business as a whole.
Identifying which are the most critical spreadsheets that must be seamlessly transferred to the new environment is an essential foundation for any change project. Assessing which spreadsheets need to be migrated should be systematic, to ensure none are missed, and all their dependencies – links to other spreadsheets or applications for example – are fully captured.
To minimize risk, the whole spreadsheet estate needs to be analyzed, risk assessed and documented, quickly, accurately and efficiently, so that realistic migration plans can be drawn up and implemented.
This approach can also enable the need for efficiency savings, which are central to most change projects. It can help to identify those spreadsheets that can be safely decommissioned, and whose role can be better fulfilled by corporate IT systems.
Once the key spreadsheets have been identified and documented, safely migrating them to the new environment is key. It is likely that is the new structure is significantly different to the previous one, but nonetheless, the key spreadsheets must be migrated properly, while maintaining the same user access rights, controls and functionality as before.
This is reasonably straightforward for single spreadsheets, but becomes much more complex if spreadsheets are linked to other spreadsheets, or other applications. These links need understood, documented and mapped to ensure they are fully functional in the new environment. Issues like missing passwords, inappropriate user access, or migrating out-of-date versions all have the potential to slow or even halt a migration project. Resolving issues like these often extend migration projects and budgets, and can have material business impact if the change is critical to delivering revenue, customer projects or management reporting.
Once the spreadsheet migration has been completed as planned, the final step is to ensure that it has been completed successfully, to ensure there is no disruption to the business.
This is an onerous task for a migrated enterprise application; for a complex spreadsheet estate, it is almost impossible, unless it is handled systematically and, ideally, automatically.
Migration errors can happen for a range of reasons; the wrong user or application access levels can be applied, linked spreadsheet or applications have not been connected properly, user errors mean that the wrong or a corrupted spreadsheet has been carried over.
These errors need to be identified early, so that they can be fixed, ideally before the new environment goes live. Automating this process ensures that issues are captured systematically and efficiently, so that planning the fixes can be implemented smoothly.