Business and technology transformation is a constant in any business, as they upgrade their technology infrastructure, or pursue a new strategic direction. Whether this change comes from the business, through mergers, disposals, restructuring, or from technology through outsourcing projects, cloud migrations, or even application upgrades, spreadsheet risk will be a constant in all these projects.

This reflects the extent to which businesses remain reliant on spreadsheets in key processes, despite the significant investment in corporate IT systems over the years. The technology lag between what the business needs and what the IT function can deliver mean that users often reach for the spreadsheet to implement important business processes, which then become ‘business-as-usual’.

When planning a transformation project, the existence of these spreadsheets may not be understood, or documented, which may cause a transformation project to flounder, as critical, spreadsheet-based processes break, as these business-critical spreadsheets are not properly migrated into the new environment.

These are some considerations that project teams may want think about when eliminating spreadsheet risk during their transformation projects.

Identify the Critical Business Spreadsheets

As a first step, it is critical to identify the key spreadsheets across the business that underpin its critical business processes. These may include spreadsheets that provide financial models and reports, customer pricing and quotations, customer records, contract and order records, project plans and records and much else besides.

These spreadsheets may be located across multiple departments, business units and even countries, utilizing multiple formats, multiple definitions, links to multiple spreadsheets, and integration into multiple applications. This arrangement offers ample scope for the emergence of spreadsheet risk at the conclusion of the transformation, which then needs to be resolved. This is often both costly and disruptive to the business and can compromise the success of the project.

Risk Assess your Critical Spreadsheets

Amongst an organizations business critical spreadsheets, they can all be considered important, but a subset will be vital, and need to be monitored closely during the transformation project, if it is to be successful. Identifying these key spreadsheets is not straightforward, The significance of a spreadsheet may, for example, depend on how many other spreadsheets are linked to it, how many formulas and worksheets it contains and the complexity of its formulas and macros. While a useful yardstick, other, much simpler spreadsheets, may be equally critical to the business.

Having a systematic risk assessment model for business critical spreadsheets allows people across the business to agree objectively which are the spreadsheets that require the closest scrutiny, as part of the transformation project. This can form the basis of an effective part of the transformation project plan, reducing both project risk and spreadsheet risk for the business.

Monitor and Your Business Critical Spreadsheets Before and After the Migration

Once the most critical spreadsheet estate has been identified, it is important to understand how they work in the original environment, in terms of user access controls, links to other spreadsheets, and integration into other applications, for example. This provides a clear picture of how they work in the original environment, providing a blue-print that can be used post-transformation should there be any issues.

After the migration, this model can be applied to the migrated estate, so the project team can see at a glance if there have been any issues with the migration. These might centre on the application of inappropriate user access, links being broken, with different technology domains have been fully integrated, or simply that a spreadsheet has been corrupted during the move. These issues, and many others, provide the opportunity for spreadsheet risk to compromise the effectiveness of the transformation project.

Spreadsheet risk management is a key issue in any transformation project, as it reflects the continued importance of spreadsheets to critical business processes. However, approached the right way, it can be managed and mitigated, ensuring the change project achieves its objectives.

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