Data Governance – why your spreadsheet is problematic

I remember my first spreadsheet.  In fact, I remember hearing about electronic spreadsheets while I was working on a real live paper spreadsheet.  Estimating for structural steel in the pre-PC days meant using a spreadsheet and tallying columns of numbers on my HP calculator (an HP-35, in case you are interested).

So, I was thrilled with the prospect of an electronic spreadsheet.  The first thing I stopped doing when I started spreadsheeting – was coding in BASIC.  I started using macros instead.
This romance with spreadsheets last about 5 years, by which time I was tied up in knots with all of the flexibility that I now had.  I could do anything, when I wanted to.  I could come in the next day and undo anything and re-do it differently the next day again.  I noted that I started saving versions of the spreadsheet I was working with, in order to go back, if I needed to.  The hard disk started getting a lot of versions of a lot of spreadsheets.  But this is all old news.

We are currently enabling a history tracking tool in our web-based solution and this reminded me yet again, of the fact that corporations, agencies and institutions that continue to use spreadsheets for mission critical data suffer from a huge loss in productivity, especially of their key personnel.

A well-designed data management system ensures that any mission critical data has an associated audit trail – so one can easily track: Who made what changes? And when?  Who approved the changes?  When were the changes approved?  When were the changes ready to be approved or signed off?

Your business processes must ensure that business-critical data is managed via timely approvals and sign-offs.  This needs to be implemented easily so that it is not a brake on the business flow.

The ‘well-designed data management system’ does this tracking and helps make your company, agency or institution hum with efficiency.  You cannot afford to do this any other way.  It’s also the only sustainable approach.

Sayonara spreadsheets!  I’ll continue to use them for analysis and computation and prototyping concept for data management.  But not for mission-critical data entry, reporting or management.