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Spreadsheets Considered Harmful

 
 
Lawrence D'Oliveiro
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      03-16-2010
<http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=31848>:

Almost 30 to 40 percent of critical decision-making systems are actually
Excel spreadsheets, in large organizations. A spreadsheet is a very
unhelpful way of describing critical decisions.

Nobody knows where the business logic is in a specific business process.
Sometimes there is conflicting logic. Risk-management data requires
granularity – not the kind required for financial statements. What
people rely on finally is their spreadsheet. Whether it reconciles with
another person’s spreadsheet, they don’t care. Everyone has their own
small reality.

I can remember concerns being raised about this over 20 years ago. Have
people not learned the lesson? And just a week and a half ago, we had
somebody in this very noisegroup trying to use Excel to do statistical data
analysis. Plus ça change...


 
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Lawrence D'Oublespeak
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      03-16-2010
In message <hnn9el$csa$(E-Mail Removed)>, Lawrence D'Oliveiro wrote:

> And just a week and a half ago, we had
> somebody in this very noisegroup trying to use Excel to do statistical data
> analysis.


And just three weeks ago, we had our very own Lawrence D'Oliveiro in
this noisegroup recommending another spreadsheet for stats. As Squiggle
rightly told Lawrence, one should use a stats tool and not a spreadsheet.
<http://groups.google.co.nz/group/nz.comp/browse_thread/thread/7f7efe720f778d3d>


 
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Stephen Worthington
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      03-16-2010
On Wed, 17 Mar 2010 00:18:59 +1300, Lawrence D'Oublespeak
<(E-Mail Removed)_zealand> wrote:

>In message <hnn9el$csa$(E-Mail Removed)>, Lawrence D'Oliveiro wrote:
>
>> And just a week and a half ago, we had
>> somebody in this very noisegroup trying to use Excel to do statistical data
>> analysis.

>
>And just three weeks ago, we had our very own Lawrence D'Oliveiro in
>this noisegroup recommending another spreadsheet for stats. As Squiggle
>rightly told Lawrence, one should use a stats tool and not a spreadsheet.
><http://groups.google.co.nz/group/nz.comp/browse_thread/thread/7f7efe720f778d3d>
>


I do not seen any recommendation there to use a spreadsheet for stats.
He merely commented that there are plenty of people who *do* use
spreadsheets for stats, and hence the stats functions do need fixing
if they are broken.
 
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Lawrence D'Oublespeak
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      03-16-2010
In message <(E-Mail Removed)>, Stephen
Worthington wrote:

> He merely commented that there are plenty of people who*do* use
> spreadsheets for stats, and hence


There was no comment on the number of people who do.
 
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peterwn
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      03-17-2010
On Mar 17, 12:18*am, Lawrence D'Oublespeak <l...@crok-
central.gen.new_zealand> wrote:
> In message <hnn9el$(E-Mail Removed)>, Lawrence D'Oliveiro wrote:
>
> > And just a week and a half ago, we had
> > somebody in this very noisegroup trying to use Excel to do statistical data
> > analysis.

>
> And just three weeks ago, we had our very own Lawrence D'Oliveiro in
> this noisegroup recommending another spreadsheet for stats. *As Squiggle
> rightly told Lawrence, one should use a stats tool and not a spreadsheet.
> <http://groups.google.co.nz/group/nz.comp/browse_thread/thread/7f7efe7...>


Hi 'Impossible'.
 
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peterwn
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      03-17-2010
On Mar 16, 7:45*pm, Lawrence D'Oliveiro <l...@geek-
central.gen.new_zealand> wrote:

>
> I can remember concerns being raised about this over 20 years ago. Have
> people not learned the lesson? And just a week and a half ago, we had
> somebody in this very noisegroup trying to use Excel to do statistical data
> analysis. Plus a change...


About the time that a contractor tried to sue Lotus when he messed up
a spreadsheet and submitted a loss making tender for a project which
was accepted (he was using Lotus Symphony which incorporated lite
versions of Lotus 123 and word processor etc).

A rank and file employee can use a spreadsheet for routine tasks OK
without knowing what it is behind it, but a professional person or
manager should have approved it for use and periodically check that
the methodolgy is still valid (eg changes in tax rates, technological
advances etc)

A similar example was the big Auckland CBD power failure in the
1990's. A significant cause was the unquestioning use of a formula
for assessing the rating of power cables over a period of 40 years or
so. It did not take account of Auckland's volcanic soil which is a
poor heat conductor with the result that the cables could safely carry
only half the load indicated by the misapplied formula. The
implications of such a formula embedded in spreadsheets can well be
imagined.
 
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Gordon
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      03-17-2010
On 2010-03-16, Lawrence D'Oliveiro <(E-Mail Removed)_zealand> wrote:
><http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=31848>:
>
> Almost 30 to 40 percent of critical decision-making systems are actually
> Excel spreadsheets, in large organizations. A spreadsheet is a very
> unhelpful way of describing critical decisions.
>
> Nobody knows where the business logic is in a specific business process.
> Sometimes there is conflicting logic. Risk-management data requires
> granularity – not the kind required for financial statements. What
> people rely on finally is their spreadsheet. Whether it reconciles with
> another person’s spreadsheet, they don’t care. Everyone has their own
> small reality.



My day is made. Someone else has blown out the bulls eye I have been trying
to get people to see for years. I am not alone.

 
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Enkidu
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      03-17-2010
Gordon wrote:
> On 2010-03-16, Lawrence D'Oliveiro <(E-Mail Removed)_zealand> wrote:
>> <http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=31848>:
>>
>> Almost 30 to 40 percent of critical decision-making systems are actually
>> Excel spreadsheets, in large organizations. A spreadsheet is a very
>> unhelpful way of describing critical decisions.
>>
>> Nobody knows where the business logic is in a specific business process.
>> Sometimes there is conflicting logic. Risk-management data requires
>> granularity – not the kind required for financial statements. What
>> people rely on finally is their spreadsheet. Whether it reconciles with
>> another person’s spreadsheet, they don’t care. Everyone has their own
>> small reality.

>
>
> My day is made. Someone else has blown out the bulls eye I have been trying
> to get people to see for years. I am not alone.
>

There's nothing wrong with spreadsheets or databases. They are tools.
What is dubious is the way that people use them.

Cheers,

Cliff

--

The ends justifies the means - Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli.

The end excuses any evil - Sophocles
 
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