Spreadsheets Considered Harmful

Discussion in 'NZ Computing' started by Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Mar 16, 2010.

  1. <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...
     
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Mar 16, 2010
    #1
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  2. 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>
     
    Lawrence D'Oublespeak, Mar 16, 2010
    #2
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  3. 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.
     
    Stephen Worthington, Mar 16, 2010
    #3
  4. There was no comment on the number of people who do.
     
    Lawrence D'Oublespeak, Mar 16, 2010
    #4
  5. Lawrence D'Oliveiro

    peterwn Guest

    peterwn, Mar 17, 2010
    #5
  6. Lawrence D'Oliveiro

    peterwn Guest

    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.
     
    peterwn, Mar 17, 2010
    #6
  7. Lawrence D'Oliveiro

    Gordon Guest


    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.
     
    Gordon, Mar 17, 2010
    #7
  8. Lawrence D'Oliveiro

    Enkidu Guest

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

    Cheers,

    Cliff
     
    Enkidu, Mar 17, 2010
    #8
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