In most Financial Institutions the use of Excel is so embedded that any project to curb this is almost doomed to failure from the start.
This blog is an attempt to elicit discussions and to explore the appetite to address some of the inherent risks with Excel spreadsheets and to see how one can deliver supportable MI using Excel. It should be stressed that this proposal should not be seen as a replacement for strategic tools or processes.
The use of Excel comes with a multitude of pros and cons. In days past the downsides were considered to be worth the trade-off against the benefits but his is starting to change with the introduction of more stringent governance via legislation such as Solvency II, Basel II and SOX.
• The skills base for Excel is large and practically every person within a company will be familiar with it.
• Excel is relatively cheap and most users in an organization will have it.
• Any VBA code or macros are specific to the workbook and are not held in a central repository to be reused. This raises concerns about version and change control over the code.
3. Risk Mitigation
In order to mitigate the risks outlined above one could put the following processes in place. Refer to Annexure A for the risk mitigation matrix.
In addition to the new or changed processes, technology can be used to mitigate some of the risks. Based on the risk matrix in Annexure B, a combination of Excel Services 2010 with PowerPivot and Prodiance, in theory could mitigate all the identified risks.
4. Excel Services
Excel Services is the Excel engine delivered through Sharepoint and has the following key advantages:
Excel services does have some disadvantages listed below:
PowerPivot is an Excel add-in which has been developed by the Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services Team and uses in-memory column compression technology branded as Vertipaq. This technology is very similar to that used by such market leaders as Qlikview. PowerPivot allows you to bring in large data sets into Excel and even join these sets to each other and then use the resulting data to report off. It is very efficient at consuming large amounts of data and when used in x64 bit mode with large amounts of memory is quite astonishing in its response.
PowerPivot also extends to Sharepoint and when combined with Excel Services in Sharepoint the uses and power suddenly start to become apparent.
In one of my blogs a while back I mentioned 4 companies that provide Excel Spreadsheet Control Software. We ultimately decided to back Prodiance as our choice, a decision that has now been ratified by Microsoft.
Up until 7th June 2011, Prodiance was an independent company specializing in risk and control software for Excel. It has now been purchased by Microsoft and is a wholly owned subsidiary. With Microsoft now purchasing the company more integration with the Office suite and Sharepoint is anticipated.
In order to achieve the controlled use of Excel within an organization you will need to go through a change in technology, process and culture. I hope this blog has provided some readers with a spark for debate.