back to article Number-crunching in the Cloud

Back in the mid-nineties every PC in your organisation potentially contained software that could destroy your company overnight. Not a virus, nor a Trojan: it was called the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was – and still is – broken by design. The vital raw data it crunches may be exposed to view, concealed behind the cells or …


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  1. Pete 2

    The nicest tie wins

    > What do we really know about the provenance of this kind of data?

    All this stuff tells us is that nothing much has changed.

    We might have zetabytes of stuff flitting around in some cloud, somewhere - so what? There isn't enough time in the world (and certainly not before lunch) to analyse it all, so people fall back on the methods they've been adopting since the beginning of time (or at least 01-Jan-1970 00:00:00) and judging the person making the presentation and the credibility (read: prettiness) of the slides/powerpoint/OHPs/report/webcast.

    People buy from people. Managers make decisions based on the credibility of the person presenting to them. So when all is said and done, forget the accuracy of the spreadsheet - nobody is in a position to question it, or understand it. Just make sure your shirt has been ironed.

  2. Bob H

    Google Apps

    I liked the idea of Google Docs Spreadsheet, and I've even used them a little within the organisation for some functions. But the main reason I've used them is because they have a "Forms" element which is directly online. Other than that the analysis functionality is a bit limited and the interop could be better.

    If Excel could replicate the mobility and concurrency of Google Docs with whatever is currently being developed, and without asking me to subscribe to some substantial agreement then I would stop thinking about Google's cloud.

  3. dot24two


    Can remember one of the first things my line manager showed me within days of starting work in 1987 - a report from KPMG on the dangers of relying on spreadsheets. Written a couple of years earlier, IIRC.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    errmmmm ???

    For some reason that article or should I say advert went right through me. In one eye out teh other to paraphrase.


    The City still runs on Spreadsheets

    Plus millions of lines of VBA Code, there are contracts available for what seem like massive daily rates for Excel, VBA and sql/access skill until you realise that the pay is essentially danger money.

  6. irrelevant


    Ah yes ... some 15 years ago I was involved in putting in a EPOS system for a batch of local authority leisure centres. One of the key things it had to produce at each centre was a finance statement to be sent up to the head office. We had the specification, and past examples that the centres had produced using spreadsheets, but couldn't tie the two together. And when we populated our system with duplicate data, our report just didn't match their manual one.

    In the end we asked the staff outright how they produced theirs. "Oh we just fiddle with the figures until it looks right."

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You'll never kill off the spreadsheet

    The whole drawback of them (any user can "improve") is the reason why they'll never disappear. Management like the fact they can change them all the way up until things go badly wrong. Given they are the decision makers as to what stays or goes it'll be staying. Indeed the City does run off the back of Excel for quite a few things with some organisations being more blase than others in their usage. Believe me, I'm working at a joint with no online or real-time source of truth position keeping system but rather a series of excel spreadsheets connected to an Oracle db via SSRS and compliance performed on a T+2 basis using this same shitty infrastructure. Company concerned is only dealing with $50bn though so no problems :-(

    I'd also disagree that it is broken by design. It works as intended - like a cross between a scrapbook and a calculator. How it is being used is probably wrong.

  8. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    credit default swaps and clouds

    "...far more rigorously audited than very similar processes on much the same machines that only very recently rolled up millions of sub-prime mortgages into slick collateralised debt obligations?"

    I'd like to point out, I read an interview of the creator of the derivative software used for credit default swaps. He TOLD the guys at the first firm to use this software they were abusing it until they fired him. He told the NEXT place he worked at that they were also misusing it, they ignored him too. He did point out if it makes you feel any better, that most of his benefits were in the form of shares that dropped to ~$0 when these companies collapsed. The companies were flat-out told that a derivative with an average of 1% defaults per year over 100 years DOESN'T MEAN 1% defaults a year, it means near-0% defaults most of the time with high 20%+ default rates every so often. Which is exactly what happened, they laughed all the way to the bank for several years of near-0 defaults then acted like it was a surprise to everyone involved when high default rates wiped them out.

    Anyway... spreadsheets pulling data in from all over really are an abomination. Too easy to change the formulas and such operating on one, and the people that make them tend to not follow any "best practices".. at the very least, the "code" and data should be widely seperated so someone doesn't accidentally alter the code, but I don't see people even doing that.

    "Cloud?" No solution there --

    1) Moving calculations away from local systems doesn't solve anything.

    2) Additional data can be gotten from the internet (not "the cloud") but this data is unstructured so it's not going to just flow into some spreasheet, database, or application the way sales figures and such would. This can lead to severe misinterpretations of data. For example, perhaps someone decides brand awareness is good, and writes an app to find out how many times their name is mentioned per day. "FropCo" was tweeted 50,000 times? Fabulous! 49,975 of those were "FropCo sucks?" Not so good, but they won't know that if automated software does all the work. As I say, online data is unstructured.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    The bane of my existance

    My company still uses Excel spreadsheets for:

    Bug tracking lists,

    Functional specifications.

    Business specifications.

    Screenshot containers (to be emailed).

    Business form templates (for printing).

    Scheduling (MS Project or free alternative? Hah!)

    Creating Workflow / Network / System / Anything you can think of Diagrams.


  10. Displacement Activity
    Paris Hilton


    Almost interesting, except that I didn't understand a word of it.

    My local NHS PCT has a problem with spreadsheets. They use them inappropriately, and as a substitute for proper data analysis. I know that you can fool 98% of your users by shipping them vast amounts of unusable data, but I'm pretty sure that they do it simply because they don't know any better.

    Anyway, I've written the code to do it properly, with not a spreadsheet in sight. I want to put it in "the cloud" somewhere. I'd appreciate some practical advice. I need lots of CPU cycles, but only occasionally, and more storage than the average web app. I need to keep a database of perhaps a gigabyte in memory without swapping. I need to do the sysadmin myself and I might need to scale up to a second server if anyone actually uses the code, without dicking about with all the DNS stuff myself. Now *that* would be a useful article.

  11. Dick Head

    First Experience of a Spreadsheet...

    ..was around 1983/4. The engineering group I moved into was tasked with an array processor design. For the company, this was a bit of a sideshow and they wouldn't spring for some decent software for analyzing signal timing. So some bright spark did it all on his brand new IBM-compatible PC in Lotus 1-2-3 or whatever was current around that time. Pages of horizontal lines popping up and down in sympathy and heading off right towards ZZ territory as he simulated a matrix add.

    Some years later, "What, you can use spreadsheets for business planning?"

    I think we only sold two or three processors so perhaps a more rigorous use of Lotus by the Program Managers might have saved a lot of profitless effort.

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