Spreadsheet Woes – Burden in SOX Compliance and Other Regulations
End User Computing (EUC) or end User Developed Application (UDA) systems like spreadsheets used to be ideal ad-hoc solutions for data processing and financial reporting. But those days are long gone.
Today, due to regulations like the:
Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act,
IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards),
E.U. Data Protection Directive,
NAIC Model Audit Rules,
yes, there?s more ? and counting
a company can be bogged down when it tries to comply with such regulations while maintaining spreadsheet-reliant financial and information systems.
In an age where regulatory compliance have become part of the norm, companies need to enforce more stringent control measures like version control, access control, testing, reconciliation, and many others, in order to pass audits and to ensure that their spreadsheets are giving them only accurate and reliable information.
Now, the problem is, these control measures aren’t exactly tailor-made for a spreadsheet environment. While yes, it is possible to set up a spreadsheet and EUC control environment that utilises best practices, this is a potentially expensive, laborious, and time-consuming exercise, and even then, the system will still not be as foolproof or efficient as the regulations call for.
Testing and reconciliation alone can cost a significant amount of time and money to be effective:
It requires multiple testers who need to test spreadsheets down to the cell level.
Testers will have to deal with terribly disorganized and complicated spreadsheet systems that typically involve single cells being fed information by other cells in other sheets, which in turn may be found in other workbooks, or in another folder.
Each month, an organisation may have new spreadsheets with new links, new macros, new formulas, new locations, and hence new objects to test.
Spreadsheets rarely come with any kind of supporting documentation and version control, further hampering the verification process.
Because Windows won’t allow you to open two Excel files with the same name simultaneously and because a succession of monthly-revised spreadsheets separated by mere folders but still bearing the same name is common in spreadsheet systems, it would be difficult to compare one spreadsheet with any of its older versions.
But testing and reconciliation are just two of the many activities that make regulatory compliance terribly tedious for a spreadsheet-reliant organisation. Therefore, the sheer intricacy of spreadsheet systems make examining and maintaining them next to impossible.
On the other hand, you can’t afford not to take these regulations seriously. Non-compliance with regulatory mandates can have dire consequences, not the least of which is the loss of investor confidence. And when investors start to doubt the management’s capability, customers will start to walk away too. Now that is a loss your competitors will only be too happy to gain.
Learn more about our server application solutions and discover a better way to comply with regulations.
Month end accounting has always been a business critical exercise. Without the balance sheet, income statement, and other financial reports this exercise ultimately produces, management could not make informed decisions to keep the company in the right direction and at the ideal operational speed.
Now, in order to maintain optimal business velocity, month end activities have to be carried out as swiftly and as accurately as possible. Delays will only inhibit managers from reacting and effecting necessary adjustments in time. Inaccurate information, on the other hand, obviously lead to bad decisions.
But that’s not all. Never has the month end close been as demanding as it is today. Regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Solvency II, Dodd-Frank Act, and others, which call for more stringent controls and more robust risk management practices, are now forcing companies to find better ways to face the end of the month.
Sticking to old month-end practices while striving to achieve regulation compliance can either cost a company more (if they add manpower) or simply bog it down (if they don’t). Among the worst of these practices is the use of spreadsheets.
These User Developed Applications (UDAs) are very susceptible to errors. (See spreadsheet risks)
What’s more, consolidating data from spreadsheets as well as carrying out reconciliations on them is very time consuming. These activities usually require data from outside sources – i.e. a workstation in a different department, building, or (in the case of really large corporations) geographical locations.
Furthermore, if one of these sources fail, the financial reports won’t be complete. This is not a far-fetched scenario, considering that spreadsheet storage and backup is typically carried out by the average end user. This leaves the spreadsheet data vulnerable to hard disk crashes, virus attacks, and unexpected disasters.
Thus, in order to produce accurate financial reports on time all the time, you need a financial/IT solution that offers optimal provisions for risk management, collaboration, backup, and business continuity. Learn about server-based solutions and discover a better way to carry out month end accounting.
Energy management is and should be perceived as a long-term investment by organisations. Having said this, the need for all organisations to implement energy management strategies now cannot be overstated as these strategies will save their costs of running the business in future.
Many organisations may shy off from implementing energy efficiency measures in place opting to save the associated costs or to use the cash for other projects that may be perceived as high priority in the short run. This is most likely to occur when cost cutting is a priority. Long-term planning is however critical for energy efficiency programs. Taking steps to improve building management and energy efficiency will and does pay dividends in the near-term and may be a competitive tool in the long-term.
Be energy smart All energy management projects begin with being energy smart which calls for the understanding of energy usage. Use of Smart Meters that give real time readings of energy usage, can dramatically help businesses understand the benefit which energy management brings to the organisation.
Smart meters also cut the amount of time businesses spend on administration by allowing them to pay accurate bills, based on accurate readings. Some suppliers also support businesses to identify areas of energy wastage/inefficiency and help setting targets for energy reduction that guide behavioural change with regard to energy in the organisation.
Use of technologies that record the energy usage at the water or electricity meters putting data into a system where the users can graph it has made it easy to compare energy consumption in various departments, sites or buildings. Appropriate measures can then be implemented to improve the efficiency.
Partnerships between businesses and energy suppliers Since the long-term benefits of reduced energy consumption is beneficial to both suppliers and consumers; the responsibility of managing energy consumption is being taken by both. Businesses should work with the suppliers on cost reduction strategies through identifying areas where energy is being wasted and advising businesses on how to save energy. Of key importance when choosing an energy supplier therefore is their depth of understanding of a business’ energy management needs.
Capitalise on government incentives Businesses should always explore varied financing mechanisms for their energy efficiency programs e.g. government schemes generating electricity and selling it to the grid.
For many people within the UK, water is not really something to worry about. Surely enough of it falls out the sky throughout the year that it does feel highly unlikely that we?ll ever run out of it. There certainly does seem to be an abundance of Branded Water available in plastic bottles on our supermarket shelves.
Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.
Despite this, Once-unthinkable water crises are becoming commonplace. If you consider that In England and Wales, we use 16 billion litres of clean drinking water every day ? that’s equivalent to 6,400 Olympic sized swimming pools.
Currently, water companies can provide slightly more than we need ? 2 billion litres are available above and beyond what we’re using. In some areas, though, such as south east England, there is no surplus and, as such, these regions are more likely to face supply restrictions in a dry year.
If we take little moment to reflect on some of the most notable water related stories over the past few years, we’ll start to get a picture of just how real the potential and the threat of water shortages can be.
Reservoirs in Chennai, India?s sixth-largest city, are nearly dry right now. Last year, residents of Cape Town, South Africa narrowly avoided their own Day Zero water shut-off.
It was only year before that, Rome rationed water to conserve scarce resources.
Climate change is likely to mean higher temperatures which may drive up the demand for water (alongside population growth) and increase evaporation from reservoirs and water courses during spring and summer.
The impact of climate change on total rainfall is uncertain, but the rain that does fall is likely to arrive in heavier bursts in winter and summer. Heavier rain tends to flow off land more quickly into rivers and out to sea, rather than recharging groundwater aquifers.
A greater chance of prolonged dry periods is also conceivable. This combined with the harsh reality that no human population can sustain itself without sufficient access to fresh water.
If present conditions continue, 2 out of 3 people on Earth will live within a water-stressed zone by 2025
What is water stress?
Water stress is a term used to describe situation when demand for water is greater than the amount of water available at a certain period in time, and also when water is of poor quality and this restricts its usage. Water stress means deterioration in both the quantity of available water and the quality of available water due to factors affecting available water.
Water stress refers to the ability, or lack thereof, to meet human and ecological demand for water. Compared to scarcity, water stress is a more inclusive and broader concept.
Water Stress considers several physical aspects related to water resources, including water scarcity, but also water quality, environmental flows, and the accessibility of water.
Supply and Demand
Major factors involved when water scarcity strikes is when a growing populations demand for water exceeds the areas ability to service that need.
Increased food production and development programs also lead to increased demand for water, which ultimately leads to water stress.
Increased need for agricultural irrigation in order to produce more crops or sustain livestock are major contributors to localised water stress.
The demand for water in a given population is fairly unpredictable. Primarily, based on the fact that you can never accurately predict human behaviour and changes in climate.
If too many people are consuming more water than they need because they mistakenly believe that water is freely available and plentiful, then water stress could eventually occur.
This is also linked to perceived economic prosperity of a give region. Manufacturing demand for water can have huge impact regardless whether water is actively used within the manufacturing process or not.
Water quality in any given area is never static. Water stress could happen as a result of rising pollution levels having a direct impact on water quality.
Water contamination happens when new industries either knowingly or unknowingly contaminate water with their industrial practices.
Largely, this can happen and frequently does so because these industries do not take effective control of monitoring and managing their impact on communal water supplies. Incorrectly assuming this is the responsibility of an additional third party like the regional water company.
The truth is, water quality and careful monitoring of it is all of our responsibility.
Simple increases in demand for water can in itself contribute to water scarcity. However, these are often preceded by other factors like poverty or just the natural scarcity of water in the area.
In many instances, the initial locations of towns or cities were not influenced by the close proximity of natural resources like water, but rather in pursuit of the extraction of other resources like Gold, Coal or Diamonds.
For Instance, Johannesburg, South Africa is the largest City in South Africa and is one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. It is also located in the mineral rich Witwatersrand range of hills and is the centre of large-scale gold and diamond trade.
Johannesburg is also one of the only major cities of the world that was not built on a river or harbour. However, it does have streams that contribute to two of Southern Africas mightiest rivers – Limpopo and the Orange rivers. However, most of the springs from which many of these streams emanate are now covered in concrete!
Water Stress and Agriculture
Peter Buss, co-founder of Sentek Technology calls ground moisture a water bank and manufactures ground sensors to interrogate it. His hometown of Adelaide is in one of the driest states in Australia. This makes monitoring soil water even more critical, if agriculture is to continue. Sentek has been helping farmers deliver optimum amounts of water since 1992.
The analogy of a water bank is interesting. Agriculturists must ?bank? water for less-than-rainy days instead of squeezing the last drop. They need a stream of real-time data and utilize cloud-based storage and processing power to curate it.
Sentek?s technology can be found in remote places like Peru?s Atacamba desert and the mountains of Mongolia, where it supports sustainable floriculture, forestry, horticulture, pastures, row crops and viticulture through precise delivery of scarce water.
This relies on precision measurement using a variety of drill and drop probes with sensors fixed at 4? / 10cm increments along multiples of 12? / 30cm up to 4 times. These probe soil moisture, soil temperature and soil salinity, and are readily repositioned to other locations as crops rotate.
Peter Buss is convinced that measurement is a means to an end and only the beginning. ?Too often, growers start watering when plants don’t really need it, wasting water, energy, and labour. By accurately monitoring water can be saved until when the plant really needs it.
Peter also emphasises that crop is the ultimate sensor, and that ?we should ask the plant what it needs?.
This takes the debate a stage further. Water wise farmers should plant water-wise crops, not try to close the stable door after the horse has bolted and dry years return.
The South Australia government thinks the answer also lies in correct farm dam management. It wants farmers to build ones that allow sufficient water to bypass in order to sustain the natural environment too.
There is more to water management than squeezing the last drop. Soil moisture goes beyond measuring for profit. It is about farming sustainably using data from sensors to guide us.
Ecovaro is ahead of the curve as we explore imaginative ways to exploit the data these provide for the common good of all.
A Quarter of the World?s Population, Face High Water Stress
Data from WRI?s Aqueduct tools reveal that 17 countries? home to one-quarter of the world?s population?face ?extremely high? levels of baseline water stress, where irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year.
Water stress poses serious threats to human lives, livelihoods and business stability. It’s poised to worsen unless countries act: Population growth, socioeconomic development and urbanization are increasing water demands, while climate change can make precipitation and demand more variable.
How to manage water stress
Water stress is just one dimension of water security. However, like any challenge, its outlook depends on adequate monitoring and management of environmental data.
Even countries with relatively high water stress have effectively secured their water supplies through proper management by leveraging the knowledge they have garnered by learning from the data they gathered.
3 ways to help reduce water stress
In any geography, water stress can be reduced by measures ranging from common sense to innovative technology solutions.
There are countless solutions, but here are three of the most straightforward:
1. Increase agricultural efficiency: The world needs to make every drop of water go further in its food systems. Farmers can use seeds that require less water and improve their irrigation techniques by using precision watering rather than flooding their fields.
Businesses need to increase investments to improve water productivity, while engineers develop technologies that improve efficiency in agriculture.
2. Invest in grey and green infrastructure: D Data produced by Aqueduct Alliance – shows that water stress can vary tremendously over the year. WRI and the World Bank?s researchshows that built infrastructure (like pipes and treatment plants) and green infrastructure (like wetlands and healthy watersheds) can work in tandem to tackle issues of both water supply and water quality.
3. Treat, reuse and recycle: We need to stop thinking of wastewater as waste.
Treating and reusing it creates a ?new? water source.
There are also useful resources in wastewater that can be harvested to help lower water treatment costs. For example, plants in Xiangyang, China and Washington, D.C. reuse or sell the energy- and nutrient-rich byproducts captured during wastewater treatment.
The data is undeniably clear, there are very worrying trends in water.
Businesses and other other organisations need to start taking action now and investing in better monitoring and management, we can solve water issues for the good of people, economies and the planet. We collectively cannot kick this can down the road any further, or assume that this problem will be solved by others.
It is time, for a collective sense of responsibility and for everyone to invest in future prosperity of our Planet as a collective whole. Ecological preservation should be at the forefront of all business plans because at the end of the day profit is meaningless without an environment to enjoy it in!