Spreadsheet Woes – Limited Features For Easy Adoption of a Control Framework

Like it or not, regulations are here to stay and for a company to comply with them, its IT and financial systems will have to be equipped with a suitable control framework. One common stumbling block to such an implementation is a company?s over-reliance on spreadsheets.

Why is it so difficult to adopt controls for a system that’s reliant on spreadsheets? To understand this, let’s pinpoint some of the strongest, most powerful attributes of these User Developed Applications (UDA).

By nature, spreadsheets are the epitome of simplicity: easy to develop, easily accessible and easily altered. All computers in your workplace will most likely have them and everyone in your organization may be sharing them, making their own versions, and storing them in personal folders.

Sad to say though, these strengths are also control weaknesses and constitute the very reasons why spreadsheets require effective risk management.

Easy to develop. Being easy to develop, most spreadsheet systems are created by non-IT users who have limited knowledge on best control practices. Being constantly under time pressure, these ?developers? may also relegate documentation, security, and data verification to the back burner in favour of coming up with a timely report.

Easy to access. Information in a spreadsheet can be opened by practically anyone within the organization?s network. Who accessed what? And when? If anything goes wrong, it would be difficult to identify the culprit, and the failure to pinpoint responsibility for erroneous data could lead to bigger, more costly mistakes.

Easy to alter. Lastly, if the information is easy to access, then it can also be easily altered, consequently making reports more prone to both accidental errors and fraudulent modifications.

The rise of multimillion dollar scandals due to accidental and intentional spreadsheet errors have prompted regulatory bodies to publish guidelines for mitigating spreadsheet-associated risks. These controls include:

  • Change control
  • Version control
  • Access control
  • Input
  • Security and data integrity
  • Documentation
  • Development life cycle
  • Backup and archiving
  • Logic inspection/Testing
  • Segregation of duties/roles, and procedures
  • Analytics

In theory, these controls should be able to bring down risks considerably. However, because of the inherent nature of spreadsheets, such controls are rarely implemented effectively in the real world.

Take for example Security and Data Integrity. One of the most common causes of spreadsheet error is due to ?hardwiring?. This happens when values are inadvertently entered into a formula cell, naturally changing the logic of the spreadsheet.

As a way of control, cell locking can be applied on the formula cells to prevent users without the proper authority from making any changes. However, when reporting deadlines approach drawing spreadsheets to the forefront of data processing, more people are given access rights to the locked cells. Ironically, it is during these crunch times, when errors are most likely to happen.

Because the built-in features of a spreadsheet support none of the controls mentioned above, some companies are tempted to purchase control-enabling programs for spreadsheets just to continue using them for financial reporting. But although these programs can integrate the required controls, you?d still be interacting with the same complex and outdated interface: the spreadsheets.

Thus, these band-aid solutions may not suffice because the root cause of these problems are the spreadsheets themselves.

Learn more about our server application solutions and discover a better way to implement controls.

More Spreadsheet Blogs


Spreadsheet Risks in Banks


Top 10 Disadvantages of Spreadsheets


Disadvantages of Spreadsheets – obstacles to compliance in the Healthcare Industry


How Internal Auditors can win the War against Spreadsheet Fraud


Spreadsheet Reporting – No Room in your company in an age of Business Intelligence


Still looking for a Way to Consolidate Excel Spreadsheets?


Disadvantages of Spreadsheets


Spreadsheet woes – ill equipped for an Agile Business Environment


Spreadsheet Fraud


Spreadsheet Woes – Limited features for easy adoption of a control framework


Spreadsheet woes – Burden in SOX Compliance and other Regulations


Spreadsheet Risk Issues


Server Application Solutions – Don’t let Spreadsheets hold your Business back


Why Spreadsheets can send the pillars of Solvency II crashing down

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Cloud Computing Trends: Where is the Cloud Headed Next?

Cloud adoption has been quick and painless at the consumer level. For instance, everyone’s on Gmail, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis yet most think nothing of the fact that they’re already using cloud-based services. Small businesses have also discovered how cloud solutions have raised efficiency in the workplace up a notch or two, while also bringing about significant cost savings. Cloud applications, particularly those for communication, file sharing, office software, backup and storage, and customer management, have rapidly grown in usage among SMBs.

In the same manner, large corporations are starting to see the potential of moving some of their IT department, whether its infrastructure or network management, to the cloud. By all indications it would seem that whether we are ready for it or not, cloud computing technology is here for the long haul.

So where is the cloud headed to next? In this post we examine the trends in the world of cloud computing and what likely lies in store in the near future for cloud users.

Focus on Security

Security has always been a key concern in the cloud computing industry and this will not go away anytime soon. If anything, data security in the cloud will only get to be in the limelight even more as cloud adopters grow in number. That’s why we expect professional cloud services providers to start implementing measures that will help slowly build up confidence in cloud security.

We should soon see more advanced security techniques and protocols that would increase the overall level of privacy and protection for cloud-stored information. Tighter security for login encryptions and prevention of unauthorized access are priority although there are a lot more issues that may need to be addressed. Now it remains to be seen whether these moves are enough for corporate clients to put their full trust in the cloud. But then again, they can always find ways to stay secure while making use of cloud computing where they can, which brings us to the next cloud trend.

Hybrid Approach

Large businesses are taking a longer time to get used to and actually use cloud services, and understandably so. After all, these companies have more at stake when it comes to dealing with such valid issues as security, compliance, outages, legacy systems, and more. However, they also cannot ignore the very appealing characteristics of the cloud. For big companies that have substantial IT needs, scalability, business agility, and faster deployment are listed as the biggest draws of the cloud.

This is why analysts predict that as as these businesses look toward leveraging the benefits of the cloud while at the same time maintaining control over mission critical data and systems, the use of a hybrid approach, i.e. putting some services in a public and at the same time opting to utilize a private cloud for other applications, will see enormous growth.

Mobile Cloud Computing

The BYOD or Bring Your Own Device business policy is another emerging trend that would not have been possible if not for cloud technology. This practice involves having employees bring their mobile devices to work, allowing them to access company files, data, and applications from their personally-owned gadgets in and out of the workplace.

As with any new business practice, the concept of BYOD can be both advantageous and disadvantageous. On the one hand, some believe it helps increase employee productivity and lifts their morale, while reducing overall IT costs. On the other hand, BYOD also opens up a whole new set of problems that are quite consistent with what many businesses take issue with with cloud technology: security. Do the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa? This much isn’t clear yet but what is evident is that more cloud apps are going mobile.

Efficiency, Innovation

While cost savings has always been one benefit that cloud proponents are quick to point out, its capability to improve and streamline business processes, thereby increasing efficiency and agility within the organization, is another key opportunity that the cloud offers. This is evident when you take a look at the most commonly used cloud services: backup and archiving, business continuity, collaboration tools, and big data processing.

Moreover, the cloud is making it easier for individuals to create new products and produce new lines of business. With access to higher IT capacity at lesser cost and at faster deployment rates, businesses can scale into more innovation without having to worry about the availability of computing resources.

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8 Reasons why you Need to Undertake Technical and Application Assessments

Are your information assets enabling you to operate more cost-effectively or are they just drawing in more risks than you are actually aware of? Obviously, you now need to get a better picture of those assets to see if your IT investments are giving you the benefits you were expecting and to help you identify areas where improvements should be made.

The best way to get the answers to those questions is through technical and application assessments. In this post, we?ll identify 8 good reasons why it is now imperative to undertake such assessments.

1. Address known issues – Perhaps the most common reason that drives companies to undertake a technology/application assessment is to identify the causes of existing issues such as those related to data accessibility, hardware and software scalability, and performance.

2. Cut down liabilities and risks – Unless you know what and where the risks are, there is no way you can implement an appropriate risk mitigation strategy. A technology and application assessment will enable you to thoroughly test and examine your information systems to see where your business-critical areas and points of failure are and subsequently allow you to act on them.

3. Discover emerging risks – Some risks may not yet be as threatening as others. But it would certainly be reassuring to be aware if any exist. That way, you can either nip them in the bud or keep them monitored.

4. Comply with regulations – Regulations like SOX require you to establish adequate internal controls to achieve compliance. Other regulations call for the protection of personally identifiable information. Assessments will help you pinpoint processes that lack controls, identify data that need protection, and areas that don’t meet regulatory requirements. This will enable you to act accordingly and keep your company away from tedious, time-consuming and costly sanctions.

5. Enhance performance – Poor performance is not always caused by an ageing hardware or an overloaded infrastructure. Sometimes, the culprits are: unsuitable configuration settings, inappropriate security policies, or misplaced business logic. A well-executed assessment can provide enough information that would lead to a more cost-effective action plan and help you avoid an expensive but useless purchase.

6. Improve interoperability – Disparate technologies working completely separate from each other may be preventing you from realising the maximum potential of your entire IT ecosystem. If you can examine your IT systems, you may be able to discover ways to make them interoperate and in turn harness untapped capabilities of already existing assets.

7. Ensure alignment of IT with business goals – An important factor in achieving IT governance is the proper alignment of IT with business goals. IT processes need to be assessed regularly to ensure that this alignment continues to exist. If it does not, then necessary adjustments can be made.

8. Provide assurance to customers and investors – Escalating cases of data breaches and identity theft are making customers and investors more conscious with a company?s capability of preserving the confidentiality of sensitive information. By conducting regular assessments, you can show your customers and investors concrete steps for keeping sensitive information confidential.

2015 ESOS Guidelines Chapter 1 ? Who Qualifies

The base criteria are any UK undertaking that employs more than 250 people and/or has a turnover in excess of ?50 million and/or has a balance sheet total greater than ?43 million. There is little point in attempting to separate off high polluting areas. If one corporate group qualifies for ESOS, then all the others are obligated to take part too. The sterling equivalents of ?38,937,777 and ?33,486,489 were set on 31 December 2014 and apply to the first compliance period.

Representatives of Overseas Entities

UK registered branches of foreign entities are treated as if fully UK owned. They also have to sign up if any overseas corporate element meets the threshold no matter where in the world. The deciding factor is common ownership throughout the ESOS system. ecoVaro appreciates this. We have seen European companies dumping pollution in under-regulated countries for far too long.

Generic Undertakings that Could Comply

The common factor is energy consumption and the organisation’s type of work is irrelevant. The Environmental Agency has provided the following generic checklist of undertakings that could qualify:

Limited CompaniesPublic CompaniesTrusts
PartnershipsPrivate Equity CompaniesLimited Liability Partnerships
Unincorporated AssociationsNot-for-Profit BodiesUniversities (Per Funding)

Organisations Close to Thresholds

Organisations that come close to, but do not quite meet the qualification threshold should cast their minds back to previous accounting periods, because ESOS considers current and previous years. The exact wording in the regulations states:

?Where, in any accounting period, an undertaking is a large undertaking (or a small or medium undertaking, as the case may be), it retains that status until it falls within the definition of a small or medium undertaking (or a large undertaking, as the case may be) for two consecutive accounting periods.?

Considering the ?50,000 penalty for not completing an assessment or making a false or misleading statement, it makes good sense for close misses to comply.

Joint Ventures and Participative Undertakings

If one element of a UK group qualifies for ESOS, then the others must follow suit with the highest one carrying responsibility. Franchisees are independent undertakings although they may collectively agree to participate. If trusts receive energy from a third party that must do an ESOS, then so must they. Private equity firms and private finance initiatives receive the same treatment as other enterprises. De-aggregations must be in writing following which separated ESOS accountability applies.

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