Not that long ago, Oregon State University released a press release stating that its computer scientists have created a new, much simpler approach to fixing errors in spreadsheets, a system that is easy to use and might help businesses around the world reduce mistakes and save billions of dollars.
According to the article in the United States it has been estimated that 11 million people create about 100 million spreadsheets a year, which in turn might be managed by up to 60 million users … but they are notoriously prone to errors. And that most users of spreadsheets are overconfident, they believe that the data is correct but that it has been observed that up to 90 percent of the spreadsheets being used have non-trivial errors in them. In fact, one auditor has said he never inspected a single spreadsheet during his entire career that was completely accurate.
Thus, the new approach to fixing errors, which allows a non-specialist to identify and fix a problem by selecting a fix from a short list of change suggestions, is expected to be quite beneficial. The system, which attempts to try and identify the ways that humans commonly make mistakes and then suggest what the correct approach might have been, can suggest several programming mistakes that might have created the error when an error is found and allow the user to sort through them and identify the root cause. The system is currently performing rather well. In 80% of the cases, the fix is in the top five suggestions and in 72% of the cases, the fix is among the first two suggestions. The GoalDebug System (short for “Goal Directed Debugging of Spreadsheets”) gives end users the chance to explore, apply refine, and reject suggested changes, a systematic approach that allows people with comparatively little training in programming and spreadsheet development to identify and repair errors.
However, as far as I’m concerned, this is not good news. All I see is tens of thousands of man hours and millions of dollars of research funding wasted on a patch solution that doesn’t address the real, underlying problem – spreadsheets are bad!
As far as I’m concerned, the answer is the development of appropriate financial applications that contain the calculations and report creation abilities end users need and negate the need for them to develop these huge complicated spreadsheets. Then there wouldn’t be errors to track down in the first place.
Fortunately, for your procurement department, there is an answer – and the answer is e-Sourcing complete with spend analysis and decision optimization. That’s the easy way to save billions.