Consultant takes spreadsheet risks to book


27 Sep 2005

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A new book by an Irish author aimed at reducing risks related to poor spreadsheet design and use has been submitted to the European Computer Driving Licence Foundation for validation as courseware. The book by veteran software consultant Patrick O’Beirne has a special resonance as a result of the current focus on corporate compliancy rules such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 2002.

Entitled, Spreadsheet Check and Control, the 200-page book puts comprehensive controls on spreadsheet development firmly into the hands of the end users. It details 47 key practices to detect and prevent errors in the design and use of spreadsheets.

O’Beirne, who is a fellow of the Irish Computer Society, makes the point that the risks related to poor spreadsheet design and use are numerous. The European Spreadsheet Risk Interest Group (www.eusprig.org) now has more than 70 reported cases of costly and embarrassing mistakes, which stemmed from failings related to spreadsheets.

The book covers the type of mistakes that can lead to problems and the measures that can be taken to avoid them. O’Beirne says if spreadsheet users had a driving licence, this publication would be their seat belt, air bag, navigation aid, repair kit, hazard indicators and the rules of the road.

It will enable readers to present results with more confidence knowing that they have checked for errors; create spreadsheets faster by avoiding wasted time from lack of specification; increase efficiency by avoiding rework; reduce worry about costly and embarrassing mistakes; discover powerful formula auditing techniques; and foil attempts to conceal data and formulas.

Organisations that deploy the book can reduce compliance costs; demonstrate management of material risks; increase controls on spreadsheet-based reporting; ensure data quality and accuracy; and protect against formula and operational errors.

Ciarán Walsh, senior finance specialist with the Irish Management Institute, said of the book: ” I am embarrassed when I think of the shortcuts I generally take with spreadsheets and I have often paid the price. It will become and it should be required reading for all young trainee accountants.”

With the current focus on corporate compliance, such as the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002 Section 404 requirements, business readers want to know how to apply better internal controls to financial reporting, most of which depends on accurate spreadsheets. Keeping end users informed and empowering them to check their own work can achieve this, says O’Beirne.

Jim Kaplan of the auditor’s portal Auditnet.org said: “Spreadsheet Check and Control does what no other book before has attempted to do; provide standards for designing spreadsheets that lend themselves to a logical review by management and internal auditors.”

By John Kennedy