In this post IBM Senior Product Manager Trevor MacPherson discusses the continued use of spreadsheets as a 'go to' analytics tool at a time when IBM's personal analytics solution, IBM Cognos Insight, is not only markedly easier to use from both an authoring and analysis perspective, but also has a more robust capability offering in terms of "gathering, calculating, distilling, and disseminating" data. Yet people, however unfounded, remain married to spreadsheets. Here is Trevor's post:
Two years ago, I saw a glimmer of hope through what I like to call the 'haze of data and misinformation' that clutters my world. Here's what happened.
I took a spreadsheet that had been sent to almost 100 people, threw it into IBM Cognos Insight, and quickly showed about half of those people some findings in the data that they never bothered to see because of the unwieldy nature of spreadsheets. Worse, I came to understand that a lot of them had never even looked at the spreadsheet in the first place.
It got me thinking that some poor fellow, likely as busy every day as me, was probably spending every Friday afternoon copying data, re-formatting it, and adjusting formulas, to send this 10MB spreadsheet out to all 100 of us. Yet, just about everyone ignored it. Not a promising tale in support of spreadsheets being the wave of the future.
Even amidst some of the most transformative analytics technology in the world, I still get a few spreadsheets a week when, after reviewing them, I find that the sum of the information I need from these spreadsheets could have been distilled down to 3 bullet points in an email.
Problem is that the information wasn’t intended for just me – it was meant for many more people who, like me, see more data than information. And, if I had to guess, these people probably waste as much time sifting through the information to try and makes sense of it as much as the author did creating it! It seems the likelihood a spreadsheet provides little or no value exponentially increases the more people it's sent to.
Now, this ratio only grows if I'm being asked to fill out something on the spreadsheet and send it back to them. At that point the information becomes that much more irrelevant adding in another element of being incredibly error prone too.
The hope in using Cognos Insight in lieu of spreadsheets would be to replace the endless reams of data contained in indecipherable spreadsheets with compelling, easy-to-understand information. It was optimistic, wide-eyed, and perhaps a little naive.
Yes, I know. The world that created that mass of spreadsheets will not change overnight. But, eventually, it will change. Because it must. That time will come...
When we figure out that flawed data supporting economic policy & billion dollar mistakes on shareholder equity aren’t really the result of human error, but are systematic in nature and symptomatic of a completely flawed approach to gathering, calculating, distilling, and disseminating data;
When we stop creating a hundred copies of data at a point in time;
When we stop building business logic that takes so long to unravel, no one bothers to validate it;
When we stop having to rewrite half of our business rules every time an employee is hired, a cost center is added, or a store opens up; and,
When we stop copying and pasting from all of the spreadsheets we send out to request information.
Then, and only then, will we know that it really never was human error that caused these failures. It was because we used, and were encouraged to use
the same tool to plan our vacation as we did to plan a merger, or
gather corporate budget information from hundreds of departments, business units and geographies as we did to tally up our home renovation costs.
And we did it because it was easy.
Human error is always possible, but when there is software that makes it easy to build, maintain, and review business rules and data, while allowing everyone to work with the same information together, we will stop wasting time, and start sharing accurate, useful information.
I know that not everyone believes we have to stop, and I know that the easy road isn’t the one I’m taking. But, if you (like me), have ever been embarrassed by a spreadsheet error or are sick of copying and pasting and reformatting your life away, please stay tuned, because the road I’m taking leads to a better place.
Learn more about IBM Cognos Insight by clicking here.