Spreadsheet Risk Management

Today I learned that there is a conference on Spreadsheet Risk Management, which is hosted by the European Spreadsheet Risk Interest Group. According to the conference paper list this event has been active since 2000 and it's been a source of research on the potential dangers of Excel.

Some of the listed articles also show some interesting research too.

  • There's this paper that talks about some issues in spreadsheet validation software. It turns out that false positives are a real issue, but the presentation of the results also cause issues.
  • Another paper explores possible solutions in Python to mitigate excel issues by leveraging xlwings.
  • Some papers are behind a paywall, which is unfortunate. Articles like "The Misuse of Spreadsheets in the Nuclear Fuel Industry: The Falsification of Safety Critical Data Using Spreadsheets at British Nuclear Fuels Limited" sure sound like they might be worth a read.

The site also hosts an interesting section titled horror stories. To quote the site:

Public reports of spreadsheet errors have been sought out on behalf of EuSpRIG by Patrick O’Beirne of Systems Modelling for many years. There are very many reports of spreadsheet related errors and they seem to appear in the global media at a fairly consistent rate.

These stories illustrate common problems that occur with the uncontrolled use of spreadsheets. In many cases, we identify the area of risk involved and then say how we think the problem might have been avoided.

Here's a subset of the titles that are listed:

  • Spreadsheet error led to Edinburgh hospital opening delay link
  • Scientists rename human genes to stop Microsoft Excel from misreading them as dates link
  • A company submitted a bid nearly $3 million lower than it should have been link
  • Emailed spreadsheet contained private data in ‘hidden’ columns link

There's a bunch of good anekdotes here. Worth a read!