Compliance pressures prod IT to limit use of spreadsheets

Business intelligence vendors offer tools to eliminate input errors

In the face of tighter regulatory controls for reporting financial data, many IT departments are wrestling to eliminate or control the widespread use of spreadsheets. But many end users are likely to rebel if the ubiquitous tool is taken away from them.

Business intelligence vendors are maneuvering to offer solutions to the problem in the form of new software that can eliminate the errors often produced when data is entered into spreadsheets.

Actuate Corp. this week will unveil a new version of its e.Spreadsheet reporting software that can provide auditable and repeatable processes to spreadsheets. And last week, Oracle Corp. rolled out a new stand-alone business intelligence product featuring an Excel plug-in to ensure that data is obtained directly from corporate databases.

Actuate added a "cell locking" feature to allow report designers to password-protect specific cells in a spreadsheet. Data can be distributed to users for controlled analysis without compromising operational data and business logic, said Mike Thoma, vice president of marketing at South San Francisco-based Actuate.

"Politically, it's devastating to take away the spreadsheets from the end user," Thoma said. "But on the other hand, you don't want to go to jail."

CheckFree Corp., a Norcross, Ga.-based electronic bill payment and banking services company, began using the e.Spreadsheet tool this year.

"The finance department was trying to get data ready to publish [for Wall Street], manually querying sources and pulling data together in spreadsheets," said Kevin McDearis, CheckFree's vice president of data and delivery. "They were quite nervous about that."

But e.Spreadsheet applied consistent business rules to the data to avoid compliance problems, he said.

Odom's Tennessee Pride Sausage Inc. in Madison, Tenn., will use Actuate's cell-locking capabilities to provide sales and marketing employees with access to sales data that can be shared with customers and brokers, said Michael Hader, Odom's IT manager. "Re-entering data into Excel means they could get the wrong data for the wrong product in the wrong spot," he said.

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