Compliance pressures prod IT to limit use of spreadsheets

Business intelligence vendors offer tools to eliminate input errors

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Avoiding discrepancies

Users at other companies have further distanced themselves from spreadsheets to avoid potential data discrepancies.

Textron Inc., owner of Cessna Aircraft Co. and Bell Helicopter, uses Hyperion Solutions Corp.'s Financial Management software for collection, reporting and analysis of its global financial data. The system generates more than 1,000 reports that give users needed data without the use of spreadsheets, said Larry Costello, director of financial information systems at Providence, R.I.-based Textron. "They don't have a chance of calling the wrong cell," he said.

At The Tile Shop LLC, a Plymouth, Minn.-based tile retailer, the widespread use of spreadsheets meant that only the controller had a "magical spreadsheet" with the correct cash and balance-sheet data, said Gerald Baltrusch, the company's IT director.

"Excel is the cocaine of finance," he said. "Once you start using it to calculate your final numbers, you can't stop." To alleviate the problem, the company's new chief financial officer forced the finance department to generate data directly from its J.D. Edwards & Co. applications.

"It was painful, but he stuck to his guns and broke us free of the Excel drug," Baltrusch said. "We began to have one version of the truth."

The problem of reining in spreadsheets is so massive that many IT managers have given up hope, said Wayne Eckerson, director of research at The Data Warehousing Institute in Seattle. "Spreadsheets are a huge temptation for users who feel frustrated that IT can't give them the data they want," he said.

Ideally, only IT should collect, integrate, distribute and manage the data in spreadsheets, with users being allowed to view the data and update it with proper authorization from IT, Eckerson said.

"Solving the problem requires the business and IT to become more aligned and each to better understand and respect what the other side does and its requirements," he added.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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