Do you accept 94% probability of an error?

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Alica Kačengová

It is an undeniable fact that spreadsheets are one of the most frequently used types of software. Just Excel alone has 750 million users, as Microsoft reports, and there are also other software solutions that share a portion of the market, such as Apple Numbers or Google Sheets. Those outstanding numbers show that spreadsheets have become a de facto standard for data analysis and manipulation and are widely used by businesses of all sizes from small to big, municipalities and other government organizations.

With that in mind, it is easy to imagine the tremendous impact that can be made by errors in spreadsheets. Unfortunately, those errors exist and are very common. And this is not just an assumption, there has been an actual scientific research and a number of papers was published on the subject. The errors were categorised in many ways, from hard-coded constraints, wrong formulas, forgotten rows to corrupted links. Researchers developed an auditing protocol and applied it on 50 real-life spreadsheets from various sources (consulting company, bank, college etc.). The results are quite disturbing: only 3 of 50 spreadsheets were without error, which means that 94% of spreadsheets contain errors.

It is hard to believe that so many people and organizations rely on such a risky tool. There is even a scientific group maintaining a list of “horror stories”, real-world cases and examples of how errors in spreadsheet caused several damage, mostly (but not only) financial. High fines, disrupted investors’ confidence and millions of dollars lost, these are just some of the consequences of forgotten minus signs, too many zeros at the end of the number or manually copied data.

Although spreadsheet software itself offers many powerful functions, it lacks means to verify and control the relationships between the data that are inserted, processed and analyzed. What is more, those means aren’t just something that can be added or plugged in in future. There aren’t any such means of control because the actual nature of spreadsheets, the way they are and work, doesn’t allow that kind of control. The only way to maintain data integrity is to use guidelines and methodologies, but another research shows that the majority of users states that “common sense” is their main testing method. This proves that, rather than to force users to follow guidelines and formal procedures, we have to build software which does it for them. We give you Lumeer, because we think that software is there to help you get your work done. Effectively. With minimum risk. And with great results.