Scribblings from the hard shoulder of the Information Superhighway

Living by Numbers

As I recently reported, I’ve started work by in the City. For an insurance company which is new for me, but in EC3 which is an old friend.

And working back in the City an number of old prejudices come back to haunt me – number one of these is spreadsheets, which seem to be even more pernicious in insurance than in banking, or maybe that’s just the march of time and the improved functionality offered by Microsoft Excel™

I used to say that the most dangerous thing in the City of London was an Excel Spreadsheet in the hands of an Aussie temp.

And I would suggest that that prejudice isn’t too far of the mark – for the most part Aussie temps were brought in for a summer and given a task to do without too much understanding of the underlying requirements, and the ‘solution’ just kind of evolves, with no discipline, specification or documentation.

Six months down the line, when the Aussie temp is long gone and clambering over the ruins of Angkor Wat, the original objective of the solution is probably long forgotten and the chances of remembering the thinking that went into field “AD27” are negligible – and if there’s an error in the equation in that cell, then the section, department or company could be running on erroneous numbers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti spreadsheet as such, they are very much a screen based  ‘swiss army knife’ – capable of performing a thousand and one useful tasks. My good friend Biffo is a black-belt spreadsheet operator, seventh dan. But as I have repeatedly suggested to him, Michelangelo didn’t whip out a penknife to carve La Pieta and more than you’d expect to see Marco Pierre White chop up fillet steak with his Victorinox Huntsman™.

Yes, it’ll do the job, but there are tools out there that will do it better.

But what do I know? I’m only an IT Manager!

One Response to Living by Numbers

  • Not just temps put the wrong value in. A long day running into night, eyes red rimmed, a small typo in the wrong place with lots of other formulas depending on it, and the same sad scenario develops. Well, that’s the problem – it develops but who finds it, and when do they find it?
    But I do like spreadsheets – just not those with numbers!