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Since I wrote my white paper (available for free download) on the problems of spreadsheets last year, a number of vendors have come up with a variety of solutions, not least Microsoft, which has substantially improved the security and auditability of Excel in Office 12, though it still lacks facilities like cell level locking. However, the best solution I have seen to-date comes from Mobius.
Mobius is a long-time player (25 years) in the content and records management space, specialising in very high volume and very highly scalable solutions. On top of this solution it has a product line called ABS: audit and balancing systems. What this does is to check across databases and content repositories to ensure that balance is maintained. Thus it can check, for example, that a remittance statement ties up with an appropriate sales ledger entry and, if it does not, then the software can kick off an appropriate process to restore the system to balance.
What has this got to do with spreadsheets? Well, nothing as yet but bear with me. Mobius has a stand-alone part of the ABS suite called ABS Spreadsheet for Compliance, which was released towards the end of last year. In effect, this allows you to run Excel within the Mobius environment. Except for the fact that identity management is applied when you open up Excel (that is, you have to log in) end users will see no change in the way that they use Excel. However, there is a lot of extra stuff under the covers.
To begin with, there is full security (including cell level locking) and auditability. There is also version control, which applies not just to data but also to formulae and macros. There is also a built-in review and approval process (actually, this is one other area where users may see a change) which is itself auditable and you can append comments, notes and so forth to spreadsheets, all of which are similarly captured.
So far, so good. But it gets better. In June this year, Mobius will be introducing its next release of this product. This will provide two major enhancements. First, it will integrate with ABS itself (it already integrates with ViewDirect, which is the company’s content management solution). What this will mean is that you will be able to balance and reconcile data between spreadsheets and source applications – in other words, you will actually be able to check that the data is still valid and hasn’t been overwritten.
Secondly, and this is the real kicker: in the June release, Mobius will be introducing automated spreadsheet consolidation. That is, you will be able to roll up figures from lower-level spreadsheets into higher ones. Now, consider the implications of that for a moment.
There are lots of times that companies want to roll-up figures in spreadsheets. But what is the most common? Probably planning, budgeting and consolidation. Every CPM (corporate performance management) vendor will tell you horror stores about companies using Excel for this purpose, who take weeks to perform consolidations, for example. Well, with the June release of ABS Spreadsheet for Compliance it becomes a much more plausible option to stay with Excel. I’m not saying that it might not still be a good idea to move to Cartesis, Cognos or whoever, but Mobius’ solution certainly poses the question and I expect a significant number of companies will look on it favourably.