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Compassoft has just announced version 3.5 of its spreadsheet management software. This represents a very significant advance on its previous release and, while there are other new features in this version, I am here going to concentrate on what Compassoft calls its ‘Advanced Framework’. Put simply, the idea behind this is to provide policy-based automation.
The first thing that you need to do when you want to bring spreadsheets under control is to discover where they are. There are two ways to do this: you can tell the software where to look or you can tell it to look everywhere. The problem with the former is that it assumes that you know where all of your spreadsheets are, which you don’t. Compassoft therefore uses the latter approach. This is not new.
Once you know where all of your spreadsheets are, you want to find out about them. In particular, you want to gather as much metadata about them as possible so that you can discover who owns them, what they are for (or, at least, which department they are used in), what their relationships are with other spreadsheets, how they are arranged into hierarchies, and so on. This isn’t new either as Compassoft did this already.
The next step is to associate risk with each spreadsheet. Here is where we start getting into new territory and also where Compassoft’s approach diverges from much of its competition. Its view, with which I agree, is that if you are going to get serious about spreadsheet management then you have to be prepared to manage tens or hundreds of thousands if not millions of individual spreadsheets rather than just the few hundred that some other suppliers focus on. However, if you are going to do this then you simply cannot achieve it manually and have to rely on automation. This is where the Advanced Framework comes in.
The framework contains a number of steps. First, once you have discovered your spreadsheets, you need to conduct risk assessment and prioritisation—in other words, determine which spreadsheets are most important to bring under control. In this release this categorisation is automated whereas previously it was a manual process. Secondly, you need to continue to monitor the source spreadsheets for changes and then you have to define control criteria so that you know what actions to trigger (alerts, processes and so on) in the event of a criteria threshold being breached. These (around 70 are provided) risk criteria include measures of complexity, links, properties, macros, content and so on and you determine, on the basis of these criteria, what should happen when a trigger is activated. You may also want to place control over who can do what: for example, Excel has more than 1,500 shortcut keys, Compassoft places control over all of these.
In short, Compassoft is endeavouring to automate the entire process of discovering and managing spreadsheets. While it may not, ultimately, be possible to eliminate human intervention completely, Compassoft has gone further, a lot further, in this release than any other product I have seen previously.