Hello and welcome to Ctrl O
Exciting times at Ctrl O. Welcome and we hope that you find some food for thought on these pages.
The website is new, the blog is new – so sure, content will accumulate as content does, piece by piece.
What guise will Linkspace take-on next?
Linkspace is so flexible and versatile that the range of business processes for which it is being deployed is, well let’s say it, “awesome”. Our latest trial is for a national staffing rota system managing 24/7/365 staff rotas for 100 secure establishments including procedures for emergency cover.
A neat addition to the Case studies we have picked and made a couple more illustrations by way of a few example use-cases to imagine the sort of real public sector problems to which Linkspace can be the affordable solution.
This is the era of doing more with less, of agility, of making technology the servant of business need and not the master. G-Cloud is a tremendous advance for public sector IT. Practical, off-the-shelf solutions that provide the essential outcomes for a fraction of the cost of traditional ITTs. And now, more than ever the shorter procurement and delivery time is itself of immense benefit. G-Cloud is the way to harness the benefits of the Cloud/Agile/Mobile revolution to improve services, user-centricity and deliver efficiency and economy.
It also happens to be Ctrl O's comfort-zone. Come and see us on the Digital Marketplace
It's funny how a spreadsheet can let you down at just the wrong time, isn't it? Well, isn't it?
Lindsay Smith, CMO
Let me just start by saying that I have nothing against spreadsheets. I first introduced PCs to KPMG in Hong Kong in the early 80s running Multiplan (a fore-runner of Excel), and it gave me instant control over the sensitive and time critical outcomes I needed to manage.
But spreadsheets can be dangerous, very dangerous.
How much, do you think, is at risk in the UK today - on spreadsheets?
In 2015 the Daily Telegraph ran a story on the dangers of stupid errors in spreadsheets, highlighting a number of high profile and costly catastrophes including:
- A spreadsheet blooper on West Coast Mainline bid that cost the UK taxpayer £60m
- JP Morgan losing £250m because of a spreadsheet slip
- And, after the $63bn Enron collapse, when Felienne Hermans, of Delft University of Technology, analysed 15,770 spreadsheets obtained from over 600,000 emails from 158 former employees, he found 755 files with more than a hundred errors, with the maximum number of errors in one file being 83,273.
Are we nearly there yet?
It's true though, on hearing horror stories like these, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that software like Excel is somehow no longer fit for purpose. But, that’s not true – or, at least, not entirely…
It needs "Events, dear boy, events" or at least a combination of circumstances before you should be afraid of spreadsheets that are feeding you data on which big decisions may be being made.
In my experience there are seven key characteristics of your spreadsheet data model that raise risk to a point where catastrophe is inevitable. I call these ‘the seven points of spreadsheet failure’:
- Size and age – The chance of error is higher the more there is in it, the longer a model is in use the more opportunities there are for something to be corrupted.
- Dispersed points of data entry – Communication, understanding, continuity of staff and training successors are all exacerbated by geographical dispersion. This leads to mistakes of all kinds.
- Data entry in isolation – If the staff members entering the data don’t own the outcome (use it themselves for a purpose they are responsible for), there will often be a lack of understanding. This is amplified when staff change and the ‘hand-over’ can be superficial. I have watched staff inputting a column of numbers unaware that they were all in different currencies;
- Formulae and macros – Where data is being captured for consolidation elsewhere and formulas sit in the sheet, in time something will be copied, moved, overwritten, edited – or similar;
- Absence of full written instructions and a number to call – If there are no centralised rules governing data entry, decisions made at an individual department level can vary widely across an organisation, leading to major inconsistencies;
- Variable quantities of data – If every branch submits seven daily figures every week, I can easily identify missing records, but it’s difficult to track data if it is done in real time and different each time.
- No reconciliation reference – If the total at the bottom of the sheet has got to equal the bank balance; there’s still room for error, but that check captures a lot. If there isn’t a point to check (or it isn’t done) it will go wrong.
If you have important data being captured in a system of spreadsheets that has one of those characteristics – ensure you have controls in place to mitigate the risk. More than one, then some would say, you are using the wrong tool.
Little errors compound, staff change, business needs change and ad-hoc amendments are made, the original spreadsheet author moves-on and so does the full understanding of the spreadsheet – all of these seem relatively minor, but their effects can be exponential. A seemingly small mistake can quickly become a big problem.
It happens like this. A small mistake, like something someone forgot to include in the numbers, through lack of understanding – or thinking someone else did that – accumulates. Someone believes the results and makes a big decision. Like they might call an early General Election.
May be, may be not.
Shadow Data, uncontrolled, morphs into Dark Data - then things get really out of hand...
We stress our organisations, like we stress ourselves at the gym or on the road. “If it ain’t hurtin’, it ain’t workin’!” We need supple, responsive, agile, lean and above all quick-witted organisations to deliver better and new outcomes. Stress is a necessary, but not sufficient lever to achieve this.
Digital Transformation in a simple sense is stressing the organisation to a point where it must adopt radically new modes of operating. Employing digital, mobile, social; through experimentation and innovation to achieve more with less; new outcomes, continually redefining success and continually stretching for it.
First law of organisational stress: when you push, something gives.
Enterprise Application Systems (think ERP, tax-collecting, estate-management, passport-issuing or line-of-business systems) are monolithic by nature and live in an environment of control: checks, balances, version-control, testing, reconciliation, supervision and audit. The data is trusted, information has integrity, decisions are founded. But we get what we always got: slow, inflexible and expensive to change. This is inconsistent with digital transformation.
So when we stress the organisation to be innovative and agile we have to create a parallel shadow data world. Shadow data exists by the side of or independent from the Enterprise Application System. It is curated in pop-up systems that reflect innovation and agility. The shackles of controls, audit, documentation and often security are sacrificed on the altar of ‘can-do’ (a noble deity but a partner of unforeseen consequence). The shadow data landscape is typified by spreadsheets that grow in complexity and ad-hoc derivatives, without documentation, adequate understanding or control.
Shadow data, in this environment will inevitably morph over time into dark data. Dark data, we know is incomplete, contains some degree of error, double-counting, misunderstood instruction. Dark data becomes fake data when the organisation’s navigators recognise its integrity is compromised and start interpreting it liberally as “guidance”; guesswork with a smokescreen of performance indicators selected to support the initiative-du-jour, the status quo, or simple self-serving, bogus, achievement against milestones.
Moral: when we stress an organisation to achieve digital transformation we create a shadow data world, this requires a risk response to prevent a slide into dark data and beyond. As with the gym metaphor – put in place properly designed and maintained equipment, educate users and administrators to use the equipment appropriately, organise light-touch supervision and have a first-aid kit at the ready.
Linkspace: a secure, bullet-proof, low-ceremony data management platform with full audit trail, roll-back, granular access controls and user-permissions. Built-in supervisory approvals and alerts and full process specific user documentation and guidance. Affordable, deployed as quickly as a spreadsheet by the same user-teams, yet infinitely more secure.
David Terrar to Chair Ctrl O Advisory Board
David is a thought leader in digital transformation and social business and a respected navigator in the new landscape found at the intersection of cloud, social and mobile. This is Linkspace country, and as we share David’s passion for helping organisations innovate and transform, we and our customers are already benefiting from the rich seam of expertise David brings to our board.
David is co-founder and CXO at Agile Elephant digital transformation consultancy, director and deputy chair of Cloud Industry Forum and a director of FAST. David’s foundation of experience in cloud, software and IT sales, starting with 9 years at IBM, make his advice on spearheading our approach to promoting Linkspace to the enterprise sector invaluable.
Andy Beverley celebrates David’s appointment “It is a particular pleasure to welcome David to our Board. Not only does David bring a wealth of experience and skill to our company as we find ourselves reaching an important inflection point in our growth trajectory, but that David should select Ctrl O as a strategic element of his digital transformation portfolio strongly echoes the message we hear from all quarters.
“The time for a flexible, secure low-code data management platform to secure the benefits of the cloud-mobile-digital revolution is now. David is going to be pivotal in helping us accelerate our achievement of the potential this implies.”Follow @DT on Twitter
Spreadsheets are great at some jobs, but actually dangerous in others. Using a spreadsheet to collect business data for consolidation and reporting over time is prone to error. This propensity increases with any complexity: if there are mutiple data entry points; varying quantities of data; several columns (or sheets) and formulae or macros are employed to manipulate the data at time of input. Passing time, handing down from the original author to user and on to new user, ad-hoc augmentation and extension, proliferation of copies without version control all make catastrophe inevitable. The original, bright oasis of truth becomes an inhospitable, misleading and untrustworthy, toxic swamp.
How important to be able to trust your data?
Starting to model how data should be organised, collected, transformed and reported using a spreadsheet is a practical and pragmmatic thing to do. Once the logic, roles, responsibilities and outcomes have been prototyped - move to a business process management platform - like Linkspace to manage and control that data, securely. Linkspace is quick to deploy, affordable and flexible. But it is also bullet-proof and you are always in control; trust your data and so trust the informed decisions that are made on the basis of that data.
If the data has any degree of confidentiality associated with its use or publication, for example personal data that will put your organisation at risk of breaching GDPR rules, best practice advice is that it should not be stored and disseminated in spreadsheets.
Download our guide "Escaping Spreadsheet Swamp" for a practical review of the dangers of using a spreadsheet for data management instead of data analysis and how to protect your organisation from harm.