Spreadsheets - the good, the bad and the ugly

I recently mentioned in my blog that the last issue of journal OR Insight had just been published.  In the final issue there was an article "When spreadsheets go bad" by Andrew Tait and Kurt Richardson.  The article was easy to read, and thought-provoking.  It included some stories and one-line reminders about the tool that we all use every day.

  • When an operations analyst encounters a problem, he (or she) opens a spreadsheet.  Now he has two problems.
  • If you have a project that has a spreadsheet as a deliverable, go and suspend it now.  Yes, now.  Go on.
  • Spreadsheets should not be used for 'line of business' applications. In fact we'd go further - spreadsheets should only be used by the person who created them.
  • If you use a spreadsheet to store a database in a corporate setting, and it is doing more than manage your lottery syndicate, then an urgent review is in order.
  • If you use a spreadsheet to manage your accounts, and unless your spreadsheet is being used by your lemonade stall to see if you can afford that hamster, buy Quickbooks.
  • EUSPRIG maintains a list of horror stories about real-world losses through spreadsheet errors.  Don't read with the lights off.
  • How many business problems are actually a natural fit for a two or three dimensional grid of cells?
  • We'd even go so far as to paraphrase the National Rifle Association and say that spreadsheets don't create bad models - people create bad models.
  • Spreadsheets are actually excellent for prototyping, ... for exploring an idea, or for checking a theory, a model that you'll discard once you have an answer.  Prototypes are never used in production.
  • One wag suggested that spreadsheets would be used more effectively if the save function were removed.  We have some sympathy.

I realise that I have not blogged about spreadsheets since I changed the name of the blog.  I did blog under IAOReditor about another thoughtful article about spreadsheets.  You can find it here.
I recommend the OR Insight article to anyone who is teaching students of O.R. about model-building.


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