Written by Brian Donnelly, CEO, Synapse.
‘Even if history holds spreadsheeting entirely blameless for the present mayhem,
The fact that spreadsheeting is so widely used while at the same time so error
prone is a strong indication that if a way could be found to improve reliability, global GNP would step noticeably upwards.’Angus Dunn, European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group
Businesses like spreadsheets. With over 750 million users worldwide, Microsoft Excel™ is the traditional tool of choice for presenting and analysing data and calculations performed using the solution, count for £38 billion of private sector investment decisions per year.
Spreadsheets continue to be the only real, flexible tool that can deliver answers fast and that is one of the reasons why they continue to be so popular. No matter how many systems a company has, how big they are, or how many millions of pounds have been spent on them, the reality is that the majority of data is exported to Excel before decisions of serious consequence are made. There are only a handful of finance departments in the world that don’t run their critical decision making analysis through Excel. And the reason for this is simple – those waiting for an answer, do not have to get the IT team involved and wait weeks for an answer that Excel can deliver in minutes.
So, while Excel continues to be the number one platform when it comes to analysing data, finding information, preparing charts and presenting them to decision makers, there are some issues that are frustrating for users. One very common challenge affects those using spreadsheets in a small– it may only be 5 or so – collaborative team where everyone needs to access and share the same data as they work towards a complex set of business reports. This can be really hard and fraught with massive inefficiency, as any changes made on one spreadsheet cannot be seen by the other members of group. The result is endless hours of copying and pasting to arrive at a ‘single version of the truth’.
In this scenario, the risk of errors increases and as we all know, a slip of a key can result in a high profile disaster. Take for instance the spreadsheet error that left the London Olympics 2012 organising committee highly embarrassed when it was left to confirm that four swimming sessions had been oversold by 10,000 tickets. Entering 20,000 rather than the correct figure of 10,000 caused this mistake and research shows that half of all spreadsheet models used operationally in large businesses have material defects.
Emerging technology paves the way for re-engineering
So, can spreadsheets be re-engineered to deliver a tool that is built for the demands of modern day business? The answer is yes and it’s time for a new way with the help of one of the most dominant technologies in 2018 – the Cloud.
The consensus amongst IT specialists is that the Cloud is set to be the biggest driver of change and certainly, the Cloud has the potential to transform efficiency within organisations that need to work collaboratively and currently, rely on unconnected spreadsheets to formulate management reports.
By employing a radically different approach to an age-old problem, users can now enjoy the simplicity and comfort of using a spreadsheet as the ‘front end’ with a connection to a robust (but well-hidden and transparent to the user) Cloud ‘back end’ that does all the difficult work.
Existing spreadsheets and other disparate data sources (such as MS Access and core ERP) can now be integrated into one solution with none of the large-scale data migration issues once experienced and with minimal disruption. Everyone works right inside Excel, everyone enjoys direct benefit and everyone retains Excel’s legendary flexibility.
By leveraging the power of an industrial database and combining it with the simplicity of a spreadsheet interface, Business UK can be confident that it is has at its fingertips fundamentally, reliable data, backed by full audit trails that help make more strategic decisions, more quickly, with more accuracy.
‘Speed of adoption, ease of use and power is greater than anything I have previously seen or used’
At first glance, the technology looks and feels exactly like working with a set of normal spreadsheets: there are no changes in business processes and no additional training is required. The difference lies in the fact that every spreadsheet is enhanced by a connection to a secure Cloud server so that as each member of the team changes any value in any cell of data in their local spreadsheet, updates are synchronised in the Cloud and one version of the truth is sent back to everyone.
With regulators likely to take an increasing interest in their use over the next two years, this marks an important step forward in finding a way to improve collaboration and efficiency, data quality and validity and eliminate one of the biggest risks associated with spreadsheet use; the lack of an audit trail.
High Street bank cuts FCA and MI reporting time from 15 days to 5 days
A leading high street Bank has been using the technology for some time and has found that connecting its’ spreadsheets to the Cloud has enabled it to streamline its practices without losing time or having to retrain members of the team. Faced with serious financial and time critical pressures from the FCA, the scale of the challenge facing the Bank was daunting as one shared spreadsheet held 80,000 active cases of customers under review and 250 advisors were forced to read and write to it concurrently. Because of the severe performance and system outage problems, the Bank had to find a solution that was innovative and that would not take months to implement.
Advisers now just handle their own cases instead of manipulating 80,000 records at a time. This has reduced the network traffic by a factor of x10 to x100. Each user sees one version of consistent, current data and only what is relevant to them.
This new infrastructure has enabled the programme to meet its commitment to the FCA and reduce the time taken to produce FCA and Executive MI Reporting from 15 days to 5 days and significantly reduce risk of incorrect data in reports.
Difficulties in ad hoc group wide reporting overcome
In the finance operation, the use of spreadsheets, particularly for management accounts and consolidation is still common place but stats show that 75% of effort is wasted rekeying and manually rolling up data, 90% of spreadsheets contain data and formula errors and 90% of users are convinced they are error free
Dealing with a large number of Excel spreadsheets means that there is neither the time or agility to spend analysing performance. It’s also difficult to quickly adjust models to reflect changing assumptions and conditions. One “small” change requires a waterfall of updates consuming hours, days, or even weeks.
Things that should be simple take a long time.
Cobbling together spreadsheets can be a shaky foundation for making strategic decisions. Errors happen along the way due to lack of version control or last-minute updates. Often, no one trusts the numbers and decisions take longer than they should. Using this new technology combined with a finance solution is allowing finance teams to move beyond spreadsheets and aggregate data, track close processes, provide a clear audit trail, and speed up overall internal and external financial disclosure.
Automate pre and post contract multi-project reporting and forecasting
One of the most frustrating aspects has always been the lack of tools and systems available to support project and portfolio leaders. There was little more available than stand-alone Excel™ worksheets emailed between people or systems that are expensive, cumbersome, universally disliked and require an inordinate level of effort to extract real value from. Using the combination of Excel and a flexible PPM application, it is now possible to automate report production, reduce operational costs and eradicate manual copying and pasting processes. Data quality is improved by as much as 80% with comprehensive audit trails that provide the management team with a real-time holistic view of KPIs, dependencies, costs, revenues, risks and issues across the global project portfolio.
Users benefit from an evolution of Excel and no longer have to work with constantly out of date data and collaboration and versioning issues. Everyone sees the same live, up-to-date and clean data on their desktops.
The demand for combining the best of the old with the advanced technology of the new is a trend, which is set to resonate in 2018. Businesses are tired of investing and embracing new, tech that fails to live up to the hype. Why reinvent the wheel when you can simply improve it?
This use of smart technology to deliver next generation Enterprise spreadsheets has the potential to put an end to a problem that has resulted in almost one in five large businesses suffering financial losses and ultimately will put power back in the hands of business users. Businesses have grown tired of inflexible, expensive software packages or accounting software that never completely does what they need. Reverting to spreadsheets, that have been transformed to fit the needs of today’s world, gives them back the control they need.
The Derry Group launches new employee engagement and communications app
The Derry Group, a one stop shop for the distribution, storage and order picking of chilled and frozen products has today announced the launch of its new employee engagement app, Thrive.App.
Their flagship company Derry Refrigerated Transport is a leading service provider for chilled and frozen distribution throughout Ireland, the UK and Europe. Derry Refrigerated Transport is the first haulage company in Ireland to sign up to the newest self-service, rapid deployment Thrive.App which brings together the key features needed for businesses to power up their internal communications for their frontline teams.
With hundreds of employees working across multiple locations in Ireland, communication, organisational engagement and information sharing is essential for the growing business.
In order to meet the additional challenges presented by the current global pandemic and the fact that the company works out of various locations throughout the country The Derry Group recognises the need to look at new ways in which all employees can more effectively communicate and share information with each other.
Commenting on the deployment of the new Thrive.App, Patrick Derry, Managing Director, said,
“We have worked hard to build and transform our business to what it is today, and our employees are key to our success. It is important to us that we give them everything they need to carry out their roles successfully as well as feeling supported and recognised for what they do. With the Thrive.App our employees can now easily access the information they need to support them in their role, they see important updates as they occur, and they know what is happening across all areas of the business.
The launch of Thrive.App will bring everyone closer together, which is particularly important during the current challenges of Covid19 and the fact that we have teams in various parts of the country.
The Thrive team have provided the best support and guidance in helping us to launch the employee app and we are confident they will continue to support us to make it a success across our organisation.”
James Scott, CEO, Co-Founder of Thrive, adds; “We are delighted to help and welcome The Derry Group as a new client and look forward to working together to ensure their employee communications and engagement app is a success and loved by their teams within the Group structure whether based in Armagh, Dublin or Cork.
Our goal is to help organisations in shifting their communications from traditional methods such as printed newsletters, notice boards and team briefings to instant, modern apps and we have loved helping The Derry Group do this. We look forward to seeing the direct positive impact the app will have on their employee communications and engagement.”
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Shining a spotlight on operational resilience and cyber-risk in financial services
By Miles Tappin, VP of EMEA for ThreatConnect, explores why the financial services industry must build a cyber security strategy in 2020
The new digital landscape has welcomed financial institutions with open arms. Emerging technology such as Artificial intelligence (AI), crypto-currencies and big data have shown widespread benefits throughout the years, particularly how they have driven innovation and change. When it comes to retail banking, fintech providers have quickly taken the chance to offer personalised services to ensure they remain relevant to their target market and stand out among their competitors.
This has been particularly evident with Klarna, now Europe’s most valued fintech firm. Providing payment solutions for online storefronts, consumers are now able to shop and pay later with top retailers including the likes of H&M, Ikea and Zara. This is just one example of how easy it has become to successfully and strategically disrupt the payments sector.
With several new players entering the banking scene, traditional financial institutions are making sure that they stay one step ahead and are developing robust digital ecosystems that deliver omnichannel service models. However, this comes at a price. As technological change becomes part and parcel to remaining relevant in the sector, the industry needs to be aware of the cyber security challenges that may present themselves and how to overcome them.
2020: The year for cybercriminals targeting financial services
2020 has become a definitive year for cybersecurity in the financial services industry. Financial institutions are a lucrative target – they hold highly sensitive information and have a mandate to protect the personal information of their customers. It started with an unprecedented attack against Travelex where hackers successfully took some of the currency providers offline for nearly a month. Then came Coronavirus which sparked a new wave of malware and phishing threats. Research from VMware Carbon Black Cloud revealed that threats against financial institutions have surged by 238% since the start of the pandemic.
The renewed interest from cyber criminals comes at a time when regulators are paying close attention to the resilience of the sector. After a string of IT failures and breaches, financial organisations in the UK have been given a mandate from regulators to improve operational resilience. This means ensuring business models can withstand disruptive events from hackers or adversaries and quickly recover to protect the stability of financial systems.
In December 2019, the UK’s financial regulators published a series of consultation papers outlining their proposed approach to achieving greater operational resilience. The proposals suggested that financial institutions will be required to map out the systems and processes that support business services in order to identify any potential vulnerabilities that would pose a risk to the stability of the UK financial system or the firm’s standing.
Working together in tandem
Where cybersecurity used to be a classic back-office concern, it’s now a central part of digital strategies and a key pillar of both reputation and customer retention – financial legislation leaves no room for failure. All financial institutions need to ensure they have full visibility of their systems and can detect any potential threats.
The challenge for financial institutions is making the security tools they have purchased separately work together in tandem. Security teams buy a firewall, an email filter, threat intelligence feeds, antivirus software or enhanced endpoint protection, and whatever else they need individually. Each of them does a good job but they don’t talk to each other and valuable time is lost tending to individual systems that become a burden to run. At the same time, running multiple security systems is expensive. The more systems you have, the more highly skilled staff you need to manage them, and they’re few and far between.
The importance of sharing across communities
To reduce complexity and simplify decision making, financial organisations need to unify processes and technology to harness the security intelligence that comes from across their own security programmes and external sources to drive down risk. However, no financial institution can tackle the problem alone. Experienced threat actors using advanced techniques are constantly targeting the financial sector. The industry needs to come together as a whole to foster a sense of collaboration and data sharing.
In the same way that financial institutions have introduced open banking to deliver a fairer service to customers, the same needs to apply to security – all parts of the financial ecosystem need to unite and share information to learn from one another and succeed in the fight against adversaries that operate across borders.
By sharing alerts on cyber hazards and risk across financial institutions and with law enforcement, government agencies and other relevant authorities, it’s possible to build industry specific insights into cyber security threats and quickly pivot to gain more information on those specific threats and threat actors. By working together, a picture can be painted on threats coming from all manner of malicious activity, from malware to ransomware, to phishing and software vulnerabilities.
Creating a single source of intelligence
Having the right intelligence is not enough to ensure that intelligence is turned into action. Breaking down information and process silos across security teams allows financial organisation to analyse and act on the most pertinent information. Everyone has access to the risk and threats that matter most, and orchestration and automation of response helps overwhelmed security teams prioritise response plans and improve efficiencies in their security programme.
Integrating internal security tools and technologies, while also connecting to external sources of intelligence, creates a single source of intelligence that feeds operations and enables organisations to direct action against the threats that matter most. The outcomes of those actions further feed intelligence, providing the ability to further refine the efficacy of the entire security lifecycle.
This approach provides a continuous feedback loop for the people, processes and technologies that make up the security programme. It allows financial institutions to keep up with threat actors that have consistently adapted their methods to profit at the expense of the financial industry. Something that won’t stop anytime soon.
While financial services institutions tend to operate with security front of mind, there is still an opportunity to collaborate more within the industry and increase intelligence sharing, so CSOs and CTOs can understand as much as they can about the threats they are facing. For example, what types or variants of malware have been used to steal, delete, or ransom personal identifiable information or IP specific to financial services? What ransomware has been used in attacks against other organisations within the industry? How does this ransomware work and how does it ransom the targeted data? Ultimately, the more you know, the better and quicker you’ll be able to respond to a new threat and remain protected.
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