We’ve written before in this blog about the risks associated with spreadsheets and the reasons finance managers hate them. But another risk has recently reared its ugly head in the news: loss, theft, or unintended distribution.
Last month it happened to a major US bank.
As part of a legal discovery process, a law firm for the bank mistakenly disclosed information unrelated to the case—including spreadsheets filled with customer names, social security numbers, investment portfolio data and associated financial fees.
The full impact to the bank is yet to be determined.
This unintended disclosure happened through a seemingly benign email attachment. But accidental release of sensitive data could also happen if a laptop is stolen from a car, an unencrypted USB drive is left behind at an airport security line, or if files are forgotten on an improperly recycled computer.
Examples of device theft abound. There are endless stories highlighting stolen laptops across industries, including hospitals, healthcare organizations, government agencies and insurance firms. In 2015, London newspaper The Guardian reported that a laptop is stolen every 53 seconds.
Spreadsheets have been a tool of choice since they were first popularized in the 1980s. They’re simple to learn, flexible and powerful. In the hands of a skilled user, spreadsheets can generate important insight and advanced analysis for a company.
Yet spreadsheets have a fatal dependency: they rely on point-in-time data that can quickly become stale. This data is typically exported from legacy finance, HR or supply chain applications with poor (or even non-existent) reporting capabilities.
Each time the data is edited or a formula changed, the user introduces a new risk of error. And the longer you work on a spreadsheet, the staler the data becomes; the original systems have already processed thousands more transactions by the time you’ve finished your analysis.
Working with any company data—especially sensitive information about customers or employees—is always safer and more accurate when it stays in the source system. This is where finance systems in the cloud offer an advantage.
Leading cloud applications are designed with embedded analytics, integrated reports, powerful queries, intuitive interfaces and real-time data, as well as world-class security. This significantly reduces the need to export data, run pivot tables and create formulas. Less reliance on spreadsheets means less risk of inaccurate, lost or stolen data.
But it’s unreasonable to expect users to give up spreadsheets completely. In fact, it’s unlikely that any company ever would. There will always be a need, at some point, to run ad hoc analysis, especially during planning and budgeting cycles.
Cloud-based finance systems such as Oracle EPM Cloud let you analyze your data safely and securely. Using the “smart view” capabilities, users can access the source data in a familiar, spreadsheet environment. The difference is that the data itself stays safely in the cloud. It’s not downloaded onto the user’s laptop unless there is a justification to do so, and security in place to handle it.
If you’re working with important company data on your laptop while sipping your favorite latte in a neighborhood coffee shop, you don’t have to worry about leaving your laptop behind and causing major problems for your company. If the machine disappears, the source data, analysis and related work is still safe and secure in your finance cloud.
Likewise, it’s harder to accidentally attach a cloud-based report to an email and inadvertently send it to someone who shouldn’t have it.
And since you are working in the cloud, you get data in real time. Your analyses will always be timely, up-to-the-minute, relevant. No more disclaimers or concerns about data that is days, weeks, or even months old.
Having to explain why a spreadsheet is missing and presumed stolen is never a good thing for any organization—and it’s certainly not helpful to your career. When it’s time to go looking for a finance cloud provider, consider the security and reliability that each vendor offers. You may find that some of them offer far greater security—and peace of mind—than you can provide on your own.