PraxIS Apr. 2009

09-04 Contents: EuroCACS, EuroAfriCa, Excel Plus oddities

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Systems Modelling Ltd.: Managing reality in Information Systems - strategies for success  


1) IT Risk
      EuroCACS 2009 Frankfurt

2) European research
      EuroAfriCa ICT Forum
      The Informatics Development and Social Research  Institute

3) Spreadsheets
     Plus Prefix entry weirdness
     Plus wait, there's more...
     XLTest 1.06 beta version available 

4) Off Topic
     April Fool stories

9 Web links in this newsletter
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Welcome to PraxIS

You learn something new at every event; I learned of two more Excel oddities this month!

A beta version 1.06 of my XLTest addin for spreadsheet auditing is now available. It will go on sale at 199 euro so now is your chance to try a time-limited version for free!

Patrick O'Beirne

_______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________

1)  IT Risk

EuroCACS 2009 Frankfurt

I attended the first couple of days after Ray Butler and I gave the Spreadsheet Auditing workshop on March 15th.
An attendee at that workshop told us of another oddity in Excel that was new to me - a strange effect of the plus prefix in entries in formatted cells. See below.

I found Peter Bitterlu's paper interesting: "Integrated audit of IT Applications"   (1.6MB, 101 slides)

He described an approach developed by the IT Standards Board of the Swiss Institute of Certified Accountants and Tax Consultants.
"Guide to the Audit of IT Applications".
It is currently available in German for free and in French for a charge, and he expects that an English version will be available by June 2009.
The steps are:
1. Analysis of the balance sheet - look for significant accounts transactions
2. Identify business processes and data flow, including master data
3. Identify the core applications and the most important IT-related interfaces
        He included screen shots of documented failures in standard applications.
4. Identify risks of material errors,  and key controls
        He included some risk-control matrix examples
5. Walk-through to verify understanding.
        For example, is the control really implemented and does it leave an audit trail?
6. Assess interior control design - eg is it preventative or detective?
7. Assess control implementation, test the operating effectiveness
        This depends on the stability of the IT environment. Look at control frequency, significance, evidence, anomalies.
8. Take an overall view and determine the audit opinion
        Whether the internal control system is able to provide reasonable assurance that material errors are avoided in the annual accounts.


2) European Research

I attended the EuroAfriCa ICT Forum in Brussels on March 25-26 as the Technical Director of the Informatics Development Institute (IDI, see below for more).

Many speakers, even though limited to 5 minutes to make an impression, presented trite generalizations, buzzwords, and clichés. One speaker talked for five minutes on the importance of team building but at the end I was no wiser as to what his organisation actually did. To me, the clearest, most succinct speaker was Ms. Aida Opoku-Mensah of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Some chairmen felt bound to “summarize” – ie repeat what we had just heard.  The conference breaks were generous which is where the real business of networking was done. Maybe poster or demo sessions would have been useful too. One man from Senegal showed me a presentation of their new Grid computer with help from UNESCO & HP.

I discovered a new buzzword – “Capacity Building”. I had thought of that in the context of physical infrastructure, ie adding more fibre capacity. Here, it means what we used to call training, or management development.

One speaker presented their Research Recommendations which started with “The Internet is an essential tool for African scientists”. My, my, who’d have guessed?  To be fair, they probably felt the need to state that when presenting to people who assert that “Africa does not need research, it has more important problems”. Skipping the stage of researching real needs is like skipping requirements analysis in IT; you may think you know in advance what somebody wants, but you always find something different.

Paul Cunningham of IIMC mentioned there are templates on to help people understand proposals.
Antti Peltomaki of DG INFSO wants more involvement by African industry, not just researchers.
Moctar Yedali  of the African Union Commission (AUC) mentioned a satellite network covering 53 countries in Africa.
Fabien Peticolas of Microsoft spoke of their ‘Research for Life’ initiative.
Gerti Foest of DFN Germany spoke of the importance of applications for African-EU collaboration. That sounds basic to me – start with some idea of what you want to do – but other people including Michael Nowlan mentioned how hard it is to find real applications of advanced technology such as big Internet pipes.
Serge Ferré of Nokia spoke of mobile phone credit (mCommerce) as an alternative banking system; there are 4Bn mobile phones in the world and 1Bn bank accounts. (Sounds like a good opportunity for mLaundering as well)
Nicolas Chevrollier of TNO and others spoke of the last-mile problem, that there is no solution yet for the interior of Africa. We in the the IDI know that well after our 1999 TRINET project.
Ezra Mugisa of the Univ of Mona in Jamaica made a good pitch for his institution (work tax free, good internet connectivity); his colleague Evan Duggan is interested in Measuring Information Systems Delivery Quality and small business applications.

The EC speakers recommended the use of Marie Curie and Erasmus fellowships for study networks, exchange, and co-operation; DG Dev.

One startling statistic is that the telecoms in Africa typically charge USD 4000 per month for a 1Mbps line, about 200 times more than in Europe.

Calls 5 (Jul’09) & 6 (Nov’09) will have more on Digital Libraries with a mention of:
ICT 2009.9.1 International Cooperation especially ICT-2009.9.1b) Support to the uptake of European ICT research results in developing economies

The Informatics Development and Social Research  Institute

Our two most recent EU projects were -

  * The TRINET project for low-earth-orbiting free satellite email - funded by the INCO programme - duration 3 years (1999 - 2001) - this project was managed by our institute, the IDI. Our African partners were from Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and a seven-page project summary PDF is available on request.  See

  * The GGPhi project for local adhoc mesh networks (2005 - 2007) This one was managed by the Univ. of Leeds, and funded by the European Space
Agency/Galileo Programme. We were responsible for the Communications Work Package, which was completed within budget and agreed timescale. See


3) Spreadsheets

Plus Prefix entry weirdness

An attendee at our EuroCACS  workshop told us of another oddity in Excel.

It fails in both Excel 2003 and 2007.

1) In a cell formatted General, enter +32768/6/3. The result, as expected, is 1820.444
Note carefully: type a plus sign first, rather than your habitual equals sign.
Excel changes the plus sign to an equals, that's the only change.

2) Now format a cell as Number, with the default 2 decimals . Make the same entry. It shows the formula as
=32768/2 and the result is 16384.00

It only fails when there are two slashes, the first number after the plus is 32768 or larger; and the cell is formatted as other than General.
When the final number has a decimal place, it raises "The formula you typed contains an error"
When the middle number has a decimal place, it leaves the formula untouched.

Now you may ask "Who other than an unreformed Lotus 123 user starts a formula with a plus sign?"
The reason is, the IT auditor who reported it is from Hungary. Their keyboard does not have the equals sign in a convenient unshifted position as the US & UK have. So their users are accustomed to starting formulas with the plus sign. When they attempted to divide 100,000 over 31 periods over 31 products, the entry of +100000/31/31 gave the answer of  100,000
from a formula of =100000/1 rather than the expected 104.058. They were concerned at this risk and said that MS acknowledged it as a bug.

Plus wait, there's more...

David Colver of Operis then posted this followup to the Eusprig yahoogroup. It shows how a plus sign changes the interpretation of a range (which could be in a range name)

For example, put  3, 4, 5 in cells C1, D1 and E1.
In cell B3, put =MAX(0,$C1:$E1) and copy it to cells C3:F3
In cell B5, put =MAX(0,+$C1:$E1) and copy it to cells C5:F5.
The first formula finds the maximum of four numbers, being 0, 3, 4 and 5.
The second formula finds the maximum of two numbers, being 0 and the value
above that's in the same column as the formula; and if there is no such
cell, it returns an error.
This is not a bug. The + is forcing column matching before the MAX takes
effect, and is a useful action in some circumstances.

Book: Spreadsheet Check and Control: 47 best practices to detect and prevent errors

ScanXLS: Spreadsheet inventory and risk assessment

XLTest: Spreadsheet testing and auditing add-in

A beta version 1.06 is now available. It will go on sale at 199 euro so now is your chance to try a time-limited version for free!

Email me for an evaluation copy.

Toolbar buttons are:
Start new test session    Open workbook for testing, start new log, $APP sheet     
Workbook Documentation    Create $DOC sheet for Workbook documentation     
Reset Hidden structure    Reset workbook settings, hidden rows, columns, sheets     
Detailed Inspection    Create $INF sheets of detailed cell inspections
Cell Formulas List / Colour    List / Colour cells by distinct formula (R1C1)     
Conditional Format Formulas    List / Colour Conditional Format Formulas     
Data Validation Formulas    List / Colour Data Validation Formulas     
Colour Data Type and Usage    Colours cells by data type and input/output type     
Colour  Precedents    Colour by Precedents location     
Colour Dependents    Colour by Dependents location or count     
Remove colours    Remove interior fill colours of cells     
Watch active cell    Keeps an info window open on current selection Shortcut: Ctrl+Alt+w     
Flag active cell    Places a flag on the cell for a table of contents Shortcut: Ctrl+Alt+f     
Add supporting sheets    Add $Readme, Palette, Table of Contents sheets     
Unprotect sheet    Remove protection of sheet contents     
Compare worksheets    Compare two worksheets      
Compare workbooks    Compare two workbooks (same named sheets)     
Options    Options for what to search for when documenting     
Help    Help on colours and keyboard shortcuts Shortcut: Ctrl+Alt+h     
About XLTest    User and License information     



Simply send your comments to FEEDBACK (at) SYSMOD (dot) COM

Thank you! Patrick O'Beirne, Editor


4) Off Topic

Stories from April 1st   Google's version of autocomplete for email. 

I particularly enjoyed the Wolfpigeon skit on ubiquitous wireless networking

MS had a techy "Negative Sleeps in VB":


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