Spreadsheet Safe certification

Safety in Numbers

In response to the growing requirements of business to reduce the risks posed by unsafe spreadsheets, Q-Validus, in conjunction with its training and testing partners, BPP Learning Media and BTL Learning & Assessment, has developed Spreadsheet Safe™, a training and certification programme designed to help spreadsheet end-users and organisations assure and maintain good spreadsheet design, usage and control.

Patrick O'Beirne is an Authorised Spreadsheet Safe Trainer and offers the full training and certification programme.

What does it cover?

The syllabus is aimed at the person who uses Excel to get an important job done. If you're not sure about the skill levels of your current users, ask us about a pre-course test that will let you know how familiar people are with these essential basics. If you need more advanced coverage, ask us about that too.

Who is behind it?

The Spreadsheet Safe™ syllabus was developed in conjunction with a number of the world’s leading experts in the area of spreadsheet design, and control. Patrick O'Beirne was one of their Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).

The Spreadsheet Safe™ certification programme is designed by Q-Validus™, whose management team has decades of experience in developing and delivering global certification programmes They bring a the clarity of thought to making complex topics accessible to the ordinary computer user and they know how to construct the kind of penetrating questions that elicit the real state of a person's skill.

What does Spreadsheet Safe™ do?

• Raises standards in spreadsheet development, maintenance and control
• Delivers the skills and knowledge required to validate work and ensure the integrity of the information
• Increases awareness of key issues and potential problems in spreadsheet use
• Ensures high awareness of spreadsheet audit routines
• Mitigates risk around spreadsheet use
• Gives confidence in the validity and credibility of spreadsheets
• Demonstrates a commitment to best practice
• Certifies to an international standard

What's in the Spreadsheet Safe package?

In the package you get the training manual, access to the online courseware, and you must sit the certification test within 2 weeks. The price is 475 euro (discounts for several candidates from the same company) for a one-day package of training and test, where from 9am to 3:30pm candidates work through the syllabus and then after a break will sit the certification test which is a 45 minute test of 32 items.

A sample extract from the training manual is available from http://www.spreadsheetsafe.com/product/snapshot/

How much preparation is enough?

In our opinion, ten days preparation is enough provided you already know about formatting, passwords, range names, data import and export, SUM, IF and Lookup functions, error values, charting, (un-) hiding, the auditing toolbar, the Excel error checking indicators, and data validation. You can prepare for the examination well in advance by reading the book 'Spreadsheet Check and Control' and other good books on Excel. If you've never had a training course in Excel or read a book on it, it's going to be tough. Be frank with yourself and recognise that while you can leave some topics to a final course just before the exam, there is only so much new stuff you can absorb in a day. This is the kind of serious certification that employers demand, not a perfunctory test meant to pass anyone who simply wants a certificate. Success in this certification test means that the candidate is able in a minute or two to recognise a good or bad practice and describe how an error can be detected or prevented. To be that good you need an everyday familiarity with Excel and an automatic recognition of the situations that give rise to errors and how to reduce their incidence through planning, layout, and testing.

http://www.sysmod.com/az.php?a=190540400X&b=Spreadsheet+Check+Control Available worldwide from Amazon.

http://sysmod.buy.ie/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=188  Our offer - free shipping to EU .

For further information check out www.spreadsheetsafe.com  and http://www.sysmod.com/spreadsheetsafe

The bigger picture

There are software utilities for greater efficiency in spreadsheet error checking. We provide training in spreadsheet auditing aimed at power developers and IT auditors. We can perform the audit if what you need is a first look to evaluate the business case for more institutionalised practices of development and testing. Contact us to take this further.

Effective spreadsheet control needs not just control tools but people enabled to reflect on and improve their own work.

Theory X & Y

Theory X states that workers need to be closely supervised and comprehensive systems of controls developed. According to Theory Y, employees may be ambitious, self-motivated and anxious to accept greater responsibility, and exercise self-control, self-direction, autonomy and empowerment.

Bottom Up

The spreadsheet controls market is dominated by the top-down process-heavy supervisory methodologies that check up on the kind of spreadsheets that people are creating. Inevitably this creates a blizzard of reports that require filtering with an experienced eye to determine what is worth looking at. A bottom-up approach should eventually reduce the amount of supervisory effort by empowering knowledge workers to adopt responsibility for their work.

Back in 2001 Barry Boehm predicted that "The ranks of 'sorcerer’s apprentice' user-programmers will swell rapidly, giving many who have little training or expertise in how to avoid or detect high-risk defects tremendous power to create high-risk defects."
Software Management article (Jan 2001) "Software Defect Reduction Top 10 List"

The Regulator's View

At the 2007 EuSpRIG Conference, Dean Buckner of the UK Financial Services Authority reported once again that user training is still shockingly neglected. Many people in the industry who spent most of their working lives working on spreadsheets had often received just one or two days' training on Excel.

"I'm not seeing any change to the dumb solutions. It's still spreadsheet hell," Buckner said. "For each visit I do at a bank, I have a look at a little bit of code. You can guarantee you will always see a little bit of stupid code."
In his presentation he said that accreditation is seen as burdensome, risky and difficult – it implies generally accepted view on good practice, for a start. As the Spreadsheet Safe syllabus contains the view of a number of world experts on good practice in spreadsheets, it addresses the concerns that Buckner raised.

How does this relate to conventional software engineering?

http://www.sysmod.com/psp.htm  The Personal Software Process (PSP)
The Personal Software Process is a disciplined approach to improving one's software development process. Through a series of eleven cumulative exercises, developers learn to track time and defects, estimate, and improve quality through design and code reviews. All we are expecting spreadsheet creators to do is the defect management part of this process – to be able to recognise defects, correct them, and prevent them where possible.