Spreadsheet Check and Control’ by Patrick O’Beirne, ISBN 190540400X.

This spreadsheet book is quite different from every other book on Microsoft®  Excel®. If spreadsheet users had a driving licence, this would be their seat belt, air bag, navigation aid, repair kit, hazard indicators, and the rules of the road.

It describes how to produce well-crafted spreadsheets that are easy to understand, maintain, audit, and operate. It shows how to ensure data quality and accuracy and protect against formula and operational errors.

Each of the 47 techniques is explained with examples and has a self-test practical question with answers at the back of the book. The book’s support web site provides sample spreadsheets for these tests.

It is not like other books that list functions, menu commands, annoyances, software bugs, or advanced tricks. Such difficult ‘how do I …’ tasks are usually obstacles to be overcome rather than actual sources of errors. Rather, it looks at the most common ways in which human errors and software defects arise, because errors are the cause of many million-dollar expensive and career-limiting mistakes. You only have to look at the more than seventy horror stories documented at the website of the European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group..

This book gives spreadsheet users more confidence in their work, and saves time chasing and fixing easily preventable errors. Those whose job is to check the work of others, whether they are software testers or auditors, will learn formula auditing techniques and be able to reveal hidden data and formulas. This book should be adopted by organizations concerned to reduce compliance costs by being able to demonstrate management of material risks and increase controls on spreadsheet based financial reporting.

What other reviewers say about ‘Spreadsheet Check and Control

‘It is excellent. I am embarrassed when I think of the shortcuts I generally take with spreadsheets and I have often paid the price. I think it will become, and it should be, required reading for all young trainee accountants.’ Ciaran Walsh, senior finance specialist, Irish Management Institute.

‘It's super. I kept saying to myself, “Wow, I didn't know you could do that.” A great job.’ Ray Panko, University of Hawai‘i.

‘Spreadsheet Check and Control does what no other book before has attempted to do; provide standards for designing spreadsheets that lend themselves to a logical review by management and internal auditors. Following this author’s guide and insight can help your organization minimize spreadsheet errors and facilitate audit review to prevent and detect those errors.’ Jim Kaplan,

‘Patrick O'Beirne's Spreadsheet Check and Control is the kind of serendipitous book that only comes along once in a great while. I thought I knew a lot about Excel, but in the course of teaching me to be Excel-careful, O'Beirne taught me some new tricks and methods that both helped me build better financial models and track down errors.’ Simon Benninga, author of Financial Modeling, MIT Press 2000 and Principles of Finance with Excel, Oxford University Press, 2005.

'Save red faces all round by buying, absorbing and passing-on this book, especially if you personally develop spreadsheets or if your organization is subject to Sarbanes Oxley and related regulations. Avoiding even a trivial spreadsheet mistake may well pay for the book. Avoiding a large one may save your career.' Dr. Gary Hinson, independent consultant in information security and computer auditing, editor of security awareness website

'Probably one of the most important spreadsheet book ever written. Your customers and boss will be delighted with the increased usability, accuracy and reliability his techniques encourage. Be aware that the pages are packed with useful and usable advice, so the 200 pages is probably equivalent to 500 pages in many other books.' Simon Murphy, author of XLAnalyst.

Summary of contents

It begins with the process of design, specification techniques, the use of appropriate documentation, security, backup, protection, and the development of conventions, formats and internal corporate standards.

It recommends how to setup a spreadsheet, to construct and simplify the basic building blocks of formulas, workbook settings, and range names. It shows how to check for unusual settings, for example with rounding and precision, which are the source of traps for the unwary (‘gotchas’).

A key section on debugging shows how to identify the causes of error values, methods of error handling, and how to detect missing inputs and calculations. It explains how common mistakes arise when structural changes are made, and common problems with known error-prone formulas and external links. It shows how to discover inconsistencies and mistakes, correct them, recover from incorrect operations, and create self-checking formulas.

The display section shows how to uncover hidden and obscured data and formatting, how to discover problems with data types, and incorrect sorting and queries in database ranges. The use and abuse of charts is illustrated.

The most important yet least practiced skill is of spreadsheet testing and review. Worked examples show how to create and run test cases, and how to build in cross-checks for internal control. Auditing techniques are described such as how to reveal hidden formulas, rows, columns, worksheets. Data integrity and validation are described.

Appendices summarise error checking, keyboard shortcuts, websites, software tools, the answers to the ‘Check your knowledge’ questions, and an index.

Now available for sale at  Systems Modelling  and all good bookshops from mid-November 2005

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