Despite the availability of modern GRC software, many organizations still use spreadsheets to conduct IT compliance audits and other GRC activities. While spreadsheets are highly useful for many business functions, especially accounting, they are not GRC tools. Depending on spreadsheets to manage GRC processes is time-consuming, costly, and inefficient at best, dangerous to your GRC and cyber security efforts at worst. Here are six reasons why your enterprise should stop using spreadsheets as GRC tools.

They Aren’t Databases

Spreadsheets are documents; they are not databases. Among other limitations, spreadsheets have no data integrity, no referential integrity, and no way to create and maintain relationships between data in other files. They do not scale well, and their data analysis and reporting capabilities are quite limited. Unlike modern GRC software, spreadsheets do not automatically generate the complex reports required for IT compliance audits.

They Are Difficult and Time-Consuming to Manage

It is highly unlikely you’ll be able to keep all of your GRC information in one file; you’ll need to have multiple spreadsheets, and probably some Word documents as well. Searching for information in multiple files is a logistical nightmare. Want to add a field, row, or column? You’ll need to do that manually, in every file, plus manually update every affected record. Forget about creating relationships between data in different files, exporting your audit data to other programs, or archiving information. GRC tools automate all of these functions, but spreadsheets and word processing documents require manual editing.

They Don’t Provide Audit Trails

Secure audit trails are critical to the integrated risk management approach that modern enterprises are embracing to support their governance, risk, compliance, and cyber security processes. Spreadsheets don’t have audit trail functions; GRC software does.

They Are Highly Insecure and Error-Prone

Spreadsheet software has limited security features. Individual files can be password-protected, but different users cannot be assigned different access levels. You can track who opened and saved a spreadsheet file and when, but you cannot tell what changes they made, if any. Both innocent mistakes and purposeful sabotage can go undetected for some time, and when you finally do figure out the problem, there is no way to trace who was responsible or when it occurred. Because spreadsheets require manual editing, the probability of a mistake being made is very high; it is estimated that nearly 90% of all business spreadsheets contain errors.

Collaboration Is Difficult or Impossible

Modern GRC processes involve input from multiple stakeholders. If, somehow, you’ve managed to cram all of your GRC data into one giant spreadsheet, only one person can edit the document at a time. If your data is spread across multiple documents (the more likely scenario), any changes made to one document by one user need to be coordinated with all of the other users and duplicated in all of the other documents. This is a recipe for data loss, errors, important decisions being made based on faulty or incomplete data — and being found out of compliance.

Data Analysis Capabilities Are Very Limited

A robust GRC program is not centered around amassing just enough information to pass IT audits. You should be able to analyze all your data to glean actionable intelligence that can be used to improve both your GRC processes and your cyber security. Due to the inherent limitations of spreadsheets, including the lack of referential integrity and the inability to create relationships between data in different files, gleaning meaningful business and risk management insights from your data is difficult or impossible.

Now that modern GRC tools are available, such as Continuum GRC’s proprietary IT Audit Machine (ITAM), it’s time to ditch spreadsheets. Switching will not only simplify your GRC processes; it will also strengthen your enterprise cyber security and free up money, time, and human resources to innovate, create, and pursue long-term organizational goals.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Peters is the CEO of Lazarus Alliance, Inc., the Proactive Cyber Security™ firm, and Continuum GRC. He has served as an independent information security consultant, executive, researcher, and author. He is an internationally recognized and awarded security expert with years of IT and business leadership experience and many previous executive leadership positions.

He has contributed significantly to curriculum development for graduate degree programs in information security, advanced technology, cyberspace law, and privacy, and to industry standard professional certifications. He has been featured in many publications and broadcast media outlets as the “Go-to Guy” for executive leadership, information security, cyberspace law, and governance.