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Spreadsheet Blamed For UK Rail Bid Fiasco 125

Posted by timothy
from the spreadsheet-fiasco-is-redundant dept.
First time accepted submitter Bruce66423 writes "As a sometime computer programmer who was always very sniffy about the quality of the stuff being knocked up by amateurs aka power users, the current claim that it was a messed up spreadsheet that caused a multi-million pound fiasco is very satisfying. 'The key mechanism... mixed up real and inflated financial figures and contained elements of double counting.'"
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Spreadsheet Blamed For UK Rail Bid Fiasco

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  • WTF (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ohnocitizen (1951674) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @12:18PM (#41568743)
    So a sometime programmer likes to think he is better than people who don't know how to program at all? As a fulltime programmer (which apparently puts me higher in the hierarchy) I think that is just a bit silly.
    • Re:WTF (Score:5, Funny)

      by cloudmaster (10662) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @12:22PM (#41568771) Homepage Journal

      As a Unix sysadmin, I know that all developers - full time or not - are way too full of their perceived abilities to do things correctly. ;)

      • Re:WTF (Score:5, Funny)

        by dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @01:13PM (#41569355)

        As a Unix sysadmin, I know that all developers - full time or not - are way too full of their perceived abilities to do things correctly. ;)

        The Excel manager (or the closely related Powerpoint manager) has something in common with the Only-Development Matters developer, the Without-Sysadmin-The-Universe-Would-Shutdown-Now systems guy and the Nothing-Happens-When-I-Dont Sell people. Silo silliness.

        • The Excel manager (or the closely related Powerpoint manager) has something in common with the Only-Development Matters developer, the Without-Sysadmin-The-Universe-Would-Shutdown-Now systems guy and the Nothing-Happens-When-I-Dont Sell people. Silo silliness.

          You forgot to mention they all live in the I'm-A-Unique-and-Beautiful-Snowflake land, not We're-All-In-This-Together-ville. I know, the second one is a lot smaller -- it's just a town on the outskirts of the much larger land, but... I think these things matter. :D

      • by rbmyers (587296)
        Let all of us who are old enough raise a glass to toast the days when people who wrote programs, who rarely referred to themselves as programmers, understood full well that they didn't know what they were doing and were going to make mistakes.
    • I know. WTF "amateurs aka power users"?? Those terms have different meanings for a reason.

    • So a sometime programmer likes to think he is better than people who don't know how to program at all?

      I guess that in a similar way, people who can read and write consider themselves better than those who are illiterate. Why is that silly? A significant number of people seems to think that teaching problem solving using automated data processing tools (sometimes manifested as programming) should have almost the same priority in schools as reading and writing.

      • by Kijori (897770)

        I think it would be an equally arrogant and condescending claim if made in the context of reading. Taking satisfaction from people less expert than you making mistakes is rather pathetic, and even more so when (like the submitter) you are not very good yourself and therefore make plenty of your own mistakes.

    • by Telvin_3d (855514)

      An occasional programmer thinks he is better at programming than people who don't program at all? Isn't this a truism?

    • You're missing the point. The problem isn't those who don't know how to program, it's those who don't know that they don't know how to program.

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @12:26PM (#41568823) Homepage Journal

    For those of us who speak English as a first language, here's a translation:

    "A messed-up spreadsheet caused a multi-million-pound fiasco."

    I think it refers to government financing for some sort of rail transport project in England, but I'm not as sure about that part.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'll try and lay it out in brief:

      In the 90's the public Inter city rail system was privitised.

      Since then, companies bid for contracts to provide services (13 years in length iirc)

      One of the main francises was recently up for renewal (the main route from London to Scotland)

      The current holders lost out to a new comer and challange the bid in the courts as being to good to be true.

      They lost the trial and the contract was awarded.

      It has since transpired (thanks to documents examined in court or documents given

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2012 @02:51PM (#41570259)

        Let's try and fix that for you:

        In the 90s the UK rail system was privatised, with various franchises set up to run passenger services on different routes.

        The length of the franchises has varied over the years. The government wanted to let longer (~15 years) franchises to try and persuade the franchisees to invest in the routes they serve (short franchises meant they wouldn't be running the show long enough to see a return on their investment).

        Five years ago another franchise (the East Coast route from London to Scotland) was let to the National Express group. Two years in they found that they'd bid too high for the franchise and couldn't afford the payments they'd promised the government (or at least weren't making any money). So they walked away and left the government with the keys.

        The government had come up with a new method of evaluating franchises to try and avoid this in the future. This was used for the franchise in question (West Coast route from London to Scotland, Manchester, Birmingham). The incumbent, Virgin, put in a bid, as well as three others. One of the others (First) was announced as the winner, but Virgin kicked up a fuss saying that First's bid was too risky: First's bid offered more money to the government late in the franchise, and little in the first years. Virgin's was more evenly spread.

        Virgin called for a judicial review of the franchising procedure, as they were entitled to do. The government insisted that the process was followed correctly and said First would take over in December. They started gathering evidence to present their case.

        This week they found that they had made major mistakes and would have the book thrown at them if they went in front of a judge. So they called the whole process off and will refund all bidders the money they spent on their bids. (40 million pounds or so.)

        Apart from the obvious political fallout there's the issue of who's going to run the railway when Virgin's current franchise period ends. It was extended once for the Olympics, and European competition law might say that it can't be extended again. The government may have to operate it directly instead. But they're already running the East Coast route. And there are four or five smaller franchises that were due to be let over the next two years. The franchise letting process is going to have to be ripped out and put back together again. The process of letting all those franchises will have to be put on hold. Will the government have to take those over in the short term as well? Can they find enough railway managers to do that?

        In short, it is a ghastly mess.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Thank you for doing the submitter's job, and the editor's job.

        • Can they find enough railway managers to do that?

          What happens to staff when a franchise is taken over anyway? I would think the low level staff and probablly their immediate bosses must be kept arround as to do otherwise would just cause chaos but how high up the tree does it go?

    • by whoever57 (658626)

      I think it refers to government financing for some sort of rail transport project in England, but I'm not as sure about that part.

      It's not a "project". It is the right to run the rail franchise for the west coast main line. The rails themselves are owned by Network Rail and companies bid periodically for the rights to run services on those rails.

    • by didroe84 (1324187) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @01:19PM (#41569441)
      The way our railways were privitised (which has been a total disaster btw), is that the government leases out monopolies on routes to companies for 10-15 years. This is about one of the routes coming up for renewal and the contract being taken away from the current operator (Virgin). After the announcement of the winner, Virgin said the other company had made an unrealistic bid and wouldn't be able to operate the route at the quoted rate. Now it turns out the government department overseeing the bidding process has messed up the calculations when assessing the feasibility of the bid.
      • Why should the government asses the bid? I'd say it's up to the company to come up with the money and take their losses. They most likely have other routes that are profitable to compensate. Any wise board always calculates a percentage of their budget as "unforseen" and this is just one of these cases. Or did they use the same spreadsheet for those other lines as well?
        • by bpkiwi (1190575) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @02:54AM (#41575007)
          Because without some sort of proof of a sound business model, a company can underbid/overbid (underbid on cost, overbid on the fees they will pay the government) just to get into the market. Then they can run the service into the ground, suck any money they can out into 'consulting fees' and other such expenses that end up in the investor's pockets, and then just go bankrupt. The government gets left holding the run down remains, and suddenly all the trains stop.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      This story doesn't really have anything to do with Excel. The mistake could just have easily been made with pen and paper. The issue is that the calculations were apparently not checked, leading to costs of at least £40m.

      Currently the people who did those calculations have been suspended, but really the fault lies with whoever should have made sure their work was double checked by an outside agency.

  • Get all those stupid computers off people's desks! Things were much better when you had to go to a programmer in order to get software to do anything!

    And (not incidentally) it would eliiminate all the productivity that's lost to Slashdot!

    • Re:Ban power users! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by KingTank (631646) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @01:04PM (#41569263)

      Get all those stupid computers off people's desks! Things were much better when you had to go to a programmer in order to get software to do anything!

      And (not incidentally) it would eliiminate all the productivity that's lost to Slashdot!

      Your sarcasm is unwarranted. This is a nice story for us programmers because it's just the kind of anecdote that makes businesses seriously consider hiring more professional programmers. Nobody is suggesting you need custom software for everything.

      • by moj0joj0 (1119977)

        Nobody is suggesting you need custom software for everything.

        But it would be nice for the pay check if they did...

      • by fm6 (162816) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @02:03PM (#41569823) Homepage Journal

        The submitter is suggesting — no, make that "claiming" — that spreadseets are dangerous because they allow "non-professionals" to program. Now, spreadsheets are the original "killer app" for PCs. Huge numbers of CP/M-based systems were sold just to run VisiCalc, and this probably had a lot to do with IBM biting the bullet and getting into the desktop computer business, with results that reverberate to this very day and the forseeable future. Alan Kay, one of the inventors of OOP and GUI, cites spreadsheets as a tool that turn ordinary users into programmers. Attack spreadsheets, and you attack the entire idea of user-centric programming. The submitter's attitude is reminiscint of the pre-Woz era, when you had to negotiate with your programming staff to do even the simplest computing and programmers were known as "High Priests of a Low Cult". There's a lot of room for sarcasm here.

        More than I thought to use. I also could have been sarcastic about the assumption that "hire a pro" is a magic bullet for avoiding fuckups. Really? "Professionals" never make stupid, multimillion-dollar mistakes? Get real.

        "Have somebody check your work" is the applicable lesson here. "Hire a pro and you're safe." is just bullshit.

        • by Kijori (897770)

          I agree wholeheartedly with this. I would add that the submitter's comments are an example of the phenomenon that the barely-competent tend to delight in the failings of others. Those who are more skilled can recognise that everyone makes mistakes, and don't need to dwell on the mistakes that others make in order to prop up their self-esteem.

        • by hugh9954 (462585)

          (shrug) sometimes people push their spreadsheet way beyond what it was ever meant to do - either because they're in a hurry, or because they don't know other tools exist.

          As a co-op student 15 years ago, I wrote an indoor cellular-propagation simulator in Excel. It was terribly slow, but it worked and printed pretty pictures and got us a half-million-dollar contract that we would otherwise have lost because the customer didn't think my manager's hand-drawn sketches looked techie enough.

          • by fm6 (162816)

            (shrug) sometimes people push their spreadsheet way beyond what it was ever meant to do - either because they're in a hurry, or because they don't know other tools exist.

            Agreed. But isn't that true of any programming tool? Or any tool of any kind?

        • Attack spreadsheets, and you attack the entire idea of user-centric programming.

          You say that like it'd be a bad idea.

          • by fm6 (162816)

            If you want my hackable PC, you'll have to pry it from my cold dead hands!

      • by ray-auch (454705)

        Get all those stupid computers off people's desks! Things were much better when you had to go to a programmer in order to get software to do anything!

        And (not incidentally) it would eliiminate all the productivity that's lost to Slashdot!

        Your sarcasm is unwarranted. This is a nice story for us programmers because it's just the kind of anecdote that makes businesses seriously consider hiring more professional programmers. Nobody is suggesting you need custom software for everything.

        And you've missed the point.

        It is just as likely that the accounting model was incorrect rather than the implementation. If the spec is wrong (or unclear or incomplete) then you will get garbage out whatever tools you use - excel, c, c++, c#, haskell or real programming in Fortran (assembler if you must). If you don't test and cross check your outputs then you risk not spotting implementation mistakes - whatever tools you use.

        Essentially, someone's built a wooden shed the wrong size and in the wrong place

  • So what? (Score:5, Informative)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @12:30PM (#41568889)
    Spreadsheets are popular for the following reasons:
    1. They are programs that are not based on assigning values to variables
    2. Users get a visual representation of where values are being assigned and how values are related to each other
    3. The syntax of expressions is familiar, and there is little syntax that users need to learn beyond that

    I suspect there are better ways to get all of the above, but that is irrelevant. Does the submitter think that people who use other programming languages do not make such catastrophic mistakes? I think history says otherwise:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight_capital [wikipedia.org]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ariane_5_Flight_501 [wikipedia.org]

    Bugs can be costly, regardless of whether those bugs are in spreadsheets or Ada programs.

    • by Dan667 (564390)
      spreadsheets are popular, because the barrier to entry is relatively low compared to anything else. It is more or less visual basic for people who don't want to learn programming (or are not able)
    • Yeah, I would suspect the "bug" in this case was one of design not execution. So even if a professional programmer had been in charge they would have made the same error if they were following 'spec'.

      This isn't an 'excel' glitch, this is a design glitch. They improperly modeled a real world behavior but got the model wrong. That's a mistake that everybody involved in planning can make.

    • That argument is like saying we should build houses out of loose straw since houses made out of stone also collapse.

      You are comparing something as trivial as some business decision with something that is, literally, rocket science.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2012 @12:32PM (#41568915)

    "Create Huge Row"

  • Excel's new slogan: "The backhoe of the financial sector."
  • If spread sheet says 2+2=5 , what do you trust? The spread sheet , which has huge amount of computational mathematics behind it, or your eyes which has, well you , behind it. With the state of mathematics education, I'd trust the spreadsheet. Besides the mathematics may have changed since the last version. What was Edgar Allan Poe's law? Or was it Nathan? Let me ask the computer..

    • by houghi (78078)

      I have had a situation where the outcome was absolutely not what I expected. I would have needed about 25% more FTE then what I would expect with my experience.

      I checked and rechecked again and still came up with the same information.

      Instead of getting the extra 25% people in, I decided to do all the calculations on paper AND give it to two other people to go over it to find out where I went wrong.

      Eventually I got the correct number that was close to what I expected it to be and we also found the error I in

      • Exactly. I don't know how many times my spreadsheets have kicked out something that I go 'There's No Way In Hell...' and I then went back and double and triple checked and found the error. If I didn't, I would get somebody else to look it over. If the numbers still stood up I would pass it along/up the chain with a note that I didn't believe the numbers were accurate. While this may not look great to the higher ups because they love hard numbers, they would much rather have your opinion that you think somet

  • by Lincolnshire Poacher (1205798) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @12:41PM (#41569029)

    A "rail franchise" in the UK is a Government-granted monopoly to run services over a particular rail route for a set period of time. The monopoly is awarded to the Train Operating Company ( TOC ) that basically bids the highest fee.

    Rolling stock is provided by the Government, too, in conjunction with the TOC.

    Notionally it is possible for Open Access Operators to also operate services over parts of the same route, but this flies in the face of the cushy relationship between Government and TOCs and so generally isn't granted.

    This is the state of rail "privatisation" in the UK today.

    • by itsdapead (734413) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @12:54PM (#41569181)

      This is the state of rail "privatisation" in the UK today.

      Just to expand on that, "Privatisation" is a UK concept that seeks to combine the efficiency and value for money of government with the social responsibility and long-term vision of big business.

      It's what you get if you spend so much time flip-flopping between socialist and capitalist governments that even the parties forget which is which.

      • I'm stealing that quote it's utterly brilliant :-)

      • by MSG (12810)

        seeks to combine the efficiency and value for money of government with the social responsibility and long-term vision of big business

        I think you're going for a joke in there, but how often is government actually less efficient than big business?

      • by pod (1103)

        This is what happens every time you hand a public monopoly to a private company. This is not how you privatize. You just get the worst of both worlds. This is flat out corporate welfare. If you're going to privatize something, you need to have competition in the market.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          If I remember correctly, this form of pseudo-privatisation was forced on the government by the EU. If they'd really privatised the British railways, the new owners would have ripped most of them up and sold the land to developers.

          • by itsdapead (734413)

            If I remember correctly, this form of pseudo-privatisation was forced on the government by the EU

            Actually, ISTR it was forced through by a dying Tory government who believe in privatisation as a matter of principle and were desperate to get the contracts signed to tie the hands of the incoming Labour government. At the time, the Tories were hugely split over the EU, the rail privatisation was controversial, and if there had been any whiff that it was being forced by the EU they would never have got it through Parliament. Of course, the EU is a universal boogieman - although the actual problems are ofte

            • by drsquare (530038)

              I don't think the roads are subsidised by the government, they're fully funded by fuel taxes.

            • "Actually, ISTR it was forced through by a dying Tory government who believe in privatisation as a matter of principle and were desperate to get the contracts signed to tie the hands of the incoming Labour government."

              True, and the way they did it was beyond stupid. They had 3 options and chose the worst one:

              They created a corporation, Railtrack, whose sole profit came from cutting costs... and gave it a monopoly over track maintenance and improvements.

              Almost the first thing Railtrack did was massively und

      • by buglista (1967502)
        We haven't had a socialist government for as long as I've been alive. No, New Labour does NOT qualify as socialist; they were pretty much the same free-market capitalists we've had since '79.
    • by bazorg (911295)

      Rolling stock is owned by ROSCO companies [wikipedia.org], not by government. Essentially companies in the finance business.
      When Virgin trains found they lost this bid, Branson said that the staff would be transferred to First Group. Essentially there's a bunch of companies where a state monopoly used to operate. More overheads or less? I wasn't here to be able to compare - I just take the train and pay through the nose if I don't plan the booking carefully.

  • ubiquitous (Score:5, Informative)

    by cratermoon (765155) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @12:43PM (#41569055) Homepage

    Spreadsheets -- well, Excel really -- are inescapable in business.

    I know personally of complex multimillion dollar deals in the oil and gas business involving buying and selling entire refineries and gas pipelines where the numbers were all worked out on a spreadsheet.

    The insurance industry lives on the spreadsheets put together by the actuaries.

    The only consistent reason I've seen for Excel users will give up their rows and columns and have bespoke software created is when the dataset gets cumbersomely large. A secondary reason is when the kinds of calculations needed can't be cobbled together with Excel's function and macro tools. Even then, it's not unheard of for users to demand summary/aggregate reports and analytics that they then copy the numbers from into their spreadsheet to do their scenarios.

    Just keep in mind the next time you hear about big money moving around in some deal -- somewhere someone probably had a pivot table for that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm an actuary and at my company, the programmers are pushing to replace Excel based tools with tools based on in house software. It's a disaster since the programmers have no grasp of what Excel does right. Before, users could trace calculations back to their source, and if something wasn't done properly it could be overridden, but now we get an HTML file showing the calculation with the "formula" in the margin. I put formula in quotes because we don't actually see the code the program executes, we just se

      • by pz (113803)

        On top of that, by leaving Excel you lose things like robust cut and paste and undo history for user inputs. Plus the user interface makes it easy to overwrite your saved results with a scratch calclation.

        Don't forget things like reliabilily, (defacto) portability, professionally written documentation, a massive 3rd party training literature, and an even more massive 3rd party help literature on the web. And, for many readers here, the ability to use a work-alike open source tool instead.

        Developing an in-house solution for a spreadsheet is, bluntly, an idiotic idea. MS hatred or not, Excel is a well-developed tool that just works. If the company is looking to save money, then deploy LibreOffice instead.

      • It seems you have a list of unspoken requirements and are complaining that your inhouse programmers aren't meeting them.

        Perhaps you should go over that with your developers, because all of the features that you like about excel were put there by programmers - there is no fundamental reason why your in-house software can't perform the job you need more reliably, more usefully, faster, and with superior troubleshooting and auditing capability.

        Now, the question of cost-effectiveness may come up at this point,

        • by ax_42 (470562)

          Actuarial science is a specialised field, requiring a lot of understanding of the underlying calculations so that they can be properly implemented. The work that actuaries do also requires a lot of flexibility around changing the underlying model (e.g. to implement a new feature). Excel offers this quite well as a platform, and there are various suites of software commercially available which also meet those needs, tailored to actuarial work (and more importantly, workflow). Getting proper development pr

    • There's also the multi-million deals that are made on the back on an envelope... or a beer mat.

      Those tend to be the better deals.

      As always, in business and in programming and most everywhere else, you really should only introduce complexity when absolutely necessary. excel is a deceptive tool in that regard, it puts a "simple" face on a large bag of unstructured complexity, and then goes about guessing about what it deigns your inputs should actually mean.

      Of course, insisting on bespoke software just to "fi

    • by Phurge (1112105)

      I personally know of complex multi billion dollar deals done via spreadsheet (usually via well qualified finance people). Are you really going to trust a computer programmer to develop a financial model of a billion dollar business that is up for sale?

      Nothing can match the flexibility (and speed) of excel. Most of the time you might be bidding against competitors and you won't have time to wait for perfect information to populate some database or VBA edifice.

      The key problem here was a simple schoolboy erro

    • by delt0r (999393)
      This is not really surprising. Before it was a spreadsheet on a computer it was done by people on a accounting ledgers... that well look a lot like a spreadsheet.
  • Guilty! They should promote her, like the Americans do.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @12:45PM (#41569075) Journal

    "As a sometime computer programmer who was always very sniffy about the quality of the stuff being knocked up by amateurs aka power users,

    Get over yourself. 'Real' programmers make mistakes too, sometimes mistakes that kill people.

    The problem seems to be an accounting/design problem, mixing different kinds of data, not a problem of programmer skill. Since I don't understand accounting, I will not claim that I wouldn't make the same mistake, and I've been a professional programmer for years.

    • by DaveGod (703167)

      I suspect what the OP may be failing to communicate is an emphasis on the "amateur" whilst drawing parallels with his gripes about his own field.

      As an accountant*1, this does seem very much like an amateur accounting/design problem, i.e. someone cobbling something together with no understanding of what they are doing. This happens all the time. Excel is immensely powerful, but relies completely on the competence of the user - both at Excel and at whatever it is they are trying to do. A lot of folks think Ex

      • by narcc (412956)

        I couldn't agree more.

        Just a quick fix for the submitter and those like minded:

        this does seem very much like an amateur accounting/design problem, i.e. someone cobbling something together with no understanding of what they are doing. This happens all the time. Programming languages are immensely powerful, but rely completely on the competence of the user - both at programming and at whatever it is they are trying to do.

        Just for fun:

        A lot of folks think Python can somehow substitute for the latter, they don't really need to understand what they are doing because hey, Python has a function for that!

        Spreadsheets are not the problem. They're a great tool appropriate for a broad class of problems. Users aren't the problem either -- it's all a matter of training.

        Why all the Spreadsheet love? It saves time and money. As every developer knows, programmers are both lazy and expensive. Why waste their energy and the companies money working out some piddly tool that does what Excel can easily do better?

        It's why I r

  • The solution will be to require certification in spreadsheet design, creation and use. All others will be issued pads, pencils and adding machines.

    Certification will require six months of coursework, an eight hour test and a fee.

  • Pro's do their own math when its their own money on the line.

    Every time...

    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      By that measuring stick, all the "pros" have been long outcompeted by "amateurs" and are now gone from all industries.

      Well, there may still be some in Africa or poor Asian regions. I wouldn't know, but I'm quite certain that when "amateurs" actually judge the region to be financially viable to operate in, the "pros" will be outcompeted again..

  • The UK Government is proud to present Omnishambles v1.0
    Years of underfunding, lack of training and a truly bizarre employment policy, coupled with the repeated use of IT support companies with records for incompetence and failure as long as your arm, have finally paid off.
    There is nothing, literally nothing, that the UK Government can do without the result being a massive, over budget, cock-up.
    • by Dark$ide (732508)

      The UK Government is proud to present Omnishambles v1.0 .

      For folks who've not yet met the word "omnishambles", it means it's fuck up what ever way you look at it.

      Most amusing was seeing Beardie Branson bleating that the Gov't was corrupt because they'd taken away his toy train set and given him a bank (Northern Wreck aka Virgin Money) to play with instead.

    • With the private sector ably helping out

    • by mrbester (200927)

      Omnishambles is just the internal name. The public one is Private Finance Initiative.

    • by tomhath (637240)

      There is nothing, literally nothing, that the UK Government can do without the result being a massive, over budget, cock-up.

      Of course, being the government there's no downside to screwing up. A private company would disappear; government just raises taxes and keeps moving along.

  • and you, god like programmer,could have done so much better cause you can shit out a widget on command?

    might want to get over yourself Mr. Ego.

    • The training which a programmer brings to such a situation is to do a decent amount of testing before letting a system go live. What appears to have happened here is that the spreadsheet was used before it was fit for purpose, and my purpose in highlighting it to the /. community is to enable us to encourage organisations to be more cautious about massively complex spreadsheets. I'm not suggesting we don't make mistakes - but we're far more cautious about the systems that we create.
  • The calculation could have been done on paper / blood on a wall / notches on a stick
    and
    carried out by throwing dice / abacus / mental arithmetic
    by
    morons / normal people / genii
    If the process was not validated and the results were not checked, why is anyone surprised when it is wrong?
    Some areas can be defined as right or wrong by people with good minds and strong opinions - games
    Tax and Financial software not so.
    At some point in the process $product needs to be validated using $external_proce
    • by narcc (412956)

      How dare you question the evil of spreadsheets! Spreadsheets are a threat to my very existence. Why, if users could handle basic computing tasks with a simple general-purpose tool I'll be out of work -- or worse -- people will stop thinking I'm special.

      "Facts" and "reality" have no place here except when they support the submitter's premise. This was supposed to be a love-on-entry-level-developers and hate-on-spreadsheets thread.

  • Who is John Galt?

  • A spreadsheet application is a tool designed to be used by non-programmers. Someone can lose millions with a paper spreadsheet -- it's just easier using a computer.
  • Essentially Spreadsheets have 3 problems in this context:

    1. They look simple enough so people who should perhaps not make hard decisions believe they can out source their decisions to a spreadsheet.

    2. They are fairly opaque. It's hard to look into the structure of a spreadsheet. All you see is the data. When you are programming what you see is the code. You see what your program is doing. Even if you look at the formulas inside your spreadsheet, you'll have variable names like A15. That's not particularly r

    • Imagine you having 15 values to add. Now you want to change that program to add up 20 values. In normal programming languages that is just changing one value. On a spreadsheet you now need to change all instances where that array is mentioned. You have no chance of using a constant or searching for "15". It is very likely you miss one thing you should have changed.

      Excel and OOCalc both allow you to name cells or ranges. And formulae, at least for me, automatically adjust if I insert more rows. Then again,

      • by Casandro (751346)

        Well yes, you can export it. It'll still be in a hard to read format since it'll also export headers and such. And still usually you don't even have a command-line tool for that so it's fairly useless for automation.

  • A convenient scapegoat.

    The whole thing doesn't pass the smell test. The bidder that won, Transpennine Express, are infamous for having terrible service, half their rolling stock out of order, late trains, cancelled trains, etc.

    Yet they were promising more rolling stock, better service, wifi on their trains, coupled with both lower fares, and vastly more profits than the incumbent franchisee. Any school kid could told you that you can't get more, for less. Their bid was just not credible on the surface ; the

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