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White Paper: App-Like Microsoft Office Files Create Potential Risks for Business Operations
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White Paper: App-Like Microsoft Office Files Create Potential Risks for Business Operations

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While it may not be readily apparent, just about every company has some personnel on their staff that have manipulated Microsoft Office files to help them perform their jobs more efficiently. The …

While it may not be readily apparent, just about every company has some personnel on their staff that have manipulated Microsoft Office files to help them perform their jobs more efficiently. The technique is not complicated, and these app-like files can serve a valuable purpose—some function very similar to database applications and facilitate complex business analysis. For many businesses, the number of these type files that users rely on has grown into the thousands, serving as quasi applications that the business relies on heavily for day-to-day operations.

The availability of Visual Basic programming tools with Microsoft Office 97 gave end-users these new capabilities to program files, and the extent of these capabilities increased even further with the arrival of Windows XP in 2003. End-users with no formal software development training can now manipulate Office files in ways that are quite helpful—especially in generating reports and running other functions that provide access to key information.

App-like files are usually created by users that perform certain tasks repeatedly in Excel, but the same can be done in Access and other Office applications. Tasks can be automated with a macro, which is a series of commands and functions stored in Visual Basic and can be run whenever a user needs to perform the task.
In the attached white paper you can read about how to identify and replace app-like files with applications, in order to reduce risks in your business operations. For more information please visit www.convertertechnology.com

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  • 1. App-Like Microsoft Office FilesCreate Potential Risks forBusiness OperationsDiligent Monitoring Identifies Which Fragile Files to Consider forTransformation into ApplicationsBy: Chris Davies, Manager of Technical Services, ConverterTechnologyConverterTechnology 1 Tara Blvd., Ste.301 Nashua, NH 03080 T 800-541-7409 F 603-882-8884 http://www.convertertechnology.com
  • 2. ConverterTechnologyIntroductionWhile it may not be readily apparent, just about every company has some personnel on their staff that havemanipulated Microsoft Office files to help them perform their jobs more efficiently. The technique is notcomplicated, and these app-like files can serve a valuable purpose—some function very similar to databaseapplications and facilitate complex business analysis. For many businesses, the number of these type filesthat users rely on has grown into the thousands, serving as quasi applications that the business relies onheavily for day-to-day operations.The availability of Visual Basic programming tools with Microsoft Office 97 gave end-users these newcapabilities to program files, and the extent of these capabilities increased even further with the arrival ofWindows XP in 2003. End-users with no formal software development training can now manipulate Officefiles in ways that are quite helpful—especially in generating reports and running other functions that provideaccess to key information.App-like files are usually created by users that perform certain tasks repeatedly in Excel, but the same can bedone in Access and other Office applications. Tasks can be automated with a macro, which is a series ofcommands and functions stored in Visual Basic and can be run whenever a user needs to perform the task.The Downside of App-Like FilesThese end-user created files, while quite valuable and helpful—and sometimes critical—to the functioning ofindividuals, departments and even entire businesses, also present a potential major risk. That’s because app-like files are usually manipulated by someone without formal training in software programming or by someonewho is not working under the official approval of the IT department.Such files thus tend to be very fragile and susceptible to performance issues. They are also often built as anaggregate of multiple, interrelated files that have to be managed as a single entity. This further adds to theirfragile state and makes IT reluctant to support them. If end-users run into performance issues, they are likelyon their own.With relatively minor changes to applications or data links that app-like files connect to, the files can easilybecome inoperable. This is especially true when the business decides to upgrade to a newer version ofMicrosoft Office or a newer version of the Windows operating system.Reducing the RiskTo address the app-like file situation, it’s important for businesses to document and analyze the number ofthese type Office files currently in use and the role that each file plays in the functioning of a person’s jobApp-Like MS Office Files Create Potential Risks for Business Operations 1
  • 3. ConverterTechnologyresponsibilities as well as within a department or even across the entire company. App-like files that performwell are often shared by multiple employees, a group of senior managers and across large workgroups.These files may perform very valuable functions, so it’s important that they not be simply discarded. Somemay actually warrant undergoing a transition into a full-blown application developed in-house under theguidance of IT. A business may also decide to purchase a commercial application that provides the samefunctionality.In some cases, app-like files perform only minor functions so that it’s best to just leave them alone since therisk of becoming inoperable is not harmful to the business. But regardless of the decision, businesses shouldinvestigate these files applications just in case important business functions depend on their fragile state.How to Identify App-Like FilesTo identify app-like files, begin by determining if information is available for last date the file was access ormodified. For any user files that are worked on regularly and which show recent activity, check to see if anycode has been written into the files—a key indicator. Other strong indicators are files with workgroupprotection, which indicates multiple people are using them, and files with password protection. In both casesthere’s a good chance that the files identified are candidates for review.Another characteristic to look for are files that contain a high number or complex network of links, it is acommon aspect of files that fall into the classification of a home grown app to be maintained as a collectionof interrelated and interdependent files.For those files that meet these conditions, check the complexity of the coding and the quantity andcomplexity of links. Files with simple coding can be left alone, but the more complex the code or links, thebetter the chances are that the file is a candidate for transitioning into a full-blown application.Deciding which Files to Replace with ApplicationsWhen businesses reach the stage of determining which app-like files to replace with applications, thedecision can be very subjective. Several key factors should be assessed: • The role the file plays in helping the business • The number of people that rely on the file • The consequences to the business if the file’s performance degrades • The capital costs and the cost of allocating resources to build or buy, and then deploy and support a replacement applicationApp-Like MS Office Files Create Potential Risks for Business Operations 2
  • 4. ConverterTechnologyIf the functions of the file match the features of commercially-available software, this is usually the leastexpensive route to go. But if the functions are unique, a custom application may be required. In this case, ifthe business does not have sufficient internal resources to build a replacement application, externalconsultants can provide an alternative approach.Although the cost of both approaches could be significant, the business must consider the alternative offunctioning with risky files that are essentially serving as applications. They are likely to experience problemsat some point—especially during the next Office or Windows OS upgrades.Continue Tracking and Pay Attention to Senior Management FilesKnowing which app-like files exist and how their performance affects the business is half the battle. Even if abusiness does not replace one of these files that performs a valuable function with a full-blown application, ITshould develop a backup plan for what to do if the file stops working. Also continue to track the files overtime rather than just forgetting about them. At some point, such a file may reach the stage where thebusiness must transition it to an application because of an increase in use or in the importance it provides tothe business.IT might also decide to start managing certain app-like files by closely documenting them and providingsupport to its end users. Documenting might uncover patterns of people in different departments alteringfiles in the same way to solve a problem. This might change the decision to buy or build. And by becomingaware of all these files, the business will know what files to proactively check when an upgrade occurs to theOffice suite or the Windows OS. Changes to other applications might also create problems if an app-like fileis linked to applications outside of Office.Addressing the app-like file challenge should not be delayed because employees inevitably are going tomeddle with Office applications, especially with the convenience of the Visual Basic tool. It’s a fact ofbusiness life that companies have to deal with. It’s not just the assistant in accounting or human resourcesthat businesses have to worry about. The real business killers will probably be someone near the top of theorg chart who needs a regular report and manipulates Excel (perhaps with unauthorized help from someonein IT) to get the file to do what they want.Chances are, if a senior manager has a valuable file that generates key performance indicators, the businesswill be better off providing a regular application that generates proper dashboards and offers more reliabilitythan an app-like file.About Chris DaviesChris Davies, Manager of Technical Services, joined ConverterTechnology in February 2009. He is responsible for thedelivery of consulting services and support for customers and partners. Chris has 20+ years experience in software solu-tion consulting and customer service for a wide range of industries, most recently working with document management,project collaboration and product lifecycle management tools. Chris also has an extensive background managing largeprojects for major organizations ranging from pharmaceutical manufacturers to civil engineering companies.App-Like MS Office Files Create Potential Risks for Business Operations 3
  • 5. ConverterTechnologyAbout ConverterTechnologyConverterTechnology helps enterprises migrate to new versions of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office without therisks, costs, productivity loss, and headaches that typically arise from enterprise deployments. By delivering automatedsoftware that streamlines migrations along with the expertise to plan, execute, and report on successful enterprise migra-tions, ConverterTechnology helps companies accelerate their time to productivity with the Microsoft platform. Con-verterTechnology is headquartered in Nashua, N.H., with offices in California, Europe and Australia, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Powerlan Limited.  For more information, visit www.convertertechnology.com.App-Like MS Office Files Create Potential Risks for Business Operations 4