M.E.S.S. stands for Manually Entered SpreadSheets. Don’t get me wrong. I was raised on spreadsheets: first Visicalc, then Lotus 123, finally Excel. They are a second language to me. But when I see people pecking away entering raw data in them, I have to wonder why they can’t get it from their accounting system. Ideally, their time should be spent analyzing their data, not keying it in.
Why does M.E.S.S. happen?
- A lack of trust in the accounting system, particularly when someone was not in favour of the change to begin with. Early in my career, a mining client converted their accounting system. The Accounts Payable manager, close to retirement, didn’t trust the new computer, so she kept track of all of her vendors using a spreadsheet. About a month after going live, the new system crashed. They were forced to recreate the information manually. Everyone that is, except Accounts Payable. Guess who felt completely vindicated?
- The accounting system does not allow for all requirements. A government agency I worked with had a large number of “sidecar systems”, meaning M.E.S.S. The reason was that their accounting system didn’t track the information they needed. The spreadsheets were so ingrained in the system that when we converted to new software many people didn’t think to include them in their requirements. The implementation team had to actually root them out and convince people that they were no longer necessary.
- Insufficient detail in the General Ledger. At one client it was someone’s job to take all of the entries in the Employee Advances account and separate them by employee in a spreadsheet, so that the individual advances could be tracked. The General Ledger needed to have an account (or subaccount) for each employee so that time wouldn’t be wasted making the entries twice.
Is M.E.S.S. ever justified? Of course if you are doing something that has never been done before, like due diligence on the purchase of a company, then you have no choice. The issue for me is when the same spreadsheet is prepared month after month. Then, it’s a M.E.S.S.!