Daniel Kulesz & Jan-Peter Ostberg
Just like other software, spreadsheets can contain significant faults. Static analysis is an accepted and well-established technique in software engineering known for its capability to discover faults. In recent years, a growing number of tool vendors started offering tools that allow casual end-users to run various static analyses on spreadsheets as well.
We supervised a study where three undergraduate software engineering students examined a selection of 14 spreadsheet auditing tools, trying to give a concrete recommendation for an industry partner. Reflecting on the study's results, we found that most of these tools do provide useful aids in finding problems in spreadsheets, but we have also spotted several areas where tools had significant issues.
Some of these issues could be remedied if spreadsheet auditing tool vendors would pick up some ideas of static analysis tools for traditional software development and adopt some of their solution approaches.
Many auditing tools color cells to indicate findings. The use of colors is problematic, as colors are often already used as part of the original spreadsheet so users may not recognize their own spreadsheets and thus are unable to trace the findings.