Don’t let Office Space Happen to You

Don’t let Office Space Happen to You

1999 feels like a long time ago. And it was: Google was a year old, Facebook wouldn’t be founded until 5 years later, no one had heard of LinkedIn, and the original iPod, now dead, was still 3 years from being born.

1999 was also the year the movie Office Space came out.

In it, a jaded programmer reprograms a production system to siphon funds to his own bank account in amounts too small to detect.

Meanwhile, the accounting team is so disconnected from the business, no one told them that an ineffective employee had been laid off 5 years earlier, and he was still on the payroll.

Jumping 25 years ahead to today, having daily high transaction volume application data in the hands of accounting and finance professionals is incredibly valuable. But it’s still pretty rare. Having that three way relationship between your application, payments processor and bank (and the variety of transactions that can occur between them) governed and translated into complete financial records is almost a novelty even in 2023.

Just this week, life imitated art when news broke that a software engineer at e-commerce company Zulily, inspired by Office Space, edited their codebase to siphon funds (he even named his scheme “Office Space Project”!).

This is just one of many examples that financial and systems professionals have seen of the problem that can fester when our finance tech stack, and thus the finance team, isn’t close enough to our businesses data. Worse yet, the data in our business isn’t consistently translated into meaningful financial information.

This leaves the door wide open for problems like Zulily’s. Even though internal software engineering fraud is incredibly rare, we’ve all seen similar outcomes (hopefully just less intentional and internal).

I recall the first week I got access to a production follower (a read-only copy of the lead application database) and wrote a few queries to share with our accounting group. I quickly found over six figures of “unpaid” transactions we had mistakenly recognized, but also mismatched application transaction data and some balance sheet accounts to clean up and re-report.

The finance tech stack is ripe for innovation and the more our systems can enable finance & accounting folks to have a seat at the data table, without burning valuable engineering time that should rightfully be spent on customer innovation, the closer we’ll be to a world where you don’t have to worry about making an accidental sequel to Office Space at your company.