Teach Yourself ACL

You can teach yourself how to use Audit Command Language (ACL), the data analytics software from www.acl.com. ACL is used by internal auditors and others to:

  • Capture, cleanse, and normalize data to ensure consistency and accurate results
  • Identify trends, pinpoint exceptions and highlight potential areas of concern
  • Join files based on a key field
  • Determine what records or fields in 2 files match (or don’t)
  • Locate errors and potential fraud
  • Age and analyze financial or any other time-sensitive transactions

For most users, the best way to learn ACL is to take formal classes. However, do not assume that the classes the company offers are the only options; other firms provide similar training.

However, your company may not give you the luxury of attending classes, so how do you learn it on your own?

On November 15, 2014, I went through and verified/updated all the links; I changed a few and added some. So if you’ve clicked a link before and it didn’t work, try again, please. And next time, let me know!  ACL is making lots of changes due to the v11 release of ACL, including their website.

While the “old” website is still available, I’m not sure how long it will stay that way; they are moving everything to http://www.aclgrc.com. I just wish ACL would quit tweaking their website, but that’s one of those Canadian quirks. I’ll check everything again at the end of the year……skyyler

Learning ACL on Your Own

Assuming you own the software and have a support contract, I’d suggest you follow these steps (which I wish someone would told me when I started using ACL). The links will work if you log into the Support Center first (see first link in #1 below).

1. On the ACL website, the Support Center1 has some good, FREE self-paced courses in ACL Academy. that walks you through basic and advanced concepts. Start with the ACL Analytics Foundations Online (this course used to be called ACL005 ACL Fundamentals: A Command Overview) which takes about 5-10 hours. Trust me, it will be a good investment of your time.

If you’re looking for the original ACL005 course material, you may still be able to download it as a zip file, directly from ACL here2.  The file contains the instructions and files you need to do the training. I’d recommend using the new ACL Academy course mentioned above, but if you want the original, it’s still available for a limited time.

2. Run some of the same exercises from the training in step 1 or 2 against your company data (make sure you follow all related IT and security policies for obtaining, storing, and using the data).

3. When you get stuck, do one or all of the following:

  • Review the Quick Steps2 to see if step-by-step instructions (including examples) are available for the task you’re trying to accomplish.  Not sure what happened to this link, but I’m sure it’s not gone forever.
  • Post a question in the ACL Forum.2 CAATS (David G. Coderre) and porter are the most knowledgeable (and patient) members of the forum, but there’s many other helpful members.
  • Check out the free training highlighted below (see the FREE ACL Training topic).
  • Check out some of the ACL User Group websites such as the St. Louis ACL UG (here’s the old site) or the Texas ACL UG. Many of these sites include tips, tricks, and their own forums. The official ACL UG list is here.
  • Call ACL technical support1,. When you click this link, look in the upper right corner of the page for the tech support phone number and links to open a support ticket or check the status of an existing support ticket. Or if you log onto their website, chat with an ACL technician. Keep in mind that everything in your chat will be captured in an ACL ticket, so chatter beware!

Some auditors speak highly of the support they’ve received; others, like me, have had several unpleasant experiences (and yes, I have been vocal in my feedback). Regardless, you paid for it, so call and form your own opinion. The word on the street is that PREMIUM support is much better and worth the extra dollars.

I also recommend Coderre’s book, The Fraud Toolkit for ACL. Especially if you’re interested in scripting.

1 To access the Support Center or call tech support, you must have an ACL support contract. Requires login.
2 Found on the ACL website in the Support Center.

Don’t have ACL Software?

If you don’t have ACL software, you can get it (usually an education version, which is not the same as the full version) when you purchase certain books. Here’s a few links:

- List of books that TexasACL group compiled.

- Here’s a list from Tony Ziba’s Secure IT blog (thanks Tony!).

- Or try this Google search.

FREE ACL Training

See my posts regarding  Free ACL Bootcamp Training and ACL Tutorials on YouTube (read the comments on this post for extra info). At this point, this is separate from ACL Academy, which is the new self-paced training course.

The virtual classroom training that ACL launched in March 2010 was discontinued (see Nav’s comment about this). ACL charged about $135 per training session, but they must not have received enough bites. I leave this note here in case someone is still looking for it.

My Older Notes

If you’re looking for materials that you can use for practice with test project files (which you can download for free, without an ACL support contract–more on that later), see below. I don’t recommend using this because it’s getting out of date based on new functions and user interface changes, but I kept the original info as noted below.

A PDF called ACL91 In Practice and the associated sample project files provide step-by-step instructions to work on a practice project. It walks you through a project that’s already set up and then describes how to set up and work on a new project (with all the data provided).

By following instructions in the PDF, you’ll learn how to import text and Excel files, analyze the files, and then export the results out of ACL. Plan on spending another 5 hours on this piece. Again, a good investment.

However, this PDF was discontinued, which is why you cannot obtain it and the project files from ACL anymore. ACL has graciously provided these files to me, and has given me permission to put them on my site for download (see Nav’s comment about this). To download them, go to the Free Downloads page.

After downloading the PDF and the sample files, just follow the instructions in the PDF. Before using these files, please note the following: 1) You have to have ACL software to use these files, and for best results, it should be at least version 9.1 (I think it will work for earlier and later versions, but be aware some terms and menu options may have changed), 2) only a English version is available, and 3) You cannot call ACL for help on them.

Other good PDFs are included with in your software, but I found the one mentioned above the most helpful in getting started. It depends on how technical you are.

Other ACL posts:

Get FREE Audit Work Plans at AuditNet (if you have ACL support agreement)

ACL tip: What is a Computed Field?

ACL: How to Add a Conditional Computed Field

ACL tip: Rerun a Join Easily

ACL tip: “Unfreezing ACL”

ACL: Strange Message in Log

Why not more data analytics?

Master List of ACL Articles and Tips

This is the most popular post on this blog, and it was brought to you by skyyler.

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28 Comments

Filed under ACL, Audit, Free, Free Download, How to..., Scripting (ACL), Technology, Written by Skyyler

28 responses to “Teach Yourself ACL

  1. FEMI

    This is awesome; I am very much interested in this initiative. Keep it up.

  2. Karen

    Which book has the ACL software so I can begin learning the language?
    I was a bit confused by the blog. Internal Audit: Efficiency Through Automation (IIA (Institute of Internal Auditors) Series) [Hardcover]
    David Coderre (Author)
    Please send a reply ASAP and THANKS

  3. Karen,
    Not sure what you’re referring to… My blog? The book you noted above?
    I mention a book in the above post that has the software and others exist. See the link above under “Don’t have ACL Software?”. If that doesn’t help, please restate your request.

  4. kadry

    Very interesting blog. Thank you for your effort. I hope you will write more such useful posts.

  5. Nav

    Just wanted to confirm, we have discontinued the ACL Virtual Classrooms and are offering training through open enrollment and onsite. We’ve removed the last of the Virtual Training pdfs.
    I’d like to add ACL Bootcamp to this list of resources as well. See this post from itauditsecurity for a great overview of our popular free training series and follow the links to register: http://itauditsecurity.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/free-acl-training-bootcamp/
    -Nav, Marketing Specialist, ACL

    • Nav,
      Thanks looking into the virtual classrooms issue. I’m glad to see that ACL is doing better at listening to its users. My experience hasn’t always been positive, so thank you!
      –Skyyler

  6. Zoor

    Awesome article! I appreciate the information!

  7. Karen

    Do you have an idea how much a copy of the ACL software is with a support contract so that I may be able to use the portal for support, resources and possible training? Thanks

    • Hi Karen,
      According to http://www.auditnet.org/ATI_ASACL2012.htm, you can get a copy for about $900. Whether that’s at a discount or not, I’m not sure, but it gives you an idea. As for the support contract, usually those are at least 20% of the purchase price, so that puts the total package around $1100.

      I’d say that’s a little low (I was remembering around $1800, but that was at least 4 years ago). So somewhere between $1110 and $1800.
      –Skyyler

  8. charles uche

    Hi,
    Please let me know if there are books you can recommend to learn acl because I went to the acl web site and was unable to access the tutorials there. Thanks for the great information on your site and for sharing the knowledge

  9. Charles,
    These links above under the topic, FREE ACL Training, are open to everyone. You won’t learn all the basics from these links, but it’s a start.

    Also, the user group links above lead to recommendations on several books.

    I’m working on getting the ACL In Practice pdf mentioned above and the associated practice files available to all from a link from this site. ACL has graciously given permission to post the files, so give me another week or so, then check back. I’ll leave a comment on this post when they’re ready.

    • charles uche

      Thank you so much for your insightful guide. I will most certainly check to see when you will post the ACL Pdf.

      Thank you for this unique opportunity you are providing here.

      thanks

      • Charles and everyone else,
        Just wanted to let you know that I posted a link to the ACL in Practice PDF and the associated project files. You can download them free! See step #2 above for instructions.

        If you download one or both of the files, please post a comment about how it went and whether the instructions are clear.

        Thanks to ACL for providing the files!
        Skyyler

  10. Yomerol

    Hi, I am having a problem using ACL.

    This is because I’ve generated a txt files with column Is there a way to connect ACL to a SQL Server 2008 R2.names? Each column is separated with “|”. But when I import the txt files , doing a sum for fields where the data type is a numeric value, it doesn’t do well the sum.

    I don’t know if there is a workaround to solve this problem.
    Maybe if i change the code page of my data base or the collate.
    ¿Do you know if there is something related to this problem?

    • skyyleracl

      Yomerol,
      Not sure how to help you as I’m not sure what the problem is exactly.

      When you imported the files, did you select “:|” as the delimiter (the character that separates the columns)? Also, did you ensure those columns with numeric data were selected to import as numeric?

      Your best bet is to call ACL support or post a question in the user forum at ACL.com. Either option is going to require you to explain in exact detail what you did and what the result was. You were not very specific in your comment. Sorry I couldn’t help.

    • Balaji Murthy

      Yomerol,
      Not sure I completely understand the problem. If the question is, can one “connect” ACL to SQL Server 2008 R2, the answer is yes (via ODBC). You will, however, be limited to downloading a single table from the SQL Server. You shouldn’t need to change anything on the SQL server.

      skyyleracl has tried to answer the question for importing the txt file.

      • Balaji,
        Thanks for jumping in and helping out!

        • yomerol

          Thanks for the response.
          After a while and some phone calls to people who provide training in ACL I could connect ACL with SQL SERVER without using the txt files that I wanted to use.
          The people who were trying to load the data using ACL told me that the information should be separated with “|” symbol. They told me that in some of the columns where was intended to exist values of a numeric type were instead NULL VALUES and so when doing or using a SUM function on ACL the amount was quite different to the real amount.
          Quite strange but everything got fixed when I could connect ACL via ODBC.
          Thanks.

  11. skyyleracl

    Yomerol,
    Thanks for coming back and providing an update.

  12. Thanks for the compliment and praise, but you need to update the link to my website. The correct link is http://www.texasacl.com.

    Thanks,
    Porter

    • skyyleracl

      Porter,
      Thanks for the update. I made the change and also went through all the links and updated them. A few others had changed too. Thanks for letting me know about your website, as this is the most popular post on this blog, so you just made a ton of people a lot more happier!

  13. femi

    Thanks for this opportunity. I’m grateful.

  14. Words cannot fully express my gratitude to you for your priceless post of this ACL “thing”. Trully, I don’t have words good enough to say thanks. But how can you know I am grateful for YOU taking the time to “teach me” so well via what you have posted? The answer to my own question prompts me to simply say: thank you. Thank you man for a job well done.
    Sincerely,
    King.

  15. Can you please share a case, if you have come across one, on how ACL can be utilized by IT auditors.

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