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:
- Identify trends, pinpoint exceptions and highlight potential areas of concern
- Join files based on a key field
- Determine what records or fields in 2 file match (or don’t)
- Locate errors and potential fraud
- Age and analyze financial or any other time-sensitive transactions
- Capture, cleanse, and normalize data to ensure consistency and accurate results
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?
FYI: On July 15, 2012, I went through and verified 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!
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):
1. On the ACL website, the Support Center1 has some good Online Learning classes that walk you through basic concepts. The classes consist of reading, videos, examples, assignments, and quizzes to get your feet wet. Start with the ACL005 ACL Fundamentals: A Command Overview, which takes about 5 hours. Trust me, it will be a good investment of your time.
2. Practice using ACL with test project files (which you can download for free–more on that later).
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.
3. Run some of the same exercises against your company data (make sure you follow all related IT and security policies).
4. When you get stuck, do one or all of the following:
- Check the ACL Help file (much more helpful once you understand ACL a bit, but still good for beginners).
- Search the ACL Knowledge Base2 for articles and forum posts regarding the issue.
- Look for a related ACL On-Demand seminar.2
- Review the Quick Steps Index2 to see if step-by-step instructions (including examples) are available for the task you’re trying to accomplish.
- 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 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. 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.
5. When you feel comfortable with what you’ve learned so far (or a project is pressing you into learning more), go through another Online Learning class in the Support Center.
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.
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 ACL.com compiled and note the ones marked “(Bundled with ACL 9 Education edition software).”
- Here’s a list from Tony Ziba’s Secure IT blog (thanks Tony!).
- Or try this Google search.
Or if you’re really adventurous, you can try the open source data analysis software called Picalo.
FREE ACL Training
The virtual classroom training that ACL launched in March 2010 has been discontinued (see Nav’s comment about this). ACL charged about $135 per training session, but they must not have received enough bites.
Other ACL posts:
Get FREE Audit Work Plans at AuditNet (if you have ACL support agreement)
This is the most popular post on this blog, and it was brought to you by Skyyler.