Teach Yourself ACL

You can teach yourself how to use Audit Command Language (ACL), the data analytics software from www.highbond.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
  • Schedule, script, and automate analyses

FYI: The company no longer defines ACL as Audit Command Language because they don’t want you to think it’s only for auditors (it isn’t). Highbond now refers to ACL as Analytics.

I’d re-define ACL as Automated Command Language.

See this Quick Intro to ACL’s user interface.

Since ACL merged with HighBond, they have changed all their website URLs. Over the years, I have updated this post several times to change all the hyperlinks to keep up with ACL’s changes. I’m tired of doing that, so I removed most of the links. I also now use general terms like Tech Support and ACL Training instead of the what ACL calls them (they keep changing them anyway). I think that’s foolish.

For most users, the best way to learn ACL is to take formal classes. However, do not assume that the classes that ACL 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?

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. ACL has FREE self-paced courses that walk you step-by-step through basic and advanced concepts (ACL account required, which you get when you buy an ACL license). Start with the beginner course and work your way up. Each course takes a few hours and include exercises. Trust me, it will be a good investment of your 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 (those marked with * require an ACL account):

  • *Check the ACL help file (much more helpful once you understand ACL a bit, but still good for beginners). You can either go to the Highbond website to find this file, or click the Help link inside ACL itself, which takes you to the same file.
  • *Search the ACL Knowledge Base on the Highbond website for articles and questions/answers regarding the issue.
  • *Look for a related ACL webinar on the Highbond website.
  • *Post a question in the ACL Forum in the Highbond website. 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 UGMany of these sites include tips, tricks, and their own forums. For the official ACL UG list, search the ACL site (they keep moving the list).
  • *Call ACL technical support, o log onto their website to chat with an ACL technician. Keep in mind that everything in your chat will be captured in an ACL ticket, so chatter beware!

ACL support used to be pretty poor, but in recent years, it has become excellent, and since you have already paid for it, I’d use it. As of 2020, it is still pretty good.

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

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. Try this Google search. This is a suggestion, not an endorsement… NOTE: I’m not sure this is true anymore, but it won’t hurt to check.

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).

Final Suggestions

If your company is already invested in ACL (and you actually use it more than just occasionally), then by all means, continue to sharpen your skills. Even if you use ACL heavily, or especially if you don’t, I suggest learning which data analysis tools others in your company use, and learning those also, such as Microsoft’s Power BI, Tableau, SAS, and the like.

I make this suggestion for 3 reasons:

First, analytics software is not the flagship product of the company; the company has been re-inventing itself, and ACL Analytics has suffered accordingly.

Second, ACL can only process a limited number of records well (above 15 million is troublesome), so it cannot handle huge files, so its use is limited.

Third, you don’t want to lock yourself in to any one analysis tool*, especially due to ACL’s limitations and that the fact eventually you’ll need to understand and audit your company’s other analysis tools.

*I go into more background on these items in the following posts:

ACL Officially Changes Name & Spots

Is ACL Analytics Dying?

Other ACL posts:

You Might be an ACL Freak if…

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

Make a Comment



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

45 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: https://itauditsecurity.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/free-acl-training-bootcamp/
    -Nav, Marketing Specialist, ACL


  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.


  8. charles uche

    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.



      • 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!


  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

      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

      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.


  11. skyyleracl

    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.



    • skyyleracl

      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.


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


  16. Dennis Peter

    Hey, I am just transitioning into the IT Audit field but have learnt that I need a good mastery of ACL to make my job easier. Could you please provide me with a good resources link for a beginner like me? I will also be interested in any online training on ACL.




  17. flodavidson

    I don’t own acl.

    A great auditor and a happy worker…trying to get started. I noticed this posting cause it noted free acl training..

    Any suggestions as to how to get started so a team would give a chance?

    Thanks Flora


  18. omaka

    Hi, how much would it cost to buy ACL Version 11?


  19. gerome

    could it possible for me to know how mush does it cost to buy the ACL software ??
    and for each company im willing to use the ACL Software i need a license ?


  20. Easter

    just want to know if the ACL software still uses the connector that should be attached on the back of the server? thanks


    • Easter

      Sorry, i meant the hardware key


      • Easter,
        I believe that ACL stopped using the hardware key years ago. I had one on my server, but left that company. In my new company, I had hardware keys for the desktop version, but they converted our licenses to numbers that you had to enter into the software, then they changed them to accounts that you have to create and maintain at aclgrc.com.

        No hardware keys are used anymore…


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