A Review of ACL Acerno

I haven’t been able to find any reviews of ACL Acerno, so I decided I better get to it.

What is Acerno?

According to ACL’s website, ACL Acerno is a Microsoft Excel Add-in that allows you to efficiently and easily investigate the results generated by ACL software or other sources and share your findings. For a quick overview, watch this video or check out the quick reference sheet (pdf)—-This info must have been removed when the software was updated.

Acerno is $250 per user.

Even if you don’t read the rest of this, if you’re an auditor, please take the poll at the end of this post.

What I Liked About Acerno

  • The Help File is excellent. It was clearer and easier to follow that the ACL Help File. That may be that Acerno is less complicated than ACL, or the team doing the documentation is getting better (or both).
  • Acerno was easy to learn. Part of this was due to the Help File, but I was able to use most of the functions just by looking at the quick reference sheet.
  • Columns added to an Acerno spreadsheet (like Notes, Status, and computed fields) are colored green so they stand out (hey ACL, do this for computed fields in the ACL tables and table layouts!).
  • When you define a computed field in Acerno, the Excel formula automatically copies the formula all the way down the column.
  • When you create additional tabs for data, Acerno names the tabs for you (and you can edit them). If your initial data tab is called Loans, when you create a new tab as you Define Data, the new tab is automatically named Loans_Acerno. When you Summarize that tab, it names the tab Loans_Acerno_Summarize, and so on.
  • When you click in a column of data, the data is automatically analyzed, and the results are displayed in the Acerno Panel. For date fields, the panel shows the oldest and newest dates, the mode, the date range, and more. For numeric fields, the panel provides the total amount, average amount, number of positive and negative amounts, etc. The number of blank values in the column is always displayed.
  • A table history is available for viewing and is inserted automatically at the bottom of each workpaper with basic information such as the source spreadsheet (file name), the number of records you started with, and the records that were output to the workpaper. If you used one or more filters, the filters are documented. But computed field formulas are not included, and ACL needs to add that feature to ACL Analytics.

What I Didn’t Like About Acerno

  • I couldn’t find a way to move the Acerno panel; it’s on the far right.
  • The Status and Notes columns are added to the first column on the left, but Computed Field columns are added to the last field on the right. Of course you can move the columns, but that’s where they appear when you add them.
  • Although you can customize the list of comments in the Status field, you have to remove the Status column and re-add it before your changes are available. If you’re halfway through your review, you’ll lose all the comments you’re previously entered.
  • Acerno isn’t available for non-English versions of Excel, but that should be addressed in the future.

What I Didn’t Understand

  • How does this fit into ACL’s acquisition of the workpaper business? Where are they going with Acerno?
  • What’s the deal with Acerno-izing a spreadsheet so that it’s read-only? I’ve never had that come up in an audit review. Does that mean that the rest of the world’s spreadsheets are not trustworthy? When you create a workpaper in Acerno, the result is not read-only. Audit departments are clamoring for this feature worldwide? Sure, it prevents you from accidentally overtyping data, but I’d add a button to turn this off.

Suggestions for ACL

  • As you did with Acerno, make computed fields in ACL a different color from imported fields (mentioned previously).
  • Offer Acerno training as part of the boot camp training series. That should tell you pretty quickly how fast it’s going to take off.
  • When workpaper tabs are created, a footer with page numbers (Page 1) is automatically defined. Why not add the number of pages too (Page 1 of 22)?
  • When you use the Excel “Wrap text” command to format a column, that column wrap should carry over to the workpaper when you create it. It currently doesn’t, so you have to format the column in the Acerno tab and in the resulting workpaper.
  • In the table history in ACL Analytics, add the formula for each computed field (mentioned previously).

Final Thoughts

Acerno is aimed at helping users understand results created in ACL; Acerno also seems to cater to non-ACL users that don’t want to spend the time and money using ACL, but still want a few cool features.

For ACL users, the only features that I saw that Acerno had that ACL doesn’t are the Notes and Status columns. Everything else you can do in ACL. So what’s the point? Is it aimed more at managers and reviewers who don’t know ACL?

For non-ACL users, I don’t see how Acerno provides enough functionality. I don’t see it as a way to upsell clients to ACL.

I won’t be recommending it for purchase; how about you?

What do You Think?

Please take the poll and leave me a comment to let me and others know what you think about Acerno.

See also:

Teach Yourself ACL

ACL tip: What is a Computed Field?

Master List of ACL Articles and Tips


5 Comments

Filed under ACL, Audit, Data Analytics, Excel, Poll, Written by Skyyler

5 responses to “A Review of ACL Acerno

  1. Hi Everyone,
    I emailed ACL and urged them to respond to my suggestions and criticism of ACL Acerno by posting a comment. We’ll see what happens. Since this is the ONLY review of Acerno I’ve found on the Internet, I’d be real surprised if they passed on the opportunity. Especially if I’m wrong on some points.

    If you find that anyone else has reviewed Acerno, please post a link here in the Comments.
    Skyyler

    Like

  2. Brian L.

    Nice article – thanks! You’re right, there’s a dearth of reviews, even still. I just found out about Acerno today, and have talked with my ACL account manager — unfortunately, it sounds like it’s List Pricing for all. :-( They really need to offer some trialware — maybe a copy that’s limited to X days of operation or to 50 rows of data. I wonder whether the people in your poll who said they tried it, but won’t be using it, just wasted the minimum $1500 initial purchase, or if they managed to get a trial (or refund)?

    Although I obviously haven’t tried the software yet, I disagree with your conclusion a little. We use ACL to crunch huge SAP data sets and run ridiculously complicated scripts for repetitive audit work. But once we get the raw results, we almost always ship it over to Excel to do the analysis. The problem with Excel, though, is it’s a chore to keep the source data locked down and identified while wrapping all our computed columns and other analytics around it. Acerno seems “purpose-built” (to use ACL’s worn-out description) to deal with this issue. That in itself makes it really attractive. We’ll continue to need ACL — Excel can’t handle the table sizes and scripting — but ACL can’t *easily* handle the kinds of analysis we need to do.

    Thanks again for your great review.

    Like

    • Hi Brian,
      Thanks for your comments.

      First, they do offer trial ware. Not what you have to do to get it, but it’s available. Pester your account manager. And it is limited to a certain number of days, or so ACL thinks; I have my doubts based on some feedback from others who have tried it.

      Second, I find it interesting you do so much analysis in Excel. On one hand, I can understand how it could be easier, but I almost never do analysis AFTER ACL, but each analysis is different.

      I always do my charting/graphing in Excel rather than ACL, as ACL has a ways to go in that direction. With that said, I love it when people disagree; that’s what gets the discussion going!

      Third, as for the lockdown of the data, I’ve never run into that. So you do lockdown Excel too…very interesting. I’d like to hear some more about that and whether you lock down other digital documents that you use in your audits.

      Finally, what I really don’t look forward to is documenting my ACL project after the analysis is done….I’m going to give ACL a couple ideas I have about making that better.

      Care to share how your group documents their ACL projects?

      I generally include a overall summary of the steps, a more detailed summary including the computed fields and such, and an annotated log file. In other companies, I included a detailed summary, but no log, because no one else knew what it was or cared.

      Brian, if you get your hands on Acerno, please come back and let me know what you think….Thanks again.
      Skyyler

      Like

      • Brian L.

        Hi Skyyler,
        We just arranged a 30-day evaluation of Acerno with our account manager and have it loaded. Their eval agreement is really ridiculous for a $250 Excel Add-In — it’s my experience that the vast majority of other PC apps have a version anyone can download
        that automatically expires after 30 days, or limits you to 50 rows of data, or whatever.

        The software seems pretty slick, but I’m not convinced it’s solving any serious problems for us. I’ll try to remember to come back & post my impressions after our eval.

        Re: your comment, “So you do lockdown Excel too…very interesting” — actually, no we don’t lock down Excel data or any other documents, other than the inherent locking that happens when you “final approve” a workpaper in AutoAudit. My comments about locking was referring to how we find it challenging to keep source data (e.g., from SAP) easily identifiable and separate from calculated analysis data in our spreadsheets. Usually, if we do anything, we just change the font color or something similar. Fortunately, our external auditors don’t seem to have any heartburn over that.

        Re: your comments about doing all your analysis in ACL and only graphing in Excel — I agree that’s best practice, but I wonder how commonplace that is. It would be great to hear from other users.
        Thanks again for your great review of Acerno & the other great stuff on this blog.

        Like

  3. skyyleracl

    Hi Brian,
    Hey, glad you got the trial. Good work. Yeah, I think ACL overdid the eval too. Not sure what they’re so worried about.

    Thanks for expanding on the lockdown stuff. I agree, I’ve never had external auditors or anyone else worry about locking data like they do in Acerno. That’s why I don’t understand why ACL makes such a big deal about it.

    The biggest danger I think is auditors accidentally deleting or corrupting the data accidentally. I always save a copy before I start analyzing a file in Excel, so if I mess up the data or wonder if I did, I can always go back to a virgin copy.

    Thanks for all your feedback. It’s not often we get such lengthy, detailed, and great comments, so kudos.

    We look forward to YOUR analysis of Acerno…

    p.s. I finally got my own WordPress Account!

    Like

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