5 Things We Need from ACL in 2018

5 thingsHere’s the 5 things I’m hoping will change in 2018 regarding ACL.

They are all related to each other and feed off each other…


One) The ACL Analytics user interface (UI) finds a good plastic surgeon.

While I have criticized the ACL interface over the years on this blog, I provide some examples in 5 Things I Hate About ACL.

I wrote this in January 2014, and not one of them has been addressed. Just saying…

Many auditors tell me that one struggle they have with using ACL is that it’s hard to remember how to use it. Because they aren’t using it every day, they say they have to relearn some of the key functions over and over. It’s just not intuitive. The interface looks as old as ACL itself (25+ years).

You can tell that ACL is NOT catering to millennials with their flagship software. :)

Now, having said all that, I always try to be fair. Updating the interface means that ACL has to revamp their help file, ACL Academy training, cheat sheets, ACL boot camp videos, and the list goes on.

Plus all the ACL trainers and support people have to be retrained.

All of this is expensive, so in their chase to expand the revenue stream at the company, I understand why they haven’t done it. It means starting over on many fronts.

But in my opinion, ACL passed the tip-over point in 2017, especially since Excel Power Query and Power BI have gained popularity (more on this below).

And they were already losing ground to Tableau and other products before that.

One other thing….unlike Mack, who likes the new ACL Overview article (ACL’s article that Mack writes about) that describes the first ACL screen a user sees, I see that article as further proof that the UI is poor.

When you have to explain the first screen a user sees, you are NOT user friendly!

Back in the good ‘ole days, when you opened ACL, you never saw all these options, which are confusing (they are add-ons to ACL or links back to their website, and were added after the ACL CEO arrived and cleaned house).

I missed the days when you could open ACL and get to work immediately.

By the way, I heard in late 2017 that an updated interface is coming SOON to a screen near you. We’ll see.

Two) ACL makes transforming data as easy as CLICKING buttons and SELECTING options.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you must not use either Excel’s Power Query add-in or Microsoft’s Power Business Intelligence (BI)–these programs and others have this amazing function.

In the Power BI example shown below, to change the format of a field BEFORE you load it, note the Zip field (see yellow on the far right), which is in number format (notice the 1 2 3 in white text in front of the Zip field header).

To change that field to text format, go to the Transform tab (see red box), then click Data Type, then Text (see yellow on left).

While you’re at it, notice all the other transformations available (not all are shown).

click select Power BI transform

In ACL, you not only have to load the data FIRST, but you have to add a new field, and write a function to change the format.

The other thing I like about Power BI is that as you click and select what to transform, Power BI writes its own script for you (called M script).

In ACL, you have to find the procedures in the log, copy it into a script, and add additional info to the script. For that reason, a lot of auditors are scared of scripting.

After you load and format/clean the data in Power BI the first time, the next time you load that data or need to refresh that data, the M script does it all for you the same exact way.

Again, in fairness, M script is not as flexible as ACL script, but M script is perfect for transforming data and that’s what it does.

My point: not only is ACL’s interface killing the product, it is not keeping up with up and coming features that other products already have. And ACL is trying to sell this product to non-auditors? To millennials?

No wonder they need to expand the revenue stream!

Other analytic products on the market don’t take as much technical expertise to do simple loads, transformations, or graphics–not true of ACL.

Update: Speaking of ACL graphics–ACL analysis apps, which was ACL’s attempt to deal with its poor graphic capabilities (and add other features), I seldom hear of anyone using analysis apps. I just did an Internet search and didn’t find even 1 mention of ACL analysis apps anywhere, except @ ACL’s website and other websites announcing the launch of analysis apps.

That tells me that no one cares about analysis apps. Dan and Keith, do you realize you built something that most ACLers don’t care about? All that time and effort, and I’ll bet not even 25% of ACLers use it. Meanwhile, your core product flounders….

Sure, you can now purchase some ‘premium’ pre-built analysis apps to do some of your typical analysis. But does that lead audit departments to dive into really learning analytics and creating their own ACL projects? I doubt it, based on how internal audit as a whole likes to be spoon-fed.

Either way, ACL has created another revenue stream (I think I see a theme here….).

One auditor I work with refuses to use ACL, but she learned Power BI by herself and produced a monthly dashboard that audit management loves! Other auditors in the department are thinking of doing the same.

Maybe my next most-read blog post should be Teach Yourself Power BI!

Three) ACL starts blaming audit management for lack of analytic growth.

Numerous reasons are given for the slow adoption of analytics in most audit departments: lack of skilled talent, too hard to get data, dirty data is hard to clean, no budget for licenses or training, etc.

But everyone knows the REAL reason, which is audit management refuses to act.

Audit management either doesn’t want analytics, doesn’t understand it, or is unwilling to fight for it. But all audit managment says they want more analytics in audit!

Passivity on management’s part is the real reason for the slow growth of audit analytics. All the other ‘reasons’ are CAE excuses. Period. You can do analytics on a shoestring budget if need be.

In this article, ACL provides 4 reasons for the slow growth (see below; emphasis below is ACL’s). ACL almost nails it in Reason #4, but they fail to close the deal.

I realize this is a summary of several reports (and author Verver isn’t directly an ACL employee any more [Hmmmm]), but ACL published the article, so I still call out ACL for the conclusions offered;

I added my comments after each quoted reason…

  1. “Internal audit leadership recognizes the valuable role of data analysis in audit.” This disagrees with item #4; it also directly convicts audit leadership. They ‘get it’, but aren’t doing much about it. Knowing or Recognizing something isn’t the same as believing it and living it. Reason #1 is a non-truth, also know as ‘fake news’.
  2. “Internal audit leadership expects in the next three to five years to be using data analytics far more extensively, in the way that they have said they want to for the past several years.” Yeah, kick the can down the road. In other words, play catch-up someday. This why I have repeatedly said that internal audit will soon become irrelevant.
  3. “Internal audit teams currently lack the skills and the time to achieve what they want to do with data analytics.” Who hires those ignorant teams? Who determines where auditors spend their time? Who is supposed to provide ‘audit supervison’? Audit management perhaps? Reality: CAEs lack the ‘current skills’ and ability to lead.
  4. “However (and perhaps revealing a disconnect), the majority of internal audit leaders do not recognize data analytics skills as particularly important.” Perhaps? It IS the disconnect, and the main reason, but ACL can’t say that, or they’d upset their prime audit management customers, who just might cancel all those ACL licenses the audit team is NOT using.

I insist that ACL (and all the big 4 firms) stop beating around the bush, and call out audit management for their failure.

Isn’t that what auditors do? ACL says their staff was originally built on auditors (like VP Dan Zitting). The big 4 says they’re all auditors.

If they really want to have an impact on the profession, and increase analytics in audit, they will call CAEs and audit committees out.

At the same time, I realize you can’t bite the crippled hand that feeds you. But ACL and the big 4 can do better.

Perhaps they should strive to educate audit committee members directly, and bypass CAEs all together.

Four) ACL stops selling their GRC platform so hard.

ACL has lost its first love!

And unless it repents and does the things it did at first, its candlestick will be removed.

ACL needs to turn its focus back to its main product.

But in every email, phone call, webinar, training class, and article the company publishes, and in the ACL conference especially, it’s push, push, push. Sell, sell, sell.

Again, I understand ACL is widening their revenue streams (their main product is dying?), and all that, but I still think ACL is doing so at the expense of their ORIGINAL (read ‘analytics’ customers).

Yeah, VPs Dan Zitting and Keith Cerny will tell you that they have separate, dedicated teams for Analytics and other products, and how they have increased the analytics team, investment, etc.

But the user interface hasn’t been updated (see One above) and the ACL app is as bloated as the Windows OS, and lacks key features.

Sure, ACL is adding and improving some features, but ACL is consistently behind other analysis and scripting apps (see Two above).

Another example: remember when ACL added color coding to the scripting screen? That was great, but other products delivered that years before!

Five) ACL reboots their annual user conference.

For a couple years, the conference was great. But in the past 2 years, the conference is mostly about GRC!

Interesting statistic: According to a discussion in the 2017 conference town hall, less than 25% of those attending the conference use GRC. See the disconnect?

Also, are the ‘free’ training classes at the end of the conference really that valuable?

I was told that 1 session in 2017 had horrible technical glitches, as well as instructors who weren’t ready to lead the class. So much of the content was confusing that several people got up and left.

Finally, experienced ACLers don’t often go to the conference. Almost everyone you meet is brand new to ACL.

Why? Here’s my thoughts:

  • Experienced users want challenging sessions. Session quality has dived in the past 2 years, especially the General Sessions and some of the Keynotes.
  • Experienced users want more opportunities to network with other experienced users, but the networking opportunities currently at the conference don’t work.
  • The conference app is useless as a networking tool. Too many stupid posts and pics.
  • If the best thing about the conference is the food and entertainment, that’s a huge problem.
  • New people attending the conference end up not using ACL much, which feeds the cycle.

One Last Note

Okay, I’ve said my piece, and you can tell I’m frustrated. Big time.

But I still love using ACL and how it helps me and my department shine. I’m just concerned that ACL is headed in the wrong direction.

I’m already being pressured to abandon ACL in favor of ‘standard company tools’, and the further behind ACL gets, the harder it will be to resist.

Especially as I gain more experience in the ‘company tools’. I’m currently importing and transforming data AND creating a dashboard in Power BI, and have several other projects that don’t use ACL in progress. Audit projects!

You have a great tool, ACL. But I need your help in keeping it!

AGREE OR DISAGREE with any of my points? Let me know in the comments!

If you’ve gone to a conference, please state the year, your experience level (beginner or experienced), and provide your input.

I’m betting most of my readers have never gone to an ACL conference, and half of those who have, have only gone once…


Filed under ACL, Audit, Data Analytics, Excel, Scripting (ACL), Technology, Written by Skyyler

5 responses to “5 Things We Need from ACL in 2018

  1. John

    Maybe ACL saw/sees the writing on the wall. So far as the above, you’ve hit the nail on the head with each point. For me you hit a nerve on one item. I went to the Houston conference 3? years ago. GRC yeah yeah. Everyone I met was there for ACL content but ACL content was light and the GRC push was obvious. I mockingly asked Dan Z. where the “26 analytics every organization should have” that they touted was in the script base when he sat for lunch at my table. He got visibly upset. He did not recognize that audit managers see those posts, then ask analysts to deliver something that does not exist. From his reaction, I realized right then that ACL was dead and that they were not on top of where analytics were going. They have some very smart dedicated techs. But maybe the exec just saw that analytics was going to the business and their tool wasn’t.

    I honestly think ACL is barely on life support. Analytics is becoming a business department that provides services to other business departments. I expect (internal) audit will become a customer/partner. I didn’t weigh in on your analytics or die debate because I agree audit needs to adopt analytics but I am not sure audit needs to build them. I think they need to understand them but often audit analytics die as they migrate to business analytics. When does/should a continuous monitoring analytic migrate from an audit tool to a business tool. Certainly if the issue is a high level management control failure it is an audit tool, but many of the transaction analysis (ie dup pay) is a better tool for management’s monitoring.
    As a forensics tool ACL is fantastic but I don’t very often need the forensic evidence, and I would probably contract out when I do need.

    If there is data, we use at least basic analytics for every audit. I migrated off ACL, literally this month, to both more basic and more powerful tools. I can do a whole lot in power (BI, Query, Pivot) that my auditors can subsequently use immediately. Working with our data group, I can build continuous monitoring and workflow that cost my team nothing (aside from a bit of time and effort) because I am just using a tool set the rest of the business is using.

    Kind of a long “comment” to say I agree, but I doubt ACL is listening.


    • skyyleracl

      Thanks for the great comments. Long is good!

      I don’t think ACL is on life support. Yes, I wondered above whether ACL was dying, but that was mostly in jest. They are definitely hurting. But you might be right…

      I’m not sure that audit needs to give up analytics, but I need to give that some more thought. My main problem with audit becoming a partner with the analytics department is that internal audit needs to audit the analytics. If they don’t do it themselves (and learn it and live it themselves) and they are partners with analytics (not independent), then it’s hard to do a good audit, at least per the standards.

      Also, I don’t think analytics is that hard; I think audit just needs to adapt and grow up. Sure it requires audit to become more technical, but isn’t that where all industries are going? Yes, predictive models and machine learning may be beyond most auditors, but not the other types of analytics.

      These 2 statements of yours caught my attention: You 1) migrated off ACL and 2) “I am just using a tool set the rest of the business is using.”

      I sure hope ACL is listening to those 2 messages. I keep telling them that!

      p.s. I can assure you ACL reads these posts, but often don’t respond. Can’t say I blame them.

      I sure hope other auditors speak their piece. You can post anonymously, folks!


      • John

        I agree and am certainly not suggesting abandoning analytics. You point out that analytics can be easy. And they can be. But acl as a tool is not so easy. And as the business interest is ramping up for better tools why wouldn’t audit adopt them. I’ve only been at this part time for 10 yrs. I’m pretty good with acl script but don’t use the interface much. But I tend to think that’s the standard for most intermediate ACL’rs. You point out “newbs” can build some pretty impressive things in power… And that is audit learning to use the tools. As IT auditors we need to verify the associated tech, data, and processes are solid. Many accountants and auditors i meet cant use pivot tables but once I teach an auditor or accountant to use a pivot table its a step forward for analytics. “I found that” what else can I find.
        I’m not sure if you have played much with M or R but they are available and powerful. Maybe my role is to build and validate the data structures then validate whatever it is they come up with with tools they can use.
        Perhaps I keep ACL to validate that…
        Audit needs analytics, I just don’t expect ACL to get into the hands of even a fraction of auditors.


        • skyyleracl

          Thanks for clarifying your thoughts.I agree with you.
          Yes, I’m worked with M and R.
          If you can’t get auditors to use ACL, who’s going to use it?

          Also, I’m interested in what you think of analysis apps. I don’t think much of them. I added some thoughts to the above post about that….


  2. John

    I think Analysis apps are more of the same I have to teach people a new tool. Also it gives me this “just the tip” GRC feel. I should also point out we are a minuscule shop of 3 and I have only every used ACL Desktop. I come from an IT background where I used script for anything I could, this stuff interests me.
    But most of what I have ever analysed in ACL is delivered to auditors in excel.
    Because when you dbl click a value on a pivot table Excel returns the list of records. Not what you were looking for? delete it, rejig the pivot look again.
    Once auditors discover the joy of data discovery, maybe they will understand the values of ACL. But these other tools bring that joy faster, and today’s workers are less inclined to climb a steep hill when easier tools exist.

    The writing is on the wall though, and we have alluded to it, as power BI and such become the EUC of this gen, we will discover bad import scripts and data quality assumptions introducing bad analysis.
    ACL is not a magic bullet there either it still comes back to truly knowing the data. Anyway I think the choir has been sufficient preached.

    And thanks for this blog, I do enjoy every article.

    Liked by 1 person

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