Is ACL Analytics Dying?

Spiral deathI fear that ACL Analytics is dying, and has been as long as I’ve been ranting about it.

Making Laurie Schultz their CEO helped, but I don’t think it has been enough.

NOTE: I wrote this well over a month ago, long before I posted the ACL Officially Changes Name & Spots post; I just got sidetracked and forgot about this post. I stumbled across it today in my Drafts folder. I decided to publish it ‘posthumously’ (so to speak) to show 1) how much I’m agonizing over ACL’s direction, 2) how I’ve always felt about ACL’s software, and 3) provide some balance to my previous post.

For the record, I love ACL. Always have.

I mean, really, my account on this blog has ACL suffixed to my name! So ACL and I have been kissing cousins for a loooong time.

No other software is as cheap, as easy to code and understand, as versatile. Also, I haven’t found any other software that is easier or cheaper to automate. And when you need help, ACL support is pretty darn good.

Power BI can’t do everything ACL can do. Other languages can do what ACL does, but they are a lot harder to learn and troubleshoot. And get other auditors to learn.

I wish ACL was faster. I wish ACL would get fixed. I wish ACL had features that other analytic software have.

I just don’t see it happening. ACL is dying, and my boss will eventually pry it out of my reluctant hands. That’s why I’m learning new tools–I’m getting ready.

The saddest part, in my opinion, is that ACL (the company) is either letting it die on purpose, they don’t know any better, or don’t know how to fix it.

That’s why I continue to rant.



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

20 responses to “Is ACL Analytics Dying?

  1. John

    I commented on Arbutus in a previous response, and perhaps it is worth noting it was started with a former ACL co founder. Maybe Grant Brodie saw this direction change way back in 2003. Likely not the GRC push specifically, but that not enough effort was being placed on the development of the tool itself.
    I don’t use Arbutus so I cant speak to it, but when this happened it was news in the audit world. I am not sure it will be able to outpace other BI tools but I understand it does have most of the same features as ACL, like the log William brought up in his comment to your last post.
    That was intended as an advert, but more evidence that ACL hasn’t been keeping pace in the dev of the App.


    • John

      ha! “That was intended as an advert,”… typo should have read “That was NOT intended…”!


    • John, I have not used Arbutus either, but it is at the top of the list of analysis programs I want to try if the department moves away from ACL in the future. The similarity to ACL is compelling, especially since we have been rolling out ACL to more users in the department.


      • skyyleracl

        My only concern about Arbutus is the script language is more complicated that ACL’s. It is hard enough to get auditors to learn ACL scripting.


        • I talked to Arbutus recently and found that the script language they use is NOT harder to understand. I thought originally that the language was C++, but don’t remember where that came from. Maybe a dream?


  2. Ryan Feero

    What are some of the new tools you’re learning instead of ACL? I’m a new IT Auditor at my company which just stopped paying for ACL 6 months ago because nobody bothered to learn it. Do you use Python at all or the Pandas library for data analytics?


    • Ryan,
      Sorry for the late reply.
      SQL server. It can handle tons more data than ACL, and knowing SQL query language sure comes in handy. You can even do pivot table-ish queries in SQL.

      Power BI, but haven’t found a real good use for it yet.

      I’m also learning LDAP query to better query active directory.

      I’ve played with Tableau, Qlik, and Trifecta, plus a few others, but not seriously.

      I’m also growing deeper into Excel. There’s always more to learn.

      I wouldn’t toss IDEA without giving it a whirl. In my first job, I was tasked with getting some analytic software, and in those days, it was ACL or IDEA. I liked IDEA better and they had better support, but when I made my recommendation, my boss didn’t like that IDEA was newer, so he made me “buy IBM”.

      I always have wondered what would have happened if I’d be able to purchase IDEA. Now with ACL going so cloud-ward and leaving behind their analytic roots, I’m thinking of looking at IDEA again, and see what’s on their road map.

      I think eventually all good analytic tools will run in the cloud as software as a service, so who knows.

      I hear ACL is trying to figure out how to run ACL in the cloud and still keep your data onsite….I’m not talking about (the so called) ACL Robotics, I’m talking about full fledged ACL. Supposedly, you can run ACL robotics and keep your data on site.


      • If you are interested in using Power BI with (not instead of) ACL, it opens up some cool visualization options and makes certain things easier. If nothing else, it gives you an excuse to play with Power BI a bit.

        Create an ODBC data source using the ACL Analytics driver, which has you point it to a specific ACL project file. Then in Power BI you can connect to that ODBC data source; and now you can easily query/import tables from the ACL project and visualize them however you want in Power BI. No having to mess with exporting tables; and you can refresh the data with the press of a button.

        One of my favorite recent visualizations is using Microsoft’s “SandDance” (a free custom visual you can download from MS’s marketplace) to do interactive 3D scatter plots. In SandDance turn off “Presentation Mode” to see the full settings and change it to a 3D scatter chart.

        For example, feed that visualization three date fields (converted to serial number in ACL using (date – STOD(1) + 1) or something similar), and you can get an interesting perspective of how those dates relate, how those relationships have changed over time, and if you can see any outliers.

        For a more specific example, if you are doing a termination or access audit try graphing termination date vs notification date vs access removal date and color by department; you might see something interesting.


  3. eb

    You mentioned that Power BI cannot do all of the things ACL can. Do you mind sharing what this functionality is?

    I joined an audit department recently. The dept. had IDEA for a few years. Nobody used it, and no one here now knows it. We have begun to learn & use Power BI, which has no cost to the dept. We are thinking about cutting IDEA, but we wanted to be educated on what the audit-specific analytics tools like IDEA & ACL can do that Power BI can’t before making the decision.



    • skyyleracl

      For the most part, it is just simplicity. It’s just easier to select random samples, classify and cross-tab data, etc.
      Power Bi is a dashboarding tool. ACL is an analysis tool, and it can be run via menu or scripted. Power Bi doesn’t really have those options. Power BI can’t do benfords analysis and comparing addresses to determine direct matches and fuzzy matches just aren’t doable or easily doable in Power BI.

      Yes, Power BI has charting and graphics capabilities that ACL will never have, and PBI can do lots ACL can’t do. It just depends on what your goal is.

      While the basics of Power BI can be mastered, it scares lots of auditors, but ACL scares just a few less.


      • Part of this also depends on whether you are comparing ACL against just Power BI or against the full “Power Platform”, which includes Power Pivot in Excel and Power BI, which have a similar core and are both fed by Power Query. If I could only pick one tool ACL would be it; but that said if I had to make do with what is already available in MS Office, I would feel *significantly* less hobbled using the full ‘Power Platform’ over just Power BI or vanilla Excel.


        • William,
          I agree with you except for the ‘less hobbled’ comment, full platform or not. Whatever tool I’m in, it’s usually easier for me to do it in ACL, including automating and scheduling the whole thing.

          I did a fuzzy join in ACL in just a few lines of code; using visual studio and SQL server, it took a lot more coding and troubleshooting to get it all working.

          That’s my experience. Thanks for sharing yours!


  4. Angel

    You’ll probably like to take a look at
    It’s based on R language (especially the Tidiverse Ecosystem). I have been trying it and I’m loving it. Doing Analytics and reporting is very easy, you can see all the steps maned (like in Power Query) and has a lot of built-in Machine Learning models. Also, you can use your own R scripts.

    Right now,, Power BI and IDEA are my go-to as alternatives to ACL Analytics.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ben Mitchell

    I’m rather late to the party here, but I previously worked for ACL in both a Presales and Sales capacity and am now with Arbutus.


    • Hi Ben,
      The party is still in progress, but we are running low on potato chips.

      My readers and I would be interested in any thoughts you have about your past, as long as it does not turn into a sales pitch.

      As I noted in my About page (via a reply to a comment posted there), my initial, recent contact with Arbutus wasn’t a great one. Everybody has bad days, I know.

      How about you reply to my questions/concerns noted in that comment and reply below? Batter up….


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