Why is our choice ACL™? Of course it helps if you like to use the software you are working with (in our concrete case have even been selling since this year started). But must it really be ACL™. What about Microsoft Excel™ or Access™ or other data analytics tools like IDEA?
Perhaps we should say that our primary objective as a company is establishing data analytics in the first place (and, if you like, "good" data analytics of the kind described in -> this blog post). We like to see someone use data analytics or set it up, no matter which software it works with. You can take that or leave it. But the fact remains that sometimes we are quite dismayed or even appalled when we see how little importance attaches to digital inspection of the internal auditing in a company, or to structured data analytics quite generally. For this reason we support data analytics no matter which software, e.g. when it is a matter of visualization or database-supported approaches.
We ourselves came into contact with ACL™ software in 2002/2003 while studying business IT at Deggendorf Institute of Technology. It was part of a lecture "Finances and Controlling" by Professor Herde for a project we were working on. Together with my now fellow executive Martin Riedl, we imported and analyzed GDPdU data (basic data access and digital auditing) in ACL™. ACL™, in its version 7 at that time, was admittedly a tool that you did not come to appreciate until the second (or perhaps even third or fourth) glance. If, as a student, you were used to Microsoft™ software, operation seemed complicated, the user interface was antiquated, and you did not immediately recognize the sense of it, why it was around. (By now you will notice that it is time I started getting my act together.)
Anyway, during work on the project the interface for extraction of SAP® data (dab:Exporter) was developed, and this later formed the basis for founding the dab:GmbH company. We used ACL™ structured to analyze data from SAP® systems, and I, a skeptic to begin with, slowly began to realize the advantages and unique features in day-to-day business:
- Capability to handle large amounts of data:
In 2005 already, with our dab:Exporter software, we were able to extract data in virtually terabyte quantities from SAP® systems, long before "big data" came up. Excel™ and Access™ were out of the question for handling such quantities of data. But we could process them, e.g. at Bayer AG as part of the STAAN project, on conventional (of that date!) laptops with external harddisks.
- Read-only access:
ACL™ safeguards data against unintentional changes made by the user, which is a good thing. If you frequently perform complex analyses in Excel™ you are likely to be acquainted with a situation where you accidentally sort one column but the remainder stays unsorted. Or formulas are inconsistent, or cell contents are displaced or deleted. This is a danger especially in complex analyses. So it is reassuring that ACL™ knows how to prevent this in daily use.
- Practical log file:
Another point of interest in complex, difficult analytics is traceability. Nothing is more annoying than when, after maybe two weeks of hard analytic labor, you finally produce a gripping, final result but can no longer show exactly how you arrived at it. ACL™ records just about every single step in a separate log file so that you never lose your orientation, no matter how demanding the analysis.
- Reusable routines through ACL™ scripting language:
If you often work with the same data and similar tasks, you will want to try and automate them. Our portfolio of SAP® analyses, initially developed in the STAAN project at Bayer AG, is implemented in ACL™ scripting language. This not only enables the programming of routines similar to Excel™ macros, a major advantage is that it can also be at least understood by IT non-specialists. So you need not be a programmer to know what an analysis does, and that makes for a lot of transparency. You do not get a blackbox but a transparent, maintainable solution. Today I suppose, in the spirit of the times, we could speak of "analysis apps".
- Combination of strengths from Excel™ and Access™:
One of the biggest benefits of ACL™ is working with multiple tables. Connecting different lists, reconciling tables, forming or joining relations – in cases where you fast come up against boundaries in normal spreadsheet applications, also in terms of operating ease, ACL™ offers a practical approach, a hybrid solution.
- Predefined analysis commands and functions:
Fuzzy duplicates, classify, contingency tables (similar to pivot), gap analyses – ACL™ comes with a portfolio of functionalities suitable generally for data analytics and in particular for auditing activities.
Many another advantage could be mentioned, like powerful functions in connection with texts, which only – much more technical – approaches like REGEX are able to offer. Or the fact that ACL™ has shown the way for complex analysis by IT non-specialists. Of course you might easily say "Other tools do the same."
That may be, and we would never argue outright against other software. But we have found over the years in projects of every size – setting up on 5-digit to 7-digit budgets – that we could cover all requirements with ACL™. Plus, ACL™ has enabled us to carry out projects that we otherwise could not have implemented. When a tool generates success on the market and in practice for such a long period, it is a clear answer in favor of the solution. You realize that Professor Will founded ACL™ software on a solid, sustainable basis. It is not "just a tool" but a coherent, well-thought-out overall concept that is especially reflected in the Audit Command Language and more relevant than ever. The somewhat outdated interface has become software governed by short release cycles, obtainable for client/server environments, and regularly expanded by new functionalities. ACL™ has ventured into the future with subscription as a new licensing model, and complete restructuring of the product portfolio, but also of its own organization.
Does that make us ACL™ fanboys? Well at least were are fans of data analysis proper – and the way we see it that is best implemented with ACL™. But we are also – and that is the nature of our business – interested in choosing the right tool for the right purpose, and not getting stuck in a rut while doing so. Take process mining – there is software specially for it to check ad hoc queries in invoice entries and refer to millions of transactions in the space of seconds. For that SAP™ HANA is supposedly better suited. And for a multinational corporate-wide data pool a "genuine" database is the wiser choice. For this reason dab:Exporter is already working successfully with SAP® HANA. Or we offer SQL servers as a target format and implement process mining with Disco software for instance. Tableau is a favorite among customers for visualization of data. To analyze single transactions, for retrospective big data analysis in which access to the details should be kept, ad hoc evaluation and standardization of queries "outside" SAP® – here we go the way of ACL™, and fully convinced given good experience. If you have not yet used a data analytics tool, take a look at the possibilities ACL™ offers, no matter whether you work in revision, compliance, in controlling or financial accounting. ACL™ has long come out of the revision corner with its solutions.
It should be emphasized that just about every data analytics software is an empty shell to start with – although with many possibilities and features. But life cannot be breathed into data analytics until the software is filled with data and operated by someone who feels sure enough working with the tool and interpreting the data. Best of all analytic content will already be available to save a lot of groundwork. "Content is king" – not only in content-based marketing but also in data analytics. That means content in the form of software (e.g. ready defined analyses for SAP® data), and know-how content that data analysts with domain knowledge can bring along, as presented in the last blog post. This content and domain knowledge today make the difference when introducing a good solution – even if tools may be comparable or similar.
To answer the question asked at the beginning: ACL™ is not imperative – but that way you obtain a best-in-class data analytics solution because:
- It offers all essential features so that you can easily analyze data of every kind.
- Producer ACL™ is well in place for the future with sustainable solutions.
- We offer you unique analysis content for many questions (with the focus on SAP® data) to prevent ACL™ software from being put aside and becoming shelfware.
- Through data analysts with domain knowledge you can either round off the solution package yourself or we will assist you through services and training.
So from our point of view, if you are interested in data analytics and want to set it up in your business, you should consider ACL™ as a solution. No matter whether your focus is revision, controlling, compliance, tax calculation or auditing, accounting or IT. ACL™ offers a product portfolio that enables you to operate your data analytics on a well-founded, structured basis.