A recent article in Computer Business Review referred to a study that surveyed some thousands of CFOs, CIOs and other business executives and professionals about their biggest management information challenge.

The number one challenge was identified as the ability to carry out self-service reporting, followed closely by “the ability to pull together and analyze information from diverse business systems—multiple ERP systems, databases and line-of-business systems.” Hmm…that seems to ring a bell!

Auditors have been saying for a long time that the #1 challenge to the use of analytics in audit is getting the data. This usually also involves getting data from multiple systems, since it is comparing and matching data from across disparate systems that provides some of the most valuable insights from audit analytics.

The managing director from the firm performing the survey, Matillion, is quoted as saying:

“For all the talk of Big Data, Mobile BI, Predictive Analytics and Data Visualisation, the evidence is that the real management information needs of most executives are far more down-to-earth: fast, easy, self-service access to data—for the people that need it, and from whichever data sources are relevant.”

All of these comments seem highly relevant to internal audit and their use of data analytics. I certainly think there is value for auditors in visual and predictive analytics, as well as being able to use mobile apps—but they are not solving the fundamental problems that many audit departments still need to overcome.

I see two major challenges for internal audit in their use of audit analytics:

#1 is getting the right data. #2 is knowing how to apply data analysis to meet an audit or risk assessment objective. BI, visual and predictive analytics do not address #1 and do little, on their own, to solve #2.

There are probably at least eight other typical issues that auditors need to address in the overall audit analytics process—but until #1 and #2 are addressed, they are all of lesser importance.

As some of you know, I am now independent of ACL and spend my time looking, hopefully objectively, at what auditors need to do to best obtain value from audit analytics. There are many non-audit data analysis technologies, including BI and specialized visual analytics, that can be used by internal auditors, all with varying pros and cons.

As objective and unbiased as I try to be, I still come to the same conclusion that I have for a long time: none of these effectively solve the problems auditors need to solve with data analysis. By combining a selection of these technologies you could probably solve, say, two-thirds of the issues—and even then it is probably going to be a pretty complex and expensive solution.

Which brings me to my second conclusion: that ACL software really does have a remarkable combination of functional capabilities, that are unmatched in their ability to address the multiple critical stages in the audit analytic process.

Just to highlight one more major challenge to the use of audit analytics:

I would rank #3 as being: how to integrate the use of analytics into the internal audit (and risk management or compliance) process.

Again, I have to conclude that ACL comes out ahead of any other technology. I cannot think of any other software vendor that supports the close integration of all aspects of the audit analytics process into the audit management process, and combines it with the sort of specific “how-to” content that can be found in ACL’s ScriptHub.