It’s not surprising that Anton Bouwer, Brussels-based consulting manager of ACL Europe, says the collapse of Enron has been good for business. ACL, which started as a small Canadian software house in the 1970s, has become the world’s largest provider of software applications for corporate auditing. Today, ACL’s products are used by internal and external auditors alike, and handle everything from data analysis and compliance monitoring to network security assessment and forensic accounting.
Yet, as Bouwer notes, long before Enron — and other less spectacular corporate nosedives — forced auditors into the spotlight, many of them were already ramping up their use of software tools to help them do their jobs. “Internal auditors are under pressure to play an even greater role in strengthening internal control and governance by providing their companies with wider, deeper data analysis on a regular basis,” observes Bouwer.
This, in turn, has dramatically changed the types of software auditors reach for. “Auditors need to spend quality time on solving exceptions, rather than finding them,” asserts Bouwer, adding that this allows them to go beyond routine policing and take on more value-adding responsibilities, including risk management.
The question is: Do current auditing tools meet the taxing demands of their users? Charles Le Grand, director of technology practices for the Florida-based Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), an international professional organization, believes they do. As evidence he cites the results of the seventh annual software survey of nearly 600 internal auditors worldwide, which was conducted last summer by Internal Auditor, a magazine published by the IIA. The survey revealed that respondents were generally happy with the quality of the software tools they have at their disposal, particularly applications designed specifically for auditing professionals. These include software from ACL and CaseWare, as well as propietary programs.
The results are not overly surprising. These days, most audit programs are Web-enabled. Hence, auditors can now access, read, analyze and manipulate data files drawn from all sorts of sources, including legacy mainframe systems. They can then present that information in a user-friendly format for workers in other departments. That’s a big time-saver.
What’s more, the latest versions of audit software is a whole lot easier to use then earlier releases. “Ten years ago, using audit software meant a lot of programming,” says Ulrich Hahn, a member of the corporate audit team of Alcatel, the French telecoms-equipment supplier, which has installed ACL’s software across its entire global operation. “Now, you just point and click. The benefit of that cannot be underestimated.”
The job of an auditor is getting tougher in at least one respect, however. Software selection is a lot trickier than it used to be. According to the IIA survey, companies often implement a combination of home-grown applications and off-the-shelf packages. Thus, an auditor might use one tool to extract data and another to present the data over the corporate network. Further, an auditor’s toolbox now includes software used by other departments. “Increasingly, auditors are using the same types of tools as IT professionals,” notes Le Grand.