“ACL has given us greater quality assurance and allowed the LLA to do a more thorough job.”
Michael Cragin, Senior Information Systems Auditor, Technicolor
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor (LLA) is responsible for auditing all state and local government agencies. State assets total £30.2 billion and annual operational revenues are £14.2 billion – creating literally millions of data records per year. The LLA audit teams must analyse these enormous quantities of data under acute time pressures. A wide variety of computer platforms further complicate the LLA’s auditing responsibilities. ACL’s flexible and comprehensive data analysis software has enabled the LLA to increase its efficiency, minimise audit risks, and improve both the detail and quality of its agency audits. In one example of error recovery using ACL, a five-minute data test uncovered an improper payment of £107,000.
Based in Baton Rouge, the LLA employs 160 professional auditors, 40 support staff, and approves the engagements of outside CPA firms for most local projects. In addition to financial audits, the LLA conducts qualitative performance audits to measure efficiency. Such audits are designed to answer the question:“Is the agency doing what they’re charged to do and are they doing it in the most effective manner possible?” explains LLA continuing education administrator Joy Irwin. A smaller, but growing, LLA unit investigates fraud allegations within state and local agencies by conducting fraud and forensic audits.
The LLA uses ACL software to analyse agency-supplied data and identify inconsistencies, fraud, improper payments, and weaknesses in state records management.
One of the LLA’s greatest challenges lies in the sheer volume of agency data it must analyse. For example, the Louisiana Health and Hospitals agency records billing and payment details from the state’s physicians, medical transportation providers, hospitals, pharmacies, and many others. “Our auditors are looking at literally millions of transactions with billions of dollars involved,” says Irwin. “There’s no way that a team of three or four auditors can cover even a fraction of that data.”
Multiple computer platforms pose another challenge for the LLA. Different state agencies may use IBM legacy mainframes, Unix, Linux, a wide variety of Windows operating systems and client server systems, as well as enterprise applications such as SAP. “All the audit teams must overcome the obstacles of getting the data from many different platforms, in many different formats, and they’re always under pressure to do the job quickly,” explains Michael Cragin, LLA senior information systems auditor. Staff must be able to not only access and analyse each agency’s data, but also incorporate their findings in a consistent format. Included with the challenges of retrieving data from multiple platforms is the issue of data quality. “One of the first things we do is run a verification of the data against the original information using ACL,” states Cragin. “It’s quite common to find problems such as data being entered incorrectly.”
The LLA first tested comprehensive data analysis capabilities of ACL in the early 1990s and quickly began introducing the software to its audit teams. Since 1996, the LLA has trained about 200 auditors to use ACL technology. Eight years ago, the LLA created several standardised ACL applications to generate monthly transaction reports, which continue to save the organisation considerable time and resources. The LLA continues to expand its ACL use, and is eager to enhance its fraud and forensic audits.
ACL is an essential tool for the LLA because it allows audit teams to identify and analyse problem areas earlier in the process, enabling better and more proactive assessment of risk. By using ACL to analyse agency data, LLA staff can ask more specific questions, receive better answers, and provide more targeted recommendations. “Before we started using ACL, we may have asked an agency how they managed their vendor file and then recorded problems just based on the interview,” says Cragin. “With ACL, we can get a copy of the file and quickly analyse the data against the original source documents. In one case, the agency said they had 5,000 vendors in their file when they actually had 40,000. When you’re able to make the recommendations very specific and include precise numbers, the agency is much more likely to act on the recommendations.”
ACL software also helps the LLA handle data from a wide array of platforms with ease and efficiency. LLA teams spend less time learning the syntax of multiple data analysis tools and can focus on conducting deeper, more detailed agency audits. “With ACL, we all speak the same language,” says Cragin. “I think that’s a big advantage.”
The LLA relies on ACL to improve its analytical reach and efficiency. ACL has been used to: